US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that America is facing “growing threats” from China and Russia, and warned that the US military’s advantages have eroded in recent years.
Mattis’s assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon’s vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defence strategy.
“We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” Mattis said as he unveiled the unclassified section of the document.
“Our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare — air, land, sea, space and cyberspace — and is continually eroding,” he added.
The document said that the Donald Trump administration was concerned about the US military force was buckling under the effects of years of budget shortfalls and atrophy, and needed a full reboot to restore to its idealized strength.
The Pentagon’s national defense strategy seeks to increase the size of the military, improve its readiness and work with allies — all while operating across multiple theaters including in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“We must use creative approaches, make sustained investment and be disciplined in execution to field a Joint Force fit for our time, one that competes, deters and wins in this increasingly complex security environment,” Mattis wrote in the introduction to the strategy.
Elbridge Colby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, told reporters that Mattis’s strategy seeks to deal with the “erosion” of America’s military advantage.
“What it is recognizing is that China and Russia in particular have been assiduously working over a number of years to develop their military capabilities to challenge our military advantages,” he said.
The new defense strategy follows on from Trump’s national security strategy that he released last month which, similarly, highlights the role of China and Russia in the global security environment.
“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea,” Mattis wrote.
“Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of its neighbors,” he added, while also pointing a finger at Iran and North Korea for their threats to peace.
The two countries reacted furiously to Trump’s security strategy, with Beijing accusing Washington of having a “Cold War mentality” while Moscow denounced its “imperialist character.”
Trump’s security strategy contrasts with the friendly nature of his first state visit to Beijing in November, when he received a lavish welcome and repeatedly praised President Xi Jinping.
One of the biggest criticisms inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill is that the US military is suffering from a lack of readiness, where troops and gear are not getting the training or maintenance they need.
Mattis said the United States must be ready to fight a war.
“The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one,” he said.
“Doing so requires a competitive approach to force development and a consistent, multiyear investment to restore war fighting readiness and field a lethal force.”
Mattis’s strategy also calls for greater coordination with allies, who Trump on the campaign trail lambasted for not doing enough to share the burden of defending the post-World War II order.
(With inputs from agencies)