Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is parroting a number of top Pentagon officials on the issue of Russia today, affirming that he too believes Russia is an “existential threat” to the United States simply by virtue of being a very large country with a lot of nuclear weapons.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Carter insisted Russia’s status as a threat is nothing new, but that Putin is suddenly acting “as an antagonist” to the US on certain issues, and said the US is changing their playbook with NATO to “harden” areas along the Russian frontier.
So far this “hardening” has consisted of the US “pre-positioning” massive amounts of combat vehicles in Eastern Europe, to save themselves the trouble of having to ship them during an actual war. It has also involved massive military drills directly on the Russian border, which several groups have warned risk provoking a conflict neither side really wants.
Several Pentagon officials have talked up Russia’s threat during the recent budget battles, with Army Chief Gen. Ray Odierno calling them America’s “most dangerous threat” only last week, and officials warning that defeating Russia in a “sustained” ground war wouldn’t be a “sure bet” without more military spending.
Though Pentagon officials have been on about Russia since last year’s Ukraine regime change, and the subsequent eastern civil war, with assorted generals predicting an imminent Russian invasion of Europe that never came about, the recent round seems more cynically directed at Congressional testimony, with an eye on securing money for more high-priced projects that don’t make a lot of sense for America’s current wars, nominally to maintain a “qualitative” advantage over Russia.
The US spends roughly 10 times as much on its military as Russia does, but Pentagon officials say that the sheer number of other wars America is constantly fighting and their vision of the war happening almost entirely in Russian territory makes the difference much less dramatic.
The talk of Russia as a “primary” threat has come amid calls from Congress to put the assorted threats in order, with Pentagon officials all putting ISIS far below where Congress expected them to go, and favoring military planning against conventional nation-states, putting Russia and China up at the top.