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Pentagon Chief Calls Russia, China 'Revisionist Powers'


U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. defense secretary has called Russia and China "revisionist powers" and said the focus of U.S. military strategy was shifting away from terrorism and back toward what he called "great power competition."

Jim Mattis made the comments on January 19 as he unveiled the Pentagon's National Defense Strategy, a major policy document that serves as a map for U.S military planners for the coming years.

In his speech, Mattis signaled that the U.S. Defense Department was shifting away from a focus on terrorism, which has preoccupied U.S. planners for some 17 years since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

"We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security," he said.

He called China and Russia "revisionist powers," saying that both are seeking to establish "a world consistent with their authoritarian models."

The defense document is the first since 2014 and the first of President Donald Trump's administration. It echoes some of the same themes contained in the National Security Strategy, a policy paper released last month that also took aim at China and Russia.

In the 11-page Pentagon paper -- an unclassified summary of a larger classified version -- Mattis outlined priorities for Defense Department planners in coming years.

"Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors," he wrote.

"China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea," Mattis added.

Later on January 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the new U.S. defense strategy, calling it "confrontational" and suggesting it was an attempt by U.S. military officials to secure greater defense spending.

"We regret that instead of conducting a normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the U.S. is trying to prove its leadership using such confrontational concepts and strategies," Russia's state-run TASS news agency cited Lavrov as telling reporters at the United Nations in New York.

The Pentagon document also focuses on Iran and North Korea, saying U.S. missile defenses are needed to protect against the threat from Pyongyang.

It says that "North Korea's outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue" despite "censure and sanctions" by the United Nations, and that "Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability."

In his January 19 speech, delivered at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Mattis criticized U.S. budget planners, and Congress in particular, saying the budgeting process has resulted in stopgap measures that he said have hamstrung U.S. forces.

Congress has deadlocked on new legislation to fund the federal government, raising the possibility that most government operations would shut down beginning January 20.

Mattis said that a shutdown would affect many military operations, including training, maintenance, and intelligence gathering.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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