Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced a new initiative on Tuesday to counter China and Russia, another sign of the Pentagon’s shift away from counter-terrorism towards so-called “great power competition.”
The initiative, called the Guidance for Development for Alliances and Partnerships, aims to strengthen and expand US alliances with “like-minded democracies.”
While unveiling the initiative in a speech at the Atlantic Council, Esper stressed the importance of alliances to counter Russia and China. “America’s network of allies and partners provides us an asymmetric advantage our adversaries cannot match,” he said. “China and Russia probably have fewer than 10 allies combined.”
Esper said the US needs to build stronger ties with “like-minded democracies such as India and Indonesia.”
Esper mentioned trips he made recently to Asia to seek more defense cooperation in China’s backyard. The Pentagon chief made recent trips to Palau, Malta, and Mongolia. Palau, a small island nation in the western Pacific, invited the US to build a military base in its territory during Esper’s visit.
At the same event, Esper defended the administration’s plan to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany, explaining many of them will be redeployed further east, closer to Russia’s border. The original plan called for half of the troops leaving Germany to be sent home to the US, but Esper said stationing more of them in Eastern Europe is a possibility.
Last week, Esper called for an increase in military spending to face Russia and China. “I would like to see three to five percent annual real growth for the Defense Department to stay ahead of the challenges we face, especially from China,” he said.