Army Chief of Staff: Russia is the ‘Only Existential Threat to the United States’

By Dimitri Simes | April 3, 2019 | 5:20pm EDT
Gen. Mark Milley.
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

( -- Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, called Russia the “only existential threat to the United States” and stressed that its nuclear weapons made it the sole country on Earth “capable of destroying the United States of America.”

Milley made these remarks during a hearing on the Army and Air Force budget before the House Armed Services Committee. In his opening statement, the four-star general asserted that Moscow posed a threat to American interests around the globe.

“Russia seeks to return to great power status and will continue to challenge the United States not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East, Asia, the Arctic, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere,” Milley said. “They continue to undermine NATO as an alliance and sow dissent throughout the European continent, as we know even our own homeland, through a variety of means.”

The Army chief described Russia as “the only existential threat to the United States and predicted that it will “become increasingly opportunistic and willing to take greater risks in the near term.”

Milley elaborated on this statement later in the hearing, explaining that he considered Russia to be America’s sole existential threat because of its nuclear arsenal.

“The reason for that is Russian nuclear capability,” he said. “Now we have nuclear capabilities as well, so there is therefore a standoff and mutual deterrence. But because of their nuclear capability they are the only country on Earth that is capable – not saying they would do it – but they are capable of destroying the United States of America.”

Robert Legvold, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy at Columbia University, told that Milley is correct in noting that Russia’s nuclear potential makes it the only existential threat to the United States.

“The United States and Russia hold 92% of the world's nuclear weapons, and Russia has half of them,” he said. “So, yes, for now Russia does pose the only existential nuclear threat to the United States. China, however, could well achieve the same status in the future.”

Legvold argued against the view that Moscow’s nuclear potential greatly emboldened it.

“The thrust of Russian foreign policy--assertive or retrenching--depends on other international and domestic factors shaping fears, ambitions, and outlook, not limited alterations in the two sides' nuclear programs,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Milley has served as the chief of staff of the United States Army since August 2015. Last December, President Donald Trump nominated Milley to replace the retiring Gen. Joseph Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest rank a military officer can hold in the United States Armed Forces.

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