WASHINGTON (AFP) — A new defense strategy released Thursday places the "long war" against extremism above potential conventional challenges from China and Russia as the top priority of the US military in the coming years.
"For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the US," the strategy paper said.
The document encapsulates a shift that has already been underway because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but one that has met resistance from some in the military who worry about sacrificing conventional US military supremacy.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended the new strategy, saying it was an attempt to incorporate the lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said conventional weapons programs already account for the lion's share of the Pentagon's acquisition budget, but there is no political constituency supporting the new requirements for irregular and asymmetric warfare.
"The danger is not that modernization will be sacrificed to fund asymmetric capabilities, but rather that in the future we will again neglect the latter," he told reporters.
The strategy paper notes that China is expanding its conventional military capabilities and that Russia's "retreat from openness and democracy could have significant security implications for the United States."
But in both cases, it said the goal of the United States should be to build "collaborative and cooperative relationships with them."
"I don't see either nation as a threat to the United States at this point, but they both are investing in modernization programs that are of concern," Gates said.
The paper said the Defense Department would respond to China's expanding military power through "shaping and hedging."
"This approach tailors investment of substantial, but not infinite, resources, in ways that favor key enduring US strategic advantages," it said.
"At the same time we will continue to improve and refine our capabilities to respond to China if necessary," it said.
The paper said Russia was leveraging its oil wealth, asserting claims in the Arctic, and continues "to bully its neighbors, all of which are cause for concern."
It also pointed to Russia's resumption of long-range bomber flights, withdrawal from arms control and force reduction treaties, threats to target countries that host US missile defense bases and an increased reliance on nuclear weapons as a foundation of its security.
"All of these actions suggest a Russia exploring renewed influence, and seeking a greater international role," it said.
But the paper said the strategic environment the United States faces for the foreseeable future "will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system."
It called for "mastery of irregular warfare comparable to that which we possess in conventional combat."
But it also emphasized the need to help strengthen other foreign military and work with allies and partner states to "help shrink the ungoverned areas of the world and thereby deny extremists and other hostile parties sanctuary."
The paper highlighted the threat posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and said if necessary the United States will act preemptively "to forestall or prevent hostile acts by our adversaries."
"We must also be prepared to act quickly to secure those weapons and materials in cases where a state loses control of its weapons, especially nuclear devices," it said.
"Should the worst happen, and we are attacked, we must be able to sustain operations during that attack and help mitigate the consequences of WMD attacks at home or overseas," it said.
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