The top U.S. military officer has told a security conference that Russia is the “most capable state actor” that the United States faces, but it is just one of many security challenges in today’s environment.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on July 22 said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that “Russia…is one of the threats that we face right now, and is the one that is the most militarily capable.”
But he added that “we don’t actually have the luxury today of singling out one challenge.”
“Obviously, North Korea today from a sense-of-urgency perspective would be our No. 1 challenge,” he said.
“We’re certainly dealing with a malign influence from Iran on a daily basis. Clearly, the fight against violent extremism is one we’re completely engaged with. And we have some security challenges in the Pacific," including "the rise of China.”
When asked how the United States can push back against Russia for “continuously challenging” the West in Ukraine, its actions in Syria, and its “buzzing” of U.S. warplanes, Dunford said that in dealing with Russia, “first and foremost, we have to be able to deter nuclear war, so we have a nuclear deterrent.”
He also cited maintaining capabilities for conventional military defenses and the need for “allies and partners,” emphasizing relationships with other NATO members.
But he said the United States must also be prepared to deal with threats from Russia in nonmilitary matters as well.
Russia’s “adversarial competition” also involves cybercapabilities and “information” and “unconventional” operations, he said.
Dunford said he had “no reason” to question the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election.
President Donald Trump has often expressed doubts about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
In regard to Syria, he said Russia and Iran have “divergent long-term political objectives” in the country, and the longer the conflict drags on, the more those divergent objectives will be “exposed.”
“It’s fair to say Russia and Iran are competing for influence in Syria,” he said in reference to their dealings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“That marriage of the Syrian regime, the Russian Federation, and Iran is not one that will endure.”
“What Iran wants in the region is different from what Russia wants…It’s hard to reconcile those perspectives,” he said.
He played down reports that it was a “foregone conclusion” there would be undue Iranian influence in Iraq, with one report calling it a proxy state of Iran.
“I’ve been in Iraq for a couple of years. It has not been my experience that it’s a foregone conclusion,” he said.
“I think there’s a pretty solid strain of Iraqi nationalism in Iraq,” he said, while acknowledging they share a border and many similar cultural, religious, and economic interests.
“Our continued support for Iraq to have a solid political arrangement…allows it to be independent,” and having independent security forces is a key, he said.