Russia, China Replace Terrorism as Military's Top Priority: Mattis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday outlined a back-to-the-future National Defense Strategy in which countering Russia and China will replace counter-terrorism as the top priority for the military.

"We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition -- not terrorism -- is now the primary focus of U.S. national security," he said.

"This strategy is fit for our time, providing the American people the military required to protect our way of life, stand with our allies and live up to our responsibility to pass intact to the next generation those freedoms we enjoy today," Mattis said.

Previous defense secretaries have warned of potential conflict with "peer competitors" in a mirror image of the Cold War era, but Mattis in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies made it explicit in what the Pentagon billed as the first strategic overview in the past 10 years.

Much of the strategy is classified, including details on the roles of the services going forward, but unclassified portions released by the Pentagon put Russia and China at the forefront.

"China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea," the strategy says. "Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors."

In his speech, Mattis said, "We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models -- pursing veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic and security decisions.

"In this time of change, our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare -- air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace -- and is continually eroding," he said.

The corrective is a major boost in the lethality of the force to deter aggression, Mattis said.

Again and again in the speech, he stressed lethality.

"It is incumbent upon us to field a more lethal force if our nation is to retain the ability to defend ourselves and what we stand for to those who would threaten America's experiment in democracy," Mattis said.

To that end, he had a message for U.S. adversaries: "To those who would threaten America's experiment in democracy -- if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day."

He said it would be advisable for potential enemies to "work with our diplomats. You don't want to fight the Department of Defense."

Mattis said he is confident that Congress and the White House will provide the funding to back the new strategy despite the current impasse over the budget that threatened to shut down the government at midnight Friday.

"I am optimistic that Congress will do the right thing and carry out their responsibility," he said. "I may be in the minority in this room when I say that, but I'm an eternal optimist."

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

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