The United States and its allies are involved in strategic competition with China and Russia, and Colin Kahl, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, explained how this competition should be approached.
Kahl spoke via video to the Baltic Military Conference being held in Lithuania.
He stressed that the answer to strategic competition is allies and partners working together.
Strategic competition is exacerbated by threats that know no borders. These include COVID-19, climate change, cyber threats, violent extremism and more, he said.
Further complicating these threats are the challenges from China and Russia to the rules-based international order that has served the world well since the end of World War II. "The global landscape is more complex than ever and rapidly changing," he said. "We all know this, but the question is, how should we compete in this evolving world?"
None of the global threats can be effectively addressed by one country alone, Kahl said, and that is where strategic competition comes in. Strategic competition "recognizes the importance of our greatest strategic asset: Working alongside our allies and partners to advance common interests and shared values," he said. "At the same time, alliances, institutions, agreements and international norms that underwrite this international system are increasingly being tested as never before. Reversing these trends is a vital U.S. national security interest."
This ties in with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's concept of "integrated deterrence." This calls for the United States and its allies to work more closely together in ways not done before. "In our changing global landscape, we are looking at deterrence in a new and more comprehensive way," Kahl said.
Deterrence has to cover all domains, "across the spectrum of conflict from high end to gray zone encounters across our instruments of national power — not just the military, but intelligence, economic, financial, technological, and crucially alongside our allies and partners," Kahl said. "Whether we're talking about strategic competition or integrated deterrence, our allies and partners are at the core of our concepts, and we have no closer allies than our allies in Europe.
"The transatlantic alliance is the essential forum for consultation, decision making and action, and the foundation on which our collective security and our shared prosperity has built," he continued. "NATO, of course, is the bedrock of enduring transatlantic security and serves as a bulwark of our shared values of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law."
And NATO is taken seriously by U.S. leaders. Kahl stressed that American commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty — an attack on one country is an attack on all — is rock solid and unshakable. "It is not a transactional arrangement," he said. "It is for the president of the United States, a sacred commitment."
Kahl said that while China may be "the pacing threat" for the United States, Russia may actually be a larger problem in the short run. "In the coming years, Russia may actually represent the primary security challenge that we face in the military domain for the United States and certainly for Europe," he said. "Russia is an increasingly assertive adversary that remains determined to enhance its global influence and play a disruptive role on the global stage, including through attempts to divide the West."
Russian behavior — in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia and in the cyber world — is a major challenge for the United States and its allies. "Far too often, Moscow erodes transparency and predictability, uses military force to achieve its goals, supports proxy groups to sow chaos and doubt, undermines the rules-based international order through cyber and international activities and violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors," Kahl said. "The United States continues to closely monitor Russian military activity along NATO's eastern flank and in the Black Sea region."
America is clear-eyed about the challenges from Russia. "We will engage Russia from a position of collective strength," the undersecretary said. "U.S. military forces in Europe remain robust, ready and flexible, providing a credible and effective deterrent. At NATO, we are working with allies and partners to ensure military readiness to enhance a combat credible deterrent across the transatlantic community."
Kahl is quick to say the door remains open if Russian leaders change their behaviors and want to resume constructive dialogue. Kahl also said that the competition with China does not preclude the United States working with China where it makes sense and where interests converge.