Does Administration View Russia As Its ‘Greatest’ Security Threat? State Dep't Won’t Say

By Patrick Goodenough | July 10, 2015 | 4:05am EDT
The U.S. Marine general nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers Thursday that he regards Russia as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, but a State Department spokesman repeatedly declined to say whether that view was shared by the administration. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Marine general nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers Thursday that he regards Russia as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, but a State Department spokesman repeatedly declined to say whether that view was shared by the administration.

During his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. was asked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) what he regards as the greatest threat to U.S. national security today, and without hesitation he named Russia.

“My assessment today, Senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” Dunford said.

“In Russia we have a nuclear power – we have one that not only has the capability to violate the sovereignty of our allies and to do things that are inconsistent with our national interests, but are in the process of doing so,” he said.

“So you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States I’d have to point to Russia – and if you look at their behavior it’s nothing short of alarming.”

At his daily press briefing later, State Department spokesman John Kirby was asked whether the department shared Dunford’s view.

In reply he said the administration has long said, and continues to maintain, “that Russia certainly represents significant security challenges to not just U.S. national interests but to the national interests of our allies and partners in Europe.”

Asked what Dunford may have meant by a Russian threat to the U.S., Kirby declined to speak for “a seasoned American general who is expected and is paid to offer his frank military assessment.”

Another reporter noted that Dunford was the second senior military officer to state that position in 24 hours – U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Reuters she considered Russia “the biggest threat” to the U.S. – and asked again whether that was the administration’s view.

Again, Kirby mentioned concerns about the “security challenges” posed by Russia.

Isn’t it confusing that from this podium you say one thing and the top military officials say something else?” the reporter asked.

“I’m – I don’t know how to answer your question,” said Kirby, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who until last spring served as Pentagon press secretary.

Pressed on whether the administration did not agree with Dunford, he referred a third time to “security challenges” posed by Russia.

After Kirby then for the fourth time spoke of the government’s concern about the “security challenges” posed by Russia, the reporter tried again.

“But you do not agree that it is the greatest threat to U.S. national security?”

“I’ve answered the question.”

“No, you have not. Is it the greatest threat –”

Kirby broke her off and turned to another questioner.

A few minutes later the reporter gave it one last push.

“Is the official position of the U.S. Government different from the position of the country’s top military generals – officials?” she asked.

“I’ve told you how we view the security challenges that Russia represents. I am not going to speak for the assessments made by leaders outside this department,” Kirby said. “That is not my role, it’s not my place, and it would be inappropriate. And I’m not going to take any more questions on this.”

In his written testimony, Dunford said the U.S. military faces challenges from several “state actors,” and named Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The same four countries are highlighted by the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, in the new National Military Strategy, which identifies them as the four main “revisionist” states that threaten international peace and security.

Notwithstanding the assessment of Russia, Dunford said in his testimony that military-to-military cooperation “remains possible if Russia assumes the role of a responsible international actor moving forward, not isolated and moving backward as it is today.”

“If confirmed, my intent for the military-to-military relationship is to reduce the chances of miscalculation or escalation through professional, candid communications and behaviors.”

Dunford, a former commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, has been commandant of the Marine Corps since last October.

MRC Store