Top US general: Potential for ‘significant international conflict’ is increasing

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee in their first congressional testimony since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The two Pentagon leaders said threats from both Russia and China remain significant, while defending the US approach to the war and the flow of weapons the US is sending to Ukraine.

Milley called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “the biggest threat to the peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world” in his 42 years of service in the US military, but added that it was “encouraging” to see the world unite around Ukraine.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens to undermine not only European peace and stability, but also the global peace and stability that my parents and a generation of Americans fought so hard to defend,” Milley said.

“We now face two global powers: China and Russia, each with significant military capabilities, both intent on fundamentally changing the rules based on the current global order,” Milley added. “We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable and the potential for significant international conflict is increasing, not decreasing.”

Lawmakers from both parties focused the hearing on weapons being provided to Ukraine and asked if more could be done, as Ukraine has continued to request additional capabilities.

“One of the biggest questions we’re going to have in this committee is, ‘How can we do more?'” House Armed Forces Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat, said in a statement. the top of the audience. “How can we make sure we’re doing absolutely everything we can to help them?”

Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the panel, said he would support the United States establishing permanent bases in eastern NATO countries like Poland and the Baltic states to deter Russia. Milley said he would support the establishment of permanent bases, but added that he thought US forces should rotate among themselves to create a deterrent without incurring the costs of moving family, establishing schools and other measures required when establishing a US base. permanently abroad.

“I think a lot of our European allies, especially those in the Baltic or Poland or Romania or elsewhere, are very, very willing to establish permanent bases,” Milley said. “They’ll build them, pay for them, etc., so we cycle them on a rotating basis. So you get the effect of permanent presence of forces, but actual individual soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines are not permanently stationed there during 2-3 years.”

Austin said that NATO was still discussing how it should strengthen its permanent presence in Eastern Europe. “If NATO feels it’s appropriate to change their presence, then we’ll certainly be a part of that,” Austin said.

Several Republicans asked Milley and Austin if the United States failed in its efforts to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from attacking Ukraine. Milley responded that she did not think Putin could have been deterred unless US forces had deployed from Ukraine, a scenario she would have discouraged if he had proposed.

“Honestly, short of the commitment of US military forces in Ukraine proper, I’m not sure it would be a deterrent. This has been a long-term goal of his going back years,” Milley said. “I think that the idea of ​​dissuading Putin from invading Ukraine, dissuading him from the United States, would have required the commitment of the United States military forces, and I think that would have involved an armed conflict with Russia, which I certainly would not have advised. . ”

Milley noted that sanctions “have a very poor record of deterring aggression” but said they have succeeded in imposing significant costs on Russia for its aggression.

“The point of the sanctions is to impose significant costs if he were to invade, those significant costs, the sanctions in combination with the export controls, are breaking the back of the Russian economy right now,” he said.

Austin later added that if the United States “put forces in Ukraine to fight Putin, this would be a different story.”

“But we made a decision that we were not going to do that and we made a decision for the right reasons, and I support those decisions,” Austin said, adding that he did not want to speculate on what Chinese leaders might extrapolate from what is happening. happened in Ukraine in relation to Taiwan.

Milley defended the US Army’s policy requiring troops to receive Covid-19 vaccinations in response to several inquiries from Republicans who questioned whether service members should be discharged for refusing to be vaccinated when the number of Army recruits had decreased.

Milley noted that service members are required to receive numerous vaccinations as part of joining the military, such as an anthrax shot, and said the Covid-19 vaccine helped prepare the force.

In a heated moment, Austin sparred with Rep. Matt Gaetz after the Florida Republican accused the Pentagon of being too focused on “waking up” and not on defense.

Austin charged that Gaetz appeared to be “embarrassed for his country” by questioning the capabilities of the US military, and the two men yelled at each other at various points.

Gaetz charged that the Pentagon was “wrong” in predicting that Russia would invade Ukraine within days and that the Taliban would not take control of Afghanistan last year. “You completely blew those calls and maybe we’d be better at them if the National Defense University really worked a little more on strategy and a little less on wake up,” Gaetz said.

“Has it occurred to you that Russia has not invaded Ukraine because of what we have done and because of what our allies have done?” Austin asked. “Have you ever thought about that?”

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