Russia has shocked the world by sending troops into Ukraine, and a new Defense Department long-term threat assessment proves that the U.S. military was no exception.
The department released its Quadrennial Defense Review on Tuesday, and in all of its 64 pages, only one paragraph of the sweeping U.S. military strategy outlines the possible risks Russia may pose to Washington’s or its allies’ interests:
“The United States is willing to undertake security cooperation with Russia, both in the bilateral context and in seeking solutions to regional challenges, when our interests align, including Syria, Iran, and post-2014 Afghanistan,” the document said. “At the same time, Russia’s multi-dimensional defense modernization and actions that violate the sovereignty of its neighbors present risks. We will engage Russia to increase transparency and reduce the risk of military miscalculation.”
The document largely focuses on how the military will shrink and still be equipped to “win decisively” in conflicts in the Middle East, “rebalance” its forces to the Asia-Pacific region, and combat a range of threats from terrorists to a nuclear-armed Iran. The military strategy was released along with the Pentagon’s $496 billion budget request for next year.
But Russia certainly has the military’s attention now: The Pentagon is keeping a close eye after Moscow sent thousands of troops to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the past week. And in response to what Obama administration officials have decried as a Russian “invasion” and “occupation” of Ukrainian territory that violates international law, the Pentagon has suspended its military relations with Moscow.
To be fair, the Pentagon has a lot on its plate — especially as it slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from its planned budgets. Military planners are transparent about the “rapidly changing security environment” the United States faces as it emerges from an era of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So it’s hardly surprising that the Pentagon’s military strategy does not dwell on Russia, which has in fact cooperated with some of President Obama’s diplomatic initiatives in recent months, including convincing embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his chemical-weapons stockpiles, and helping to seal a landmark deal with Iran to curb the major aspects of its nuclear program.
In this unexpected crisis in Ukraine, the Obama administration will likely focus on a show of diplomatic strength — and economic force — to isolate Putin, rather than rely on military might. So far, the U.S. has not adjusted its military assets in Europe or the Mediterranean. As National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh wrote this week, “Obama and his partners in the G-8 and the West must now wrangle with some grim realities: First, a military response is unthinkable between the nuclear-armed former adversaries of the Cold War.”
Still, it’s possible that the recent Russian incursion may spotlight the Obama administration’s plans to close down military bases and facilities in Europe. The United States has already shuttered about one-third of its infrastructure in Europe, where fewer than 66,000 American troops are stationed, primarily in Germany, Italy, and Britain. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has already warned more cuts are coming.
Tuesday’s military strategy fleshes out those objectives. “We will continue to study U.S. infrastructure and headquarters in Europe to balance further consolidation in a time of fiscal austerity with our enduring responsibility to provide forces in response to crises in the region and beyond, and to train with NATO allies and partners,” the strategy said.
“The department will make every effort to enhance training with European nations, recognizing their role as primary U.S. partners in operations globally. We will continue to work to achieve a Europe that is peaceful and prosperous, and we will engage Russia constructively in support of that objective.”
Now, however, with the military’s relations with Moscow cut off, it’s clear that engaging Russia “constructively” for a safer Europe will be a tougher task.
What We're Following See More »
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identified on Friday the makes and models of 12 million cars and motorcycles that have been recalled because of defective air bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata. The action includes 4.3 million Chryslers; 4.5 million Hondas; 1.6 million Toyotas; 731,000 Mazdas; 402,000 Nissans; 383,000 Subarus; 38,000 Mitsubishis; and 2,800 Ferraris. ... Analysts have said it could take years for all of the air bags to be replaced. Some have questioned whether Takata can survive the latest blow."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says 41 Secret Service agents have been disciplined in the fallout of an investigation over the agency's leak of personnel files. The leaker, who has resigned, released records showing that Oversight and Government Reform Chair Jason Chaffetz—who was leading an investigation of Secret Service security lapses—had applied for a job at the agency years before. The punishments include reprimands and suspension without pay. "Like many others I was appalled by the episode reflected in the Inspector General’s report, which brought real discredit to the Secret Service," said Johnson.
Mitt Romney spoke in an interview with the Wall Street Journal about his decision to challenge Donald Trump. “Friends warned me, ‘Don’t speak out, stay out of the fray,’ because criticizing Mr. Trump will only help him by giving him someone else to attack. They were right. I became his next target, and the incoming attacks have been constant and brutal.” Still, "I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.”
"A bill to help Puerto Rico handle its $70 billion debt crisis is facing an uncertain future in the Senate. No Senate Democrats have endorsed a bill backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while some are actively fighting it. ... On the Republican side, senators say they’re hopeful to pass a bill but don’t know if they can support the current legislation — which is expected to win House approval given its backing from leaders in that chamber."
"Congress abandoned the Capitol Thursday for an almost two-week break without addressing how to combat Zika, even as public health officials issue dire warnings about the spread of the mosquito-driven virus with summer approaching. ... Instead of racing to fund efforts to thwart a potential health crisis, lawmakers are treating the Zika debate like regular legislation, approving Thursday the establishment of a House-Senate committee to hammer out differences in their competing bills."