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U.S. Military Strategy Focuses on Russia, China, ISIS Threats

The new U.S. military strategy focused on the growing threat from “revisionist states” such as Russia and China while renewing the commitment to work through coalitions with limited U.S. troop involvement to defeat ISIS.

In his foreword to the 24-page National Military Strategy 2015 released last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also expressed his concerns about possibly losing the current advantage the U.S. has against both state and non-state actors.

"Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode," Dempsey wrote.

"We now face multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and trans-regional networks of sub-state groups – all taking advantage of rapid technological change," Dempsey said.

He warned the nation to expect a series of conflicts that will take years to resolve.

"We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly,” Dempsey said.

The strategy was likely the last major policy statement that will have Dempsey’s imprint. He is retiring in October and President Obama has nominated Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford to succeed him.

The strategy was expected to face scrutiny this Thursday at Dunford’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by long-time Dempsey critic Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

A major difference between the new strategy and the one released in 2011 under then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen was the emphasis on the possibility of confrontation with other nation states.

“For the past decade, our military campaigns primarily have consisted of operations against violent extremist networks. But today, and into the foreseeable future, we must pay greater attention to challenges posed by state actors. They increasingly have the capability to contest regional freedom of movement and threaten our homeland,” the strategy document stated.

The strategy singled out Russia’s “hybrid warfare” threatening Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and China’s bullying of its neighbors and construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Russia “has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” the strategy stated. “Russia’s military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces.”

In addition, “China’s actions are adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region. For example, its claims to nearly the entire South China Sea are inconsistent with international law,” the strategy said.

“The international community continues to call on China to settle such issues cooperatively and without coercion. China has responded with aggressive land reclamation efforts that will allow it to position military forces astride vital international sea lanes,” the strategy said.

Russia and China immediately rejected the charges. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the U.S. strategy suggested a "confrontational attitude, devoid of any objectivity towards our country."

China’s response came from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying: “We express dissatisfaction and opposition” to the U.S. strategy’s “irrational exaggerations of China’s threat. We have already clearly explained our stance on the issue of construction on islands and reefs in the South China Sea several times. We believe that the U.S. should abandon their Cold War mentality.”

On the issue of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or “ISIl,” and other violent extremist organizations (VEOs), the strategy contrasted the different approaches the U.S. must take in dealing with terrorist organizations as opposed the state actors.

“Today, the probability of U.S. involvement in interstate war with a major power is assessed to be low but growing. Should one occur, however, the consequences would be immense,” the strategy said.

“VEOs, in contrast, pose an immediate threat to trans-regional security by coupling readily available technologies with extremist ideologies. Overlapping state and non-state violence, there exists an area of conflict where actors blend techniques, capabilities, and resources to achieve their objectives.”

“Such ‘hybrid’ conflicts may consist of military forces assuming a non-state identity, as Russia did in the Crimea, or involve a VEO fielding rudimentary combined arms capabilities, as ISIL has demonstrated in Iraq and Syria,” the strategy said.

However, Army Gen. David Perkins, head of Army Training and Doctrine Command, said the definition of “winning” might have to be revised while also reiterating a common refrain from military leaders noting how it’s hard to predict future enemies.

In the current state of the world, “we have no idea who our adversary will be. We have no idea where we’ll face them. We have no idea who our coalition will be,” Perkins said.

In those circumstances, winning might have to be defined as “getting to a position of relative advantage,” Perkins said. “Probably gone are the days where you signed surrender documents on the decks of battleships.”

“There is no finality” to current conflicts, Perkins said. “We’ve been very clear in our doctrine that that’s not the case anymore. That’s not the way it’s ever been. Even when we thought that was the case, it probably wasn’t.”

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com

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