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Dunford Describes U.S. Great Power Competition with Russia, China

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Russia and China are competitors to the United States and both nations are looking to overturn the current rules-based international order, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today at the Atlantic Council’s Commanders’ Series here.

A man in a uniform speaks to a woman.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the great power competition among the U.S., China and Russia with CNN Reporter Barbara Starr at the Atlantic Council in Washington, March 21, 2019. DOD photo by Jim Garamone
A man in a uniform speaks to a woman.
Chairman Speaks
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the great power competition among the U.S., China and Russia with CNN Reporter Barbara Starr at the Atlantic Council in Washington, March 21, 2019. DOD photo by Jim Garamone
Photo By: Jim Garamone
VIRIN: 190321-D-ZZ999-083A

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said China and Russia are striving “to establish pre-eminence, if not hegemony, in their respective geographic areas and both trying to assert greater influence on the world stage.” The chairman spoke with CNN reporter Barbara Starr.

From the military’s perspective, China and Russia are doing what they can to challenge the U.S. and are targeting American capabilities, Dunford said. This means the two nations are working to subvert America’s network of allies and partners and are seeking to negate the American military’s ability to project forces when and where needed and sustain them, he said.

Strength of Alliances

“They both recognize the strength of our allies and partners, they both recognize from careful study the U.S. ability to project power in 1991 to 2003, they recognize the competitive advantage we have had historically and what they are seeking to do is undermine the credibility of our alliance structure in Europe and the Pacific,” he said.

“They have been on a specific path of capability development to make it much more difficult and contest our ability to access any area to meet our alliance commitments,” the chairman said.

In Europe, this means subverting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Dunford said. In the Pacific, this means working to undermine U.S. treaties with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, he said.

“In the past, we took for granted our ability to project power when and where necessary to advance our interests,” Dunford said. It cannot be taken for granted today, he added.

Russia is sinking significant sums into their military capabilities, the chairman said. The nation is rebuilding systems that atrophied through the 20th century and early part of the 21st. The Russian nuclear enterprise has been modernized, Russia has modernized its Navy and has added top-line aircraft, he said. They have also used cyberwarfare to try and influence America’s 2016 elections and have used cyber capabilities to influence public opinion in Europe.

Dunford noted that China is also investing tremendous amounts in their militaries — building aircraft carriers and accompanying ships, modernizing land forces, building fifth generation fighters that look an awful lot like the American F-22 Raptor and revamping the command and control structure to build unified commands making the military more compliant to the Chinese Communist Party.

Great Power Competition

Military buildups are only part of the picture, though, the chairman said. All aspects of international relations — economic, diplomatic, political and even cultural — come into play in great power competitions, Dunford said. The U.S. maintains its lead because of the fusion of these elements. For military capabilities, the fusion between economic and military spheres and the spirit of innovation that is encouraged in the United States gives America a great advantage, he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping understands this, Dunford noted. “He calls it civil-military fusion — breaking down the barriers between the military and industry in China,” he said.

This fusion creates a problem for the U.S. military when high-tech U.S. companies partner with companies in China, Dunford said. First, “If a U.S. company does business in China, they will automatically be required to have a cell of the Communist Party,” the chairman said. “That is going to lead to [that company’s] intellectual property going to the Chinese military.”

Artificial intelligence research is a case in point. U.S. companies partnering with Chinese firms in this area “will help an authoritarian government assert control over its own people, … and it will enable the Chinese military to take advantage of the technology that is developed in the United States,” he said.

Americans need to debate this issue. “This is about us looking at the second and third order effects of our business ventures in China, the Chinese form of government and the impact it will have on the United States ability to maintain a competitive military advantage and all that goes with it,” Dunford said.

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