Pentagon's Competition with Russia, China Is No Cold War, General Says

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, speaks with Chinese military officials before boarding his plane at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, speaks with Chinese military officials before boarding his plane at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The U.S. military lists Russia and China as its top priorities for war planning, but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff maintains that America hasn't entered into a second cold war.

Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism have long been considered potential threats to the U.S.

But over the last year, the Pentagon has focused those priorities to "two state actors that really represented great power competition, that being China and Russia," Gen. Joseph Dunford told an audience at Duke University on Monday.

Russia and China have altered their strategies to counter the U.S. military after both countries studied operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"They were alarmed at our ability to send as much men, materiel and equipment as we could in such a short period of time literally around the world," Dunford said.

He added that they had spent the last 15 or 16 years studying perceived American vulnerabilities and ways to keep U.S. forces at bay.

"In other words, they are looking for ways to disrupt our abilities to project power and then to operate freely once we get there," Dunford said, explaining that both countries can challenge the U.S. in all domains -- ground, air, sea, space and cyberspace.

But Dunford said he wouldn't compare this to the Cold War that existed between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union for decades.

"It doesn't necessarily equate to a cold war," he said. "The competition doesn't have to be conflict, but … we have two states that can challenge our ability to project power and challenge us in all five domains, and that is what is different than in the 1990s. ... In the 1990s, the U.S. military had no competitor."

Dunford maintains he spends about 60 percent of his time trying to communicate with his military counterparts, including those in Russia and China. He has met three times with his Russian counterpart as well as communicating with him at various times as much as once or twice a month "largely to minimize the risk of miscalculation," Dunford said.

"When we talk about capability development, I will make it clear what you are seeing in our posture, what you are seeing in our increased forces we have put in Europe, what you are seeing in the path of capability development we are on is in order to deter a conflict, not to fight, and in order to meet our alliance commitments in NATO," he said. "Russia clearly has a different view of what we are doing. Generally, we will agree to disagree."

As for China, Dunford said he has met with his counterpart once and "done a couple of secure video teleconferences."

"China is irritated by what we do, but again I try to explain to them -- look, there is a rules-based international order, and we talk about a free and open Indo-Pacific based on international laws, norms and standards," he said, describing how the U.S. continues to fly, operate and sail "wherever international law allows."

"I think we have made significant progress," he added.

-- Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct how much time Dunford says he spends communicating with military counterparts and how frequently he has been in touch with his counterparts from Russia and China.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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