Joint Chiefs nominee: Russia is our 'greatest threat'

Joint Chiefs nominee: Russia is our 'greatest threat'
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Russia presents the greatest existential threat to U.S. national security, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said Thursday during his confirmation hearing to become the nation's top military officer. 

"My assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security," said Dunford, who is currently the commandant of the Marine Corps. 

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Dunford cited Russia's capability as a nuclear weapons power that is capable of violating allies' sovereignty.

"So if you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia," the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. 

"And if you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming," he added. 

Moscow invaded neighboring Ukraine last year and annexed the peninsula of Crimea. U.S. and Western officials say since then, Russia has supported separatists in Eastern Ukraine with training and weapons. 

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for the White House to provide Ukrainian forces with lethal aid. 

So far, the administration has refused to do so out of concern that Russia will retaliate, and has instead opted to provide Ukraine with humanitarian, financial and non-lethal aid. It has also joined with Western allies in imposing several rounds of sanctions on Russia. 

However, Dunford said it was "reasonable" to provide Ukrainian forces with lethal aid. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked the general whether the U.S. should give Ukrainian forces counter-battery systems to defend themselves from Russia artillery and rocket strikes, or provide them with Javelin or TOW anti-tank missile systems to defeat Russian tanks. 

"Chairman, from a military perspective, I think it's reasonable that we provide that support to the Ukrainians. And frankly, without that kind of support, they're not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression," Dunford said. 

Anti-tank missiles, he added in response to a later question, "would be necessary for [Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko] to deal with both Russian aggression and the separatism issue that he's dealing with in Ukraine."  

Dunford said the Russian invasion of Ukraine highlighted the need for the U.S. military to update its deterrence and response model to deal with a hybrid threat from Russia that combines political instruments, unconventional warfare and support for separatists. 

“And quite frankly, that needs to be a priority,” he added. 

However, he cautioned it was still important to maintain a military relationship with Russia.

"I think it's important that we attempt to maintain ... an effective military-to-military relationship with our Russian counterparts to the extent possible to mitigate the risk of miscalculation and begin to turn the trend in the other direction in terms of trust," he said. 

Dunford said the second greatest threat to U.S. national security was China due to their military capability and their presence in the Pacific and the U.S.'s interest in the Pacific.

He listed North Korea as third due to its ballistic missile capability and its potential to reach the U.S., and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as fourth.