US Defence Secretary James Mattis says countering China’s rapidly expanding military and an increasingly aggressive Russia are now the main focus of America’s national security, outpacing the threat of terrorism.
For almost two decades, ever since the September 11, 2001 attacks, America’s military focus has been on fighting terrorism, and counter-insurgency campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Mr Mattis has unveiled a broad new strategy for the Defence Department, warning that all aspects of the military’s competitive warfighting edge have eroded.
He said building a force that can deter war with established and emerging military powers in Moscow and Beijing, and US enemies such as North Korea and Iran, would require increased investment to make the military more lethal, agile and ready to fight.
“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,” he said.
He said competition with those adversaries has threatened America’s military advantage around the world.
“We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of US national security,” Mr Mattis said.
He said the Islamic State group’s (IS) “physical caliphate” in Iraq and Syria had been defeated, but that IS, al-Qaeda and other extremists still posed threats across the globe.
Mr Mattis repeated his call for America to work closely with allies and partners — an approach that aligns more closely with previous administrations than President Donald Trump’s “America First” ideas.
He said the US and its allies were stronger together.
The most dominant theme in his strategy was for the US to regain its competitive edge with China and Russia, according to an 11-page, unclassified version released by the Pentagon.
That shift reflects persistent US worries about China’s military build-up in the South China Sea, its moves to expand its political and economic influence, and what has been described as Beijing’s systematic campaign of cyberattacks and data theft from government agencies and private US corporations.
The shift also underscores broad American concerns about Russia, given Moscow’s takeover of Ukrainian territory, involvement in Syria’s war and alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.