Russia, China are the most pressing threats to ill-prepared US, report says
By MARTIN EGNASH AND IMMANUEL JOHNSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2019
Russia and China represent the most pressing security threats to the United States, ahead of North Korea, Iran and extremist groups, a report by a prominent American conservative think tank says.
In its annual assessment of the U.S. military, the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, which wields influence with the Trump administration, said Russia and China showed “aggressive” behavior toward U.S. vital interests in 2018.
But Russia was deemed the more urgent threat, due not only to frequent disinformation and hacking campaigns that are tied to the Kremlin but also because of its “formidable” and growing military capabilities.
The Heritage Foundation ranks two categories – behavior and capability – in its annual assessment. “Aggressive” is the second-highest ranking in the behavior category, and “formidable” is the highest under capability.
“From the Arctic to the Baltics, Ukraine, and the South Caucasus, and increasingly in the Mediterranean, Russia continues to foment instability in Europe,” the report said.
“Its aggressive stance in a number of theaters, including the Balkans, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine, continues both to encourage destabilization and to threaten U.S. interests,” it said.
The U.S. responded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by launching Operation Atlantic Resolve, a continuous rotation of tanks and aircraft into Eastern Europe to deter further aggression.
Despite its laggard economy, Russia has increased investment in its military in recent years and has upgraded its nuclear arsenal, the report said. Last week, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting a target thousands of miles away from a new, advanced Borei-class nuclear submarine.
The new subs are scheduled to enter service with Russia’s Northern Fleet at the end of 2019, a Russian defense ministry spokesman said.
Tensions are also running high between the U.S. and Russia in northern Syria, where Moscow now patrols territory recently vacated by American forces. Russia has gained significant combat experience in Syria while continuing to sabotage U.S. and Western policy in the region, the report states.
However, China was deemed a more comprehensive threat to the U.S., due to its economic power, efforts to modernize its military, and provocative political behavior.
“The People’s Liberation Army continues to extend its reach and military activity beyond its immediate region and engages in larger and more comprehensive exercises, including live-fire exercises in the East China Sea near Taiwan,” the report states.
China also has territorial disputes in the region, including with U.S. allies the Philippines and Japan, and continues to probe South Korean and Japanese air defense zones, escalating tensions with both Seoul and Tokyo, the report says.
Meanwhile, the report gives all four branches of the U.S. military and America’s nuclear capabilities a “marginal” grade.
The U.S. military is two-thirds the size it should be, operates older than optimal equipment and is “burdened by readiness levels that are problematic,” it says.
“The current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict … but it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies,” the report says.
“More will be needed in the years to come to ensure that the U.S. military is properly sized, equipped, trained and ready to meet the missions that the services are called upon to fulfill,” it concludes.