Admiral Charles A. Richard, head of US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) which is responsible for the country’s nuclear weapons, accused Moscow and Beijing of “aggressively challenging” world peace “in ways not seen since the Cold War”.
He highlighted cyber attacks and threats in space as examples, adding that China and Russia are “taking advantage of the global pandemic to advance their national agendas”.
Writing in the US Naval Insitute’s Proceedings magazine, Admiral Richard warned: “These behaviours are destabilizing, and if left unchecked, increase the risk of great power crisis or conflict.”
He said that while STRATCOM assesses the probability of nuclear use is low it remains possible.
Admiral Richard added: “We cannot dismiss or ignore events that currently appear unlikely but, should they occur, would have catastrophic consequences.
“We must actively compete to hold their aggression in check; ceding to their initiatives risks reinforcing their perceptions that the US is unwilling or unable to respond, which could further embolden them.
“Additionally, our allies may interpret inaction as an unwillingness or inability to lead. Remaining passive may deny us opportunities to position in ways that underpin one of our greatest strengths: strategic power projection.
“The moment an adversary’s initiative becomes a fait accompli, the US would be forced to decide whether to accept their ‘new normal,’ employ military force to reestablish the status quo, or set our own ‘new normal.'”
Admiral Richard insisted the US “must take action today to position itself for the future”.
He said: “There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state.
“Consequently, the US military must shift its principal assumption from ‘nuclear employment is not possible’ to ‘nuclear employment is a very real possibility,’ and act to meet and deter that reality.
“We cannot approach nuclear deterrence the same way.
“It must be tailored and evolved for the dynamic environment we face.”
Admiral Richard warned the “strategic capabilities” of Russia and China “continue to grow” and are “sobering”.
He said: “Until we, as a department, come to understand, if not accept, what we are facing and what should be done about it, we run the risk of developing plans we cannot execute and procuring capabilities that will not deliver desired outcomes.
“In the absence of change, we are on the path, once again, to prepare for the conflict we prefer, instead of one we are likely to face.
“It is through this lens that we must take a hard look at how we intend to compete against and deter our adversaries, assure our allies, and appropriately shape the future joint force.”
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