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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Russia and China 'pose greatest threat' to US national security

Below Moscow and Beijing were 'rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran', said US defence secretary James Mattis

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 6, 2018. Michael Reynolds / EPA
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 6, 2018. Michael Reynolds / EPA

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday that Russia and China posed the greatest threat to American national security, in his first congressional testimony of the year.

Below Moscow and Beijing — who he said had chosen to be "strategic competitors" with the United States — were "rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran [that] persist in taking outlaw actions that undermine and threaten regional and global stability".

Mr Mattis' remarks to the House Armed Services Committee came after he last month announced a new national defence strategy that will see the US shift its focus from the so-called "War on Terror" to countering China and Russia.

"We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorism but in our new defence strategy, great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus," he said, stressing the need for Congress to agree on a long-term budget to fund the defence department rather than the stopgap measure currently in place as debate over federal spending for the next year rumbles on.

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Comment: Mattis and the US security establishment must not make the same mistake as the Obama administration

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"Given the magnitude of the threats they (Russia and China) pose to US security and prosperity today, Congress must commit to both an increased and sustained investment in our capabilities," he added.

"I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time, because no strategy can survive without the funding necessary to resource it."

Congress must pass a new spending bill by midnight on Thursday or the government will shut down.

The defence chief, known by many as "Mad Dog" Mattis, called to strengthen US alliances, especially with Nato. And without mentioning Russia by name, he said those "who would threaten America’s experiment in democracy must know: If you threaten us, it will be your longest and worst day".

Touching on Iran, he said the country's nuclear ambitions remained "an unresolved unconcern". But once again pivoting back to Russia and China, he noted that both countries were modernising their nuclear arsenals, while Beijing was also expanding its arsenal and "pursuing entirely new nuclear capabilities".

On Afghanistan, meanwhile, Mr Mattis stressed that the US military presence there — now in its 16th year -is not aimed at conquering the country. Instead, he said, the goal is to achieve enough military leverage in order to bring the Taliban to negotiate peace.

"It's been a long hard slog" but "we believe that the regionalised strategy will put the enemy on the path to reconciliation", he said.

"What we’re doing to ensure the trust of the American people is to ensure another 9/11 hatched out of there does not happen on our watch."