Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has been tapped as the next U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in his confirmation hearing last week that Russia is currently the "greatest threat" to U.S. national security, criticizing Russia's actions in Ukraine and Georgia.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is equivalent to the chief of general staff in other nations, and is both the highest-ranking military officer and top military adviser to the U.S. president. The U.S. military is ultimately led by a civilian, as the president serves as the head of the three military branches. Consequently, Dunford's statements should be largely representative of U.S. military and strategic theory, and the speech given at his confirmation hearing will constitute the core of the United States' strategic posture toward Russia moving into the future.
Top U.S. Military Officer Points to Russia as Greatest Threat to U.S. Security
Relations between the United States and Russia grew considerably warmer following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the honeymoon proved to be fleeting as the two sides each continued to move according to their own calculus. The United States did not cease the eastward expansion of NATO, recruiting former Warsaw Pact member states to its ranks and inching NATO's front line to Russia's very doorstep, and was thus perceived as a security threat. At the same time, the audacious Vladimir Putin's aggressive bearing in Central Asia and Ukraine raised the United States’ hackles, and the two nations' amiable relations of the ‘90s evolved into a contest of military provocation, proof positive that within international relations there are no eternal allies, only eternal and perpetual interests.
While Dunford's confirmation hearing speech did little more than state clearly the main source of the divide between the United States and Russia, his words also betrayed the geostrategic focus of the United States upon Russia. Indeed, the old adversaries have been matching each other jab for jab in their military operations of late. The United States has moved heavy armaments into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, forming a pincer against Russia from north to south and breaking NATO's policy of military restraint against Russia. Meanwhile, Russia has sent long-range bombers in close proximity to NATO airspace on multiple occasions, even flying near the U.S. homeland on the Fourth of July, and has simultaneously increased missile deployments to Europe. Although the United States has not regained top form since its two wars in the Middle East, and Russia has taken on its chin the one-two punch of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and more recent economic sanctions from the West, both nations yet remain nuclear heavyweights, and any friction or conflict between them must inevitably affect the rest of the world. As for China, Dunford adopted a much milder tone than that toward Russia, expressing a desire to strengthen U.S.-China military cooperation.
From this, it is abundantly clear that the mists of the Cold War have once again begun to coalesce around U.S.-Russia relations, with the two nations' actions growing ever more suspect and each maneuvering to establish its own sphere of influence. The United States recently reconciled with its mortal enemy of half a century in Cuba, the reopening of their embassies marking a clear triumph of peace over conflict from an international relations perspective. Some 50 years ago, the United States assisted anti-Castro fighters in hopes of overthrowing the Cuban regime, but the ragtag group folded in its first engagement and was wiped out during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Cuba became a thorn in the side of the United States, which responded with an extended embargo and threats of elimination. But apart from standing as evidence that the United States' hostile policies toward Cuba were not effective, the recent rapprochement further sheds light upon the desire of the U.S. leadership to settle its affairs with nations in Central and South America, the so-called "back yard" of the United States, thereby securing its flanks while confronting the larger Russian bear. Moreover, the United States freeing itself of concerns about Cuba and making it more difficult for Russia to constitute a serious threat from within Central America as it did during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis is essentially killing two birds with one stone.
BRICS Nations Form Alternate Core to Rival the US and Protect Own Interests
However, Russia is not one to be so easily dismissed, and at a recently-concluded BRICS Summit banded together with other member nations to issue the "Ufa Declaration," a piece criticizing unilateral armed interventions and economic sanctions toward other states in violation of international law and emphasizing that "no state should strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others."
Connecting the dots with current international affairs as they stand, the contents of the declaration quite clearly point to U.S. sanctions leveled upon Russia as a result of events in Ukraine, despite lacking any explicit reference to the United States. Because the BRICS nations that consist of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together account for 42 percent of the global population and close to 30 percent of the world's territory in addition to possessing ample economic horsepower and nuclear arms in Russia, China and India, the group has begun to leverage its emergence as a powerful alternative core organization to rival even the United States.
Now, a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, frequent sparring between the United States and Russia and increasing friction in the West Pacific have appeared as seeming reenactments of that former feud, and the prospective U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff giving voice to this state of affairs is objective proof that the mists of the new Cold War have already descended upon us. All responsible powers must work to maintain the hard-won peace, move with the utmost care, and refrain from provoking conflict between nations merely to satisfy their own interests. If they fail in this, the arms race of yesteryear will begin anew, not only pulling each nation's economy into ruin, but likely consuming entire cities in the flames of war; the world does not desire such an end, a calamity that would engulf us all.