WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 4, 2015) -- Russia should be considered the No. 1 threat to the United States for two reasons, its capability and its intent, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley.
"In terms of capability, Russia is the only country on earth that has the capability to destroy the United States of America," Milley said here at the Defense One Summit, Nov. 2.
"It's an existential threat by definition because of their nuclear capabilities. Other countries have nuclear weapons, but none as many as Russia and none have the capability to literally destroy the United States."
Milley noted that while neither he nor anyone else knows what Russia's true intent is, his best guess at intent is based on past behavior over the last few years - a reorganized military, increased capabilities and aggressive foreign policy.
"The situation with Russia in my mind is serious and growing more serious," he said. "I see Russia as aggressive, not just assertive. They attacked Georgia; they illegally seized Crimea; they have attacked Ukraine… all those countries were free and independent and have been sovereign nations now for a quarter century, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"I would say, Russia's recent behavior is adversarial to the interest of the United States," Milley said, adding that the United States and its allies have to approach Russia with a strength and balance approach.
"So, we want on the one hand to maintain strength in order to deter further Russian aggression and we need to stand firm where that aggression manifests itself, hence things like sanctions and what NATO is doing right now," he said.
"On the flip side, you don't want to shut them off completely, so we have our hands outreached where you have common interests and there are a variety of areas where the U.S., NATO and other friends to the U.S. have common interests with Russia… so, it's not a zero and one calculation… there's more nuance than that."
U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said during the recent Association of the United States Army annual meeting that he too would like to see the Russians back at the bargaining table and in the international community.
Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union continue to demonstrate the collective security of NATO through ongoing military exercises called Operation Atlantic Resolve, which began when Russia went into Ukraine. Hodges said the objective is deterrence. Units participate for about three months in the non-stop Atlantic Resolve rotations, which are multinational in scope.
Over the last several weeks, Milley had the opportunity to visit Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Afghanistan, then went into Europe and over to Indonesia and South Korea to meet with the chiefs of armies in the Pacific. Last week, he returned to Europe and met with the chiefs of the European armies and followed up with a trip to Ukraine.
"The Ukrainian desires continued military support by the United States and continued political and economic support," Milley said. "They're a proud people; they've been sovereign for 25 years and they're determined to remain a free and independent country."
Turning to the Middle East, the chief said the issues were strategic and that the radical terrorism in its current form of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, doesn't lend itself to easy solutions and will probably be there for a while.
"The president has given us charge to go ahead and degrade, then destroy ISIS - and we're doing that," he said. "We're adjusting our strategies… adjusting our tactical and operational approaches to achieve the strategic end state. The Middle East, specifically ISIS, is a problem that we're coming to grips with right now."
Milley next addressed the geopolitical challenges in Asia, specifically the situation on the Korean Peninsula, then the rise of China.
"In Korea you have a state of armistice since 1953," he said. "We have helped the Korean military and people maintain their independence, but Korea is artificially divided by the 38th Parallel, yet they are one ethnolinguistic group and at some point in the future… I don't know when, I don't know how… but at some point in the future it is highly probable that Korea will be one country again… whether that happens peacefully or violently, that's the $64,000 question.
"My concern is there would be a provocative incident initiated by North Korea that could lead to something more violent and that would be really tragic for Korea," he said.
"China is not an enemy and I think that's important for people to clearly understand," Milley continued. "China is a rising power that has been clicking off at 10 percent growth for almost 30 years. They dropped down to 7 percent last year and they will probably drop down to the range of normalcy and 3 to 5 percent growth, but that's still significant economic growth."
The chief summed up his thoughts saying that his main concern was Army readiness.
"None of us can see the future, so the readiness of the military is a fundamental concern and the greatest sin that I or any other general can commit is to send a Soldier, sailor, airman and Marine into combat and harm's way who is not well equipped, trained and ready," he said. "And, we want over-match… we do not want a level playing field or a fair fight; we want it all in our favor."