WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing that, while he supports engagement with Russia, the “reality” is the Kremlin poses a “principal” threat to the United States.
While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Mattis said:
I would consider the principal threats [against the U.S.] to start with Russia, and it would certainly include any nations that are looking to intimidate nations around the periphery, regional nations, through violence, whether it be weapons of mass destruction or … unusual, unorthodox means … and at the same time, we face now an era where we’re going to be fighting terrorist threats.
Asked about Russia’s intervention in Syria, he added, “I’m all for engagement, but we also have to recognize the reality, and what Russia is up to has decreased the number of areas where we can engage and cooperate and increased the number of areas where we’re going to have to confront them.”
In policy questions the retired general answered prior to the confirmation hearing, he described Russia and Communist China as “major challenges” facing the United States, adding, “They’re an adversary in key areas.”
Mattis also noted:
When we identify other areas where we cannot cooperate, we must confront Russia’s behavior and defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to our interests. Challenges posed by Russia include alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons, treaty violations, the use of hybrid warfare tactics to destabilize other countries, and involvement in hacking and information warfare.
Buttressing NATO will be fundamental to meeting these challenges, and we will need an integrated strategy that strengthens the North Atlantic Alliance and ensures that the Department of Defense is prepared to counter both traditional and emerging threats.
The general emphasized that Russian President Vladimir Putin has chosen to be a strategic competitor of the United States.
Nevertheless, he said, “We engaged with Russia even during the darkest days of the Cold War, and I support the President-elect’s desire to engage with Russia now. Engagement should serve as a means to achieve national objectives.”
The Marine general noted in response to the policy questions that NATO “enormously” benefits the national security interests of the United Sates and its allies.
However, he stressed that member states must share the fiscal and manpower burden of common defense.
An aggressive Russia has prompted NATO to develop the Readiness Action Plan, described by the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as “the strongest or the biggest reinforcement of collected offense since the end of the Cold War.”
The prospective Pentagon chief told lawmakers he agrees it is important to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrence forces are maintained ready to counter Russian nuclear provocations.