China, Russia biggest challenges under Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Oct. 27, 2022.

The Pentagon on Thursday released a new set of documents outlining a sweeping strategy for U.S. security, seeking more deterrence for a list of threats topped by Russia and China.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS), released alongside the Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review, comes eight months after Russia invaded Ukraine and follows recent threats from China to bring Taiwan under its control.  

First given to Congress in classified form in March, the document is the first in nearly five years — since early 2018, when the Trump administration released its version. That national defense strategy was the first in decades to focus U.S. defenses on China and Russia instead of violent extremist organizations. 

President Biden’s version continues with that line of thinking, though it labels China as a “consequential strategic competitor for the coming decades,” while calling Russia an “acute threat,” demonstrated most recently by its unprovoked attack on Ukraine.  

“[China] and Russia now pose more dangerous challenges to safety and security at home, even as terrorist threats persist,” the document states, noting that both countries have deployed space capabilities that could target America’s GPS and other “space-based capabilities that support military power and daily civilian life.” 

And both Moscow and Beijing “could use a wide array of tools in an attempt to hinder U.S. military preparation and response in a conflict, including actions aimed at undermining the will of the U.S. public, and to target our critical infrastructure and other systems,” according to the strategy. 

Speaking to reporters after the strategy’s release, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that while Russia “can’t systemically challenge the United States over the long term,” unlike China, it “does pose an immediate and sharp threat to our interest and values.” 

The strategy also focuses on North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities, Iran’s nuclear program, violent extremist organizations included the Islamic State, al Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and transboundary challenges such as climate change and pandemics. 

The document does not include specifics as to how the Pentagon will work with allies and partners or how it will alter its procedures, weapons procurements or personnel to tackle the stated threats, though Austin described the strategy as the Pentagon’s “north star.”  

Instead, the NDS ranks the biggest threats to the United States, broadly outlines how the military would respond and drives future defense spending requests and Pentagon policy, including what weapons to put money toward and how to spread its service members around the globe. 

The biggest concern in the document appears to be growing nuclear arsenals owned by Russia and China, with the U.S. government betting that its own nuclear capabilities “remain the ultimate backstop for our strategic deterrence.”  

The Pentagon is “fully committed to modernizing all three legs of our nuclear triad,” Austin said, referring to the ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bomber aircraft and submarine-launched weapons that all carry nuclear payloads. 

Russia, with its stockpile of roughly 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, raises “the possibility it would use these forces to try to win a war on its periphery or avoid defeat if it was in danger of losing a conventional war.” 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened such an outcome in Ukraine, though on Thursday he insisted that Moscow does not intend to use nuclear weapons in the war. 

U.S. officials have said they’ve seen no change in Russia’s nuclear posture that would indicate it is moving to use such a weapon.  

China, meanwhile, plans to increase its nuclear arsenal to about 1,000 warheads by the end of the decade, according to the strategy. The document also criticizes the country for its “increasingly provocative rhetoric and coercive activity towards Taiwan.” 

“The most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security is [China’s] coercive and increasingly aggressive endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences,” the NDS states. 

Tags China Defense Department Department of Defense Joe Biden Lloyd Austin National Defense Strategy Pentagon Russia

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