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Austin Discusses China, Russia, American Public Survey on Military at Defense One Forum

Dec. 7, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

As the United States' pacing challenge, China is moving rapidly to modernize its military, navy, ground forces and space, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said he remains focused on all of their capabilities.

During a discussion at Defense One's Outlook 2022 symposium, Austin said it's his job to defend the U.S. "And we don't have a responsibility or concern to just defend against one thing; it's the entire realm of capability that we're focused on. [We] will continue to make sure that we maintain a competitive edge in terms of technology and the ability to defend ourselves, and that's what we're going to stay focused on in the future."

A man stands at a lectern. The sign behind him indicates he is at the Pentagon.
Media Briefing
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the news media at the Pentagon, Feb. 19, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 210219-D-XI929-1002

The Defense Department needs industry to continue to support DOD, and Austin said he has every confidence that industry will rise to the occasion.

"What we've demonstrated over the years is our ability to bring together a warfighting capability that includes all of the domains and link that capability together in a way that's just been dominating, and we'll continue to do that in the future," he said.

Integrated deterrence underpins DOD's new National Defense Strategy, which the secretary said he would release early next year. 

Integrated deterrence means beginning to network our capabilities in new and different ways, the secretary said. "[There are] existing capabilities, but it also means we're going to go after those capabilities that support the operational concepts that we think will be relevant in a future fight. It means that we're going to use all the assets in the warfighting domains … including cyber and space and undersea capabilities. It also means we're going to use every instrument of national power — and not just always the military. We're going to, in all cases, lead with diplomacy. But, certainly, if diplomacy fails, we'll be in a good position to win and win decisively no matter what the issue is."

In the foreground, two men stand near a helicopter. Another man is in the background.
Japan Visit
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, center right, speaks to Air Force Col. Andrew J. Campbell, 374th Airlift Wing commander, during his visit to Yokota Air Base, Japan, March 17, 2021. Austin went to Japan to visit U.S. forces and Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Nobuo Kishi, the country's defense minister. The three leaders reaffirmed the strength of their alliance and renewed their commitment to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Juan Torres
VIRIN: 210317-F-KG439-1167C

Just as important, Austin added, is that integrated deterrence also means DOD will leverage the capability to capacity that resonates with U.S. allies. "U.S. allies and partners have some tremendous capacity in a lot of cases, and I think we need to do more to work with them to develop what they have and to use what they have in more effective ways," he said.

About Russian aggression toward Ukraine and Chinese aggression toward Taiwan, the secretary said the goal in both cases is for the United States to lead with diplomacy.

"We're very much interested in a rules-based international order which respects the sovereign territory of every country," he said. "We believe Ukraine has a right to defend and protect its sovereign territory," and the United States supports Ukraine with materials and advisors so it has what it needs to defend itself, Austin added.

If Russia should attack Ukraine, Austin said it would be "a really bad move."

The secretary said he believes there's a chance to resolve differences in ways other than force. "We've expressed concern for a number of weeks because of the numbers of [Russian] forces we see in the border region," he said. "We also see destabilizing rhetoric in the area that's very concerning. We see in the information space … some very unhelpful language. We've seen some cyber activities. [Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said] recently he was concerned there was an effort to destabilize his administration. When you add all those things together, this looks very familiar … like a replay of 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine the first time."

Four people sit at a conference table.
Pentagon Meeting
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with senior staff before a call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon, Jan. 22, 2021.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210122-D-BN624-1030

Similarly, the United States is supportive of Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression, Austin noted. Based on what's been outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act, Austin said DOD will continue to provide support so Taiwan can defend itself. There's also bipartisan support for Taiwan, which the secretary said is important.

"We don't want to see change in the status quo, especially, certainly a unilateral change in the status quo," he said of Taiwan. "We think that all tensions in that area should be resolved diplomatically first," and DOD has also made sure the small nation has what it needs to defend itself, like Ukraine.

The confidence that Americans have in their military has dropped based on a recently released Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute survey.

"With an all-volunteer force, it's very important that we have the trust and confidence of the American people," Austin said of the survey. "So we're going to continue to … take a hard look at the survey and make sure we understand the numbers and the trends. We'll do everything within our power to make sure that America maintains confidence in its military."

However, the secretary said Americans don't see the great work and sacrifices made by service members and their families. "If the average American could see what I see on a daily basis as I go out and interact with these young men and women in uniform, the sacrifices they make, and the great work they're doing, and the tremendous sacrifices on the part of their families … it's just amazing. I think what we have to do more of in the future is tell their stories and to highlight what they're doing because they're doing some incredible work in America. America should feel good about its military."