Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy to discuss the U.S. military in a time of geopolitical strain in Penn Pavilion at Duke University, Durham, N.C., Nov. 5, 2018. Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Department of Defense
Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience at Duke University that Russia and China are near-peer competitors that the U.S. needs to match, according to the Pentagon.
In comments on Tuesday, Dunford said that China's rise and Russia's resurgent activities mark the return of great power military competition even as the U.S. continues to face concerns from Iran, North Korea and rogue militant groups and terrorism.
The concern is real, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Congress in February that the U.S. military's "competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare."
The Government Accountability Office in October said in a report that "nearly all" weapons systems of the military under development in the last five years have critical cybersecurity flaws.
"Our assumption is if we prepare against one or some combination of those challenges, then we'll have the right inventory of capabilities to deal with the unexpected," Dunford said. "But clearly, as we do our planning, we think of the unexpected in addition to these five challenges."
Dunford said the United States' great strength is it's network of alliances with nations across the globe, allowing them to focus on specific capabilities, with U.S. power filling gaps in their ability to project power in other areas.
The chairman said both China and Russia are working to disrupt these alliances. Russia is working through political interference and intimidation to disrupt NATO, while China is using trade pressure and a massive military buildup to discourage allies like Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines from cooperating with the U.S.
Russian and Chinese advances in cyber warfare, espionage and space make it necessary for the U.S. to develop capabilities to counter and retaliate against such asymmetric measures.
The general said that while it is not a return to the Cold War, as some have compared it to, it is a real concern that the U.S. needs to be committed to facing.
Emphasizing that Russia and China are not necessarily enemies of the United States, the country needs to be prepared for contingencies and work to match, and surpass, their military capabilities.
"Competition doesn't have to be conflict," Dunford said, "but we now have two states that actually can challenge our ability to project power and challenge us in all domains."
Dunford said that while the U.S. has already taken steps to counter Russian growth over the last decade, including an increase in the development of naval capability, modernization of the nuclear triad and growth in both cyber and space capabilities.
Russia in 2017 acknowledged it has a "cyber army," and President Donald Trump moved months later to beef up and elevate the U.S. Cyber Command.
Vice President Mike Pence announced last month that the U.S. Space Force is expected to launch by 2020, a sixth military branch that will focus exclusively on defense concerns in outer space.
In the case of China, Dunford said the United States is working to enforce international law and freedom of navigation using both its own influence and forces in concert with regional allies.
"One of the things we work on very hard is to develop a group of like-minded nations that will seek to have a coherent, collective response to violations of international law," Dunford said. "To the extent that we are able to do that, we will be able to manage the situation in the Pacific peacefully."