WASHINGTON --- The U.S. military advantage against near-peer competitors is eroding, and America must invest in capabilities to ensure deterrence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts earlier this week.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford -- an alumnus of the school -- said Russia and China have examined U.S. operations since the Gulf War and invested in capabilities and doctrines to counter America's conventional overmatch.
Two U.S. advantages come to the fore: the network of allies around the world and America's ability to project power around the world, Dunford said.
These are linked capabilities, he explained, citing U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 as the classic example. The United States was attacked on 9/11 by terrorists operating out of Afghanistan. Within a month, U.S. service members were on the ground taking the fight to al-Qaida -- a move made possible by cooperation from allies and the ability of the American military to move people on a global scale and sustain them once they arrived.
Strategies to Minimize Advantage
Russia and China -- and other nations -- have studied the American way of war and devised capabilities and strategies to minimize this American advantage, the chairman said.
"As an example, if you take the naval alliance in Europe, Russia understands that the transatlantic link is critical for us to meet our NATO commitments," he added.
The "anti-access, area denial" strategy looks to develop systems to limit U.S. ability to move into the region and then to operate freely within the region to meet alliance commitments, Dunford said. "So there's two issues there," he added. "One is actually our ability to meet our alliance commitments. The other is deterrence, which is closely linked to the assurance of our allies."
Today, the United States has a conventional competitive advantage against any potential adversary, the nation's top military officer said. "I also will tell you that in the last 10 or 15 years, that competitive advantage has eroded, and it's no longer as decisive as it was some years ago," Dunford added.
Russia, China and others have concentrated funding and resources in areas such as electronic warfare, cyber capabilities, anti-space capabilities, anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles. These systems have "the express purpose of keeping us from projecting power into the Pacific, or into Europe as the case may be, in meeting our alliance commitments," the chairman said.
Russia has absolutely no desire to fight a conventional war with the United States and NATO, Dunford said. "What Russia has done over time now is they've combined political influence, economic coercion, information operations, cyber operations and military posture to advance their interests," he said, referring to the dynamic as "adversarial competition."
This type of conflict has a military dimension, the general said, but it falls short of traditional armed conflict.
"Because of the form of government in Moscow, they're much more ... able to combine all elements of national power to advance their interests," he said. "And while we may be inhibited in peacetime from using certain capabilities -- certain cyber capabilities, conducting certain activities, conducting certain information operations and so forth -- they don't share the same restrictions. They're actually conducting activities and employing capabilities that we may associate with war, but they're doing it on a day-to-day basis in the context of this adversarial competition."
The same is true on the other side of the world in the South China Sea, he said.
"I think we do have effective deterrence in the conventional fight against Russia, and frankly see China's methodology in dealing with issues like the South China Sea or in dealing with [terminal high-altitude area defense missiles] in South Korea," he said. "When THAAD was fielded in South Korea, China's response was to put really heavy economic pressure on South Korea. The decision they made -- the costs imposed on South Korea for fielding THAAD -- is billions of dollars. That affects political decision-making."
All of this is not in isolation, the chairman emphasized, noting that this is the most volatile, complex security environment since World War II.
He stressed that all the threats facing the United States are interrelated and that none can be viewed in a vacuum. Terrorist actions in East Africa affect operations in the Middle East and Asia, and drug networks in South and Central America could be used by terrorists to ship people or weapons into the United States, he pointed out. All are aspects that the United States must deal with right now, he said.