The globe is growing more unstable, according to the top US military leader, and the “potential for big international conflict is increasing, not diminishing.”
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke before the House Armed Services Committee for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both Russian and Chinese threats remain considerable, according to the two Pentagon commanders, who also justified the US stance to the war and the arms supply to Ukraine.
Milley called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the biggest threat to Europe’s and maybe the world’s peace and security” in his 42 years in the US military, but said it was “heartening” to see the international community unite around Ukraine.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens not just European peace and stability, but also world peace and stability,” Milley added.
“We are now up against two global powers: China and Russia, both of which have major military capabilities and both of which want to fundamentally alter the present rules-based global order,” Milley continued. “We are approaching a world that is getting more insecure, and the risk of major international conflict is rising, not falling.”
At the session, lawmakers from both parties focused on the weaponry delivered to Ukraine, questioning whether more could be done as Ukraine continues to request further capabilities.
“One of the most important problems we’ll face as a committee is, ‘How can we do more?'” At the start of the hearing, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, remarked. “How can we be certain we’re doing everything we can to assist them?”
Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican, said he supports the United States establishing permanent facilities in eastern NATO nations such as Poland and the Baltics to deter Russia. Milley said he would favor permanent sites, but that US soldiers should rotate through them to provide a deterrence without the expenditures of relocating families, creating schools, and other measures that come with establishing a permanent US post abroad.
“I believe that many of our European friends, particularly those in the Baltics, Poland, Romania, and elsewhere, are eager to create permanent bases,” Milley added. “They’ll build them, pay for them, and so on, for us to rotate through on a regular basis. As a result, you have the appearance of a constant presence of forces, yet the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are only stationed there for 2-3 years.”
According to Austin, NATO is still debating how to strengthen its permanent presence in Eastern Europe. “Certainly, we’ll be a part of it if NATO thinks it proper to change its footprint,” Austin said.
Several Republicans questioned Milley and Austin on whether the US had succeeded in deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin from striking Ukraine. Milley said that Putin could not have been stopped unless US soldiers were deployed from Ukraine, a situation he would have warned against if it had been suggested.
“To be honest, I’m not convinced he could be deterred without the deployment of US military forces in Ukraine. This has been a long-standing goal of his for many years “Milley said. “I believe that the concept of the US deterring Putin from invading Ukraine would have required the deployment of US military troops, and I believe it would have risked armed confrontation with Russia, which I would not have advocated.”
Milley acknowledged that sanctions “had a very poor track record of deterring aggressiveness,” but claimed that they have succeeded in putting major costs on Russia’s behavior.
“The goal of the sanctions is to inflict substantial costs if he invades,” he added. “Those significant costs, along with the export controls, are currently breaking the back of the Russian economy.”
It would have been a different thing if the US had “sent forces into Ukraine to combat Putin,” Austin later said.
“But we decided not to do that, and we decided for the correct reasons, and I support those decisions,” Austin said, adding that he didn’t want to speculate on what Chinese officials could deduce from the events in Ukraine in relation to Taiwan.
Milley defended the US military’s policy of mandating troops to take Covid-19 vaccines in response to Republican questions about whether service members should be fired for refusing to be vaccinated during a period when Army recruiting rates were low.
Milley pointed out that as part of entering the military, service members must undergo a variety of vaccines, including an anthrax vaccine, and that the Covid-19 vaccine helped to force preparedness.
Austin got into a heated exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz after the Florida Republican claimed the Pentagon of focusing too much on “wokeism” rather than defense.
Gaetz looked to be “embarrassed for his nation” by doubting the US military’s competence, according to Austin, and the two men screamed over each other at times.
Gaetz said that the Pentagon “made a mistake” last year when it predicted that Russia would take over Ukraine in days and that the Taliban would not seize control of Afghanistan. “You really bungled those calls,” Gaetz remarked, “and maybe we’d be better at them if the National Defense University focused more on strategy and less on wokeism.”
“Has it dawned to you that Russia has not conquered Ukraine as a result of our actions and those of our allies?” Austin had enquired. “Have you ever considered it?” says the narrator.