In a recent speech at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James Mattis laid out the major shifts in the broader defense strategy the United States will employ in the coming years.
The speech came following the Department of Defense’s publishing of the “National Defense Strategy” report, the first of its kind to be produced by the department since 2014. The report calls on the U.S. military to move away from its emphasis on less pressing global threats and priorities, instead addressing the competing “great powers,” namely China and Russia. In his speech, Mattis called China and Russia “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”
The National Defense Strategy is the latest expression of the hardening resolve by the Trump administration to address challenges from these two countries. The economic side of Trump’s tough stance has been in the works for a while. Sanctions against Russian firms and governmental organizations have been on the books in the U.S. for over three years now, triggered by Russian aggression during the 2014 Ukrainian crisis.
Trump campaigned on a platform of bolstering America’s position on trade with China, claiming that PRC has had the longer end of the stick for decades, and famously accusing the country of “raping” the U.S. economy. Since taking office, the president has attempted to crack down on China, and continues to push forward legislation and other restrictions aimed at Chinese imports.
Now the gloves have begun to come off in the defense sphere as well.
Truth be told, Secretary Mattis is right to demand a shift of focus to Russia and China. For the past decade and a half, the U.S. has been distracted strategically by jihadists and the never-ending slew of Middle East conflicts. As many observers have pointed out, this has given both China and Russia significant breathing room in which to consolidate and build up strategic assets.
On the diplomatic end, Russia has been spreading out, forming strategic partnerships with nations across numerous regions, from South America to Southeast Asia. China has also solidified important relationships with both close neighbors and distant partners, mostly through trade initiatives. China’s massive $900 billion Silk Road project, currently in progress, is in many ways the culmination of a series of small steps over the past decade aimed at strengthening the country’s global reach.