Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Nominee Dunford: Russia Greatest Threat to National Security

By Allyson Versprille

By Graham Kilmer

Russia is currently the greatest threat to U.S national security, according to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the nominee for the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Russia’s nuclear capabilities and aggressive actions in Eastern Europe make it the number one threat to U.S national security, Dunford, the current commandant of the Marine Corps said on June 9 during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination for the chairmanship.

“If we want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I would have to point to Russia,” Dunford said. “And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

The United States should equip Ukrainian security forces with counter artillery systems as well as Javelin and TOW anti-tank missile systems in order to thwart the Russian P-90 tanks, said Dunford.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said there is currently a Russian official investigating whether Crimea was ever “legally transferred” to Ukraine from the Russian Federation. In the case that it wasn’t a legal transfer, Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine would be legal when it comes to international law. This same official is now investigating whether the transfer of the Baltic countries was legal as well, he said. That could open up the possibility of Russia invading the Baltics, he said. Under article five of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO countries are required to come to the aid of a fellow nation in the event of an armed attack.

Wicker questioned Dunford about how the United States should react to a Russian incursion into a NATO country in Eastern Europe. A hypothetical Russian incursion would constitute a violation of sovereignty, Dunford said. 

With negotiations still under way over a nuclear deal with Tehran, members of the committee questioned Dunford about the security threats posed Iran.

The United States has the ability to use military force in order to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, said Dunford. “We have both the plans in place and the capability in place to deal with the wide range of eventualities in Iran,” he said.

In the event that that a nuclear agreement is reached with Iran, it is reasonable to assume that the government will use some of the resources made available by the lifting of sanctions to support its destabilizing activities in the region, said Dunford.

Following news that U.S. efforts to train regional forces in Syria to fight ISIS have only yielded 60 acceptable recruits, Dunford agreed with the notion that it would remain difficult to give ground forces the capability to fight ISIS without them becoming a target for the Syria's Assad regime.

The United States does not have the legal authority to fight Assad’s forces, said Dunford. If a regional force is trained to go into Syria and attack ISIS, it needs the capabilities to defend against attacks from another entity, he said.

The Assad regime “plays a significant role” complicating the efforts to take down ISIS in Syria, Dunford said. The regime's continued grasping of power inflames the region, and supplies ISIS with the recruits it needs to operate within Syria, he added.
 Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned Dunford about president Obama’s plan to remove all troops from Afghanistan by 2017. Dunford said if his position is confirmed he will provide advice to the president based upon the situation on the ground, but that the “assumptions” made don’t always go as planned especially when they are time based.

In order for the military to handle the numerous national security threats, the defense budget cannot move forward with sequestration in place, said Dunford. The Budget Control Act cuts are a major problem facing U.S. national security. If they move forward as enacted, the United States will not be able to support its current strategy for national security, Dunford said.

There will be "catastrophic consequences” when it comes to the readiness of the joint force if the cuts proceed, said Dunford.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership

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