It seems that U.S. top officials cannot agree on how much of a threat Russia poses to Washington.

Pentagon Chief: Russia Is Not Our Biggest Threat
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During a press conference on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was asked to comment on the statements that Russia is the greatest threat to the U.S. made by newly appointed U.S. officials, including Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will assume the post of Joint Chiefs of Staff chief later this year.

Carter responded that he agrees that Russia “poses an existential threat to the United States by virtue simply of the size of the nuclear arsenal that it’s had.”

However, Carter noted that the U.S. has not viewed Russia as an enemy since the end of the Cold War, but “Vladimir Putin’s Russia behaves in many respects … as an antagonist. That is new. That is something, therefore, that we need to adjust to and counter.”

Carter also introduced a new term of how the Pentagon is currently countering Russia – with an approach that he called “strong and balanced.”

Pentagon’s new strategy to counter Russian threat revealed

The ‘strong’ part of the Pentagon’s new strategy means that the U.S. is adjusting its “capabilities qualitative and in terms of their deployments, to take account of this behavior of Russia,” Carter said.

He also revealed that NATO is developing a “new playbook” that is oriented towards deterrence on its eastern border as well as strengthening NATO and non-NATO states neighboring with Russia to counter “the kind of hybrid warfare influence or little green man kind of influence that we see associated with Russia in Ukraine.”

The term ‘little green men’ refers to Russian masked unmarked forces in green army uniforms that annexed Crimea in March 2014 and are currently acting in eastern Ukraine.

The ‘balanced’ part of the Pentagon’s ‘strong and balanced’ strategy, for its turn, means that the U.S. would continue cooperating with Russia on areas that require their joint efforts and that coincide with both countries’ interests. Because “you can’t paint all their [Russia’s] behavior with one brush,” Carter explained.

Carter admitted that Washington continues its cooperation with Moscow on a number of global matters such as the Iranian nuclear program as well the relations with North Korea.

“So where Russia sees its interests as aligned with ours, we can work with them and will continue to do that,” Carter said.

Russia the ‘greatest’ threat or an ‘existential’ threat to the U.S.?

This summer was rich in statements of U.S. top officials regarding Russia being either the ‘greatest’ threat, the ‘number one’ threat or an ‘existential’ threat to the U.S.

Just over a week ago, the outgoing Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno said in an interview with CNN that Russia poses the “most dangerous” threat to the U.S. as it is “more mature than some other of our potential adversaries.”

The General also expressed his concerns that Russia may next invade a Baltic state, a NATO ally, like Estonia or Latvia, while only about a third of U.S. army brigades would be able to compete at the level of the “sophisticated” operations and the hybrid warfare that Russia is capable of.

His possible successor, General Mark Milley, who is nominated to be the next Army chief of staff, also regards Russia as an ‘existential’ threat to the U.S. because “Russia is the only country on earth that retains a nuclear capability to destroy the United States.”

Earlier in July, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Joseph Dunford made quite a stir by saying that Russia “presents the greatest threat to our national security” due to the fact that it’s a nuclear power.

Calling Russia the ‘greatest’ threat is dangerous

These statements by top U.S. military brass clearly indicate how the relations between Washington and Moscow have come under serious strain since the beginning of 2014.

However, calling Russia the ‘greatest’ threat to the U.S. is not only counterproductive, but also dangerous, according to James Bilsland, teacher in School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, and Valentina Feklyunina, lecturer in Politics at Newcastle University.

In their article on The Conversation platform, which publishes opinions of academic community, Bilsland and Feklyunina laid out three reasons why the U.S. must dismiss its thought of Russia being the ‘greatest’ threat to the U.S.

First of all, regarding Russia as the key threat will inevitably require some military response, which would only escalate the conflict between Moscow and Washington, the authors noted. Moscow blames the U.S. and Europe for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and supplying the Kyiv government with lethal weapons (the idea supported by Dunford) would only provoke the Kremlin to launch a large-scale military response.

Claims about Russian threat only bolster Russian threats

Second of all, Moscow is not satisfied with Russia’s place in the post-Soviet world and believes that Washington does not respect its claims on the status of a great power, according to the authors. However, calling Russia the ‘greatest’ threat only strengthens Moscow’s “determination to continue with its course of actions.”

“Ironically, Russian elites interpret Russia’s designation as “the greatest threat” to the US security as a long-awaited recognition of great power status. What couldn’t be earned through cooperation with the US and the West more broadly, is seen as reclaimed through the conflict,” Bilsland and Feklyunina explained.

Third of all, statements about Russia being the ‘greatest’ threat only worsen already extremely high levels of an anti-American sentiment in Russia society, the authors noted.

“According to findings of the Pew Research Center, the share of Russian respondents who hold unfavorable views of the US has risen to 81% in 2015 – a striking increase compared to 33% in 2002,” Bilsland and Feklyunina wrote.

However, it must be noted that such numbers are largely the result of anti-Western propaganda in Russia, but U.S. top officials “often provide perfect material” to feed Russian propaganda.

The authors concluded the article by saying that “as history shows, sooner or later political leaders on both sides will start looking for ways to overcome the tensions. Avoiding the language of ‘greatest threats’ will make this process easier.”