While Russia poses the most serious threat to national and international security, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph P. Dunford believes other potential adversaries deserve nearly equal attention. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on July 22, the Marine Corps general said, “I think from an aggregate capacity and capability perspective, Russia is the most capable state actor we face.”
Russia, Dunford said, tends to engage in strategic parrying rather than actual combat.
“It has a military direction, but it falls short of armed conflict. That’s where Russia integrated cyber capabilities, information operations, unconventional operations, to advance their interests on a routine basis,” Dunford said.
In regard to the Middle East, Dunford outlined the complicated situation involving parties that want to see the Islamic State defeated, but do not necessarily like each other.
“We have over 50,000 Syrians on the ground fighting ISIS, and about half of them are Arabs and half are Kurds,” he said.
While the combined force has been effective in ousting ISIS from power, the arrangement has fostered hard feelings from Turkey, which is openly hostile toward the Kurds. Dunford said he is acutely aware of the problem, and has visited Turkey a dozen times within the past year in an effort to sustain good relations with the long-time NATO ally.
Dunford also outlined his desire to increase U.S. presence in Afghanistan beyond the 8,700 forces now there — but well short of the 140,000 that were in the country when he commanded the International Security Force. Still, he said, he understands why Defense Secretary James Mattis is taking a cautious approach and will authorize any strength increases in Afghanistan only if and when the time and situation are both right.
The most immediate direct threat comes from North Korea, with its continuing efforts to build missiles that can hit the U.S. and its allies, Dunford said. For now, the best avenue of recourse lies within diplomatic and economic channels.
Should issues with North Korea deteriorate to the point where armed conflict is the result, Dunford said, the results would be “horrific.”