Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Trump, acknowledged this week that America’s recent shift in defensive posture and heavy investments into new military technology might make it seem as though a new cold war is already underway. But as far as he’s concerned, that isn’t the case.
Unlike the last Cold War — which was, at its most basic level, an ideological dispute between two economic and political systems — this new cold war seems to be about diplomatic and economic leverage over a much more modern and singular global community. While the old players have returned, most defense experts agree that it’s China, rather than Russia, that poses the most formidable threat to American interests in the century to come.
Throughout nearly two decades of American involvement in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations, Russia and China have observed American tactics and strategies and then worked tirelessly to develop ways to counter them. As a result of their concerted efforts and America’s singular focus on ongoing combat operations at the expense of continued development of advanced weapons programs, America has lost the edge in a number of technological forefronts. Hypersonic missile technology, artillery, and intercontinental ballistic missiles are just a few of the realms America now finds itself years behind its competitors — and is spending heavily to catch up.
“They were alarmed at our ability to send as much men, material and equipment as we could in such a short period of time literally around the world,” Dunford said, explaining Russia and China’s rapid efforts to find and exploit perceived vulnerabilities in America’s defensive infrastructure. “In other words, they are looking for ways to disrupt our abilities to project power and then to operate freely once we get there.”
However, although the United States now faces a contentious global environment with two national governments devoting significant resources — not only to fielding comparable military forces, but to studying and exploiting American weaknesses — Dunford still believes characterizing the nature of the threat as a new “Cold War” may be inaccurate. According to his perspective, America is indeed bolstering its defense in Europe and the Pacific, funneling billions more into new defense projects, and tailoring its military doctrine and foreign policy to better fit a world with threats posed by near-peer opponents… but the difference this time is that it’s all in the interest of deterrence, rather than conflict.
“It doesn’t necessarily equate to a cold war,” he said to Military.com. “The competition doesn’t have to be conflict, but … we have two states that can challenge our ability to project power and challenge us in all five domains, and that is what is different than in the 1990s. … In the 1990s, the U.S. military had no competitor.”
“When we talk about capability development, I will make it clear what you are seeing in our posture, what you are seeing in our increased forces we have put in Europe, what you are seeing in the path of capability development we are on is in order to deter a conflict, not to fight, and in order to meet our alliance commitments in NATO,” he said. “Russia clearly has a different view of what we are doing. Generally, we will agree to disagree.”