Countering Chinese and Russian aggression is at the top of the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS), revealed by Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday.
The strategy indicates the Trump administration is taking a hard line against Russia and China, even as President Trump has called for better relations with the two countries.
“We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia … nations that do seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said while unveiling the document in Washington.
An unclassified, 11-page version of the document, expected to drive future defense spending requests, lays out the Defense Department’s strategy “to compete, deter, and win” in the complex security environment.
“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” the NDS notes.
“Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors,” it continues.
Russia in 2014 invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and its military supports Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war.
China, meanwhile, holds an enormous amount of economic sway in the world and its military continues to push outward with man-made islands in the Pacific and new reports that it will build a military base in Afghanistan.
The document also highlights North Korea and Iran as other international threats, noting Pyongyang’s “outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric,” will require a focus on U.S. missile defense.
“Rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran persist in taking outlaw actions that threaten regional and even global stability. Oppressing their own people and shredding their own people’s dignity and human rights, they push their warped views outward,” Mattis said.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), while no longer a top threat, remains an issue despite the defeat of its physical caliphate last year.
“Violent extremist organizations like ISIS or Lebanese Hezbollah or al Qaeda continue to sow hatred, destroying peace and murdering innocents across the globe,” Mattis said.
The retired four-star general also warned that the U.S. military’s competitive edge “has eroded in every domain of warfare — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace — and it is continuing to erode.”
He blamed the erosion partly on defense spending caps and being forced to begin the last nine fiscal years on a stopgap spending measure due to “budgetary confusion” in Congress.
“Let me be clear, as hard as the last 16 years have been on our military, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact” of spending cuts and lack of long-term funding, he said.
Mattis also said the Pentagon will “modernize key capabilities, recognizing we cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons or equipment.”
International alliances are also highlighted as a key piece of the strategy, but Mattis said burden-sharing would be needed.
“We carried a disproportionate share of the defense burden post-WWII. The growing economic strength of today’s democracies and partners dictates they must now step up and do more,” he said.
Trump has frequently lambasted NATO countries he claims take advantage of the U.S. government and fail to pay their fair share of security costs.
Following the document’s release, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the strategy “gets the big decisions right, prioritizes the threats we face, and offers clear guidance for making tough choices.”
McCain warned, however, that Congress must “immediately reach a bipartisan budget agreement to provide the funding necessary to implement this strategy.”
This is the first National Defense Strategy the Pentagon has released in 10 years. Prior to this, the Defense Department had released in 2014 the Quadrennial Defense Review, a study that analyzes military objectives and potential threats.