The Heritage Foundation’s 2020 Index of US Military Strength, a 500+ page document on the US military and its key potential adversaries, lists Russia, China and Iran alongside Middle Eastern terrorism as “aggressive” threats to American interests around the globe.
Russia, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank claims, “remains the primary threat to American interests in Europe,” and is “the most pressing threat to the United States” in general.
1985 Called: They Want Their Rhetoric Back
The think tank accuses Russia of “regularly perform[ing] provocative military exercises and training missions” (in its own borders), and points out that Russia “continues to sell and export arms to countries that are hostile to US interests.”
Heritage also points to Russia’s $61.4 billion in military spending “investment in modernizing its military,” not mentioning that NATO’s combined defence budget was over $1 trillion in 2018, with the US alone spending over $649 billion on the military.
The think tank goes on to accuse Moscow of “continuing to sabotage US and Western policy in Syria and Ukraine,” even though Moscow's military assistance to the Middle Eastern country was provided at the request of Syria's UN-recognised government, and Russia's involvement in Ukraine is limited to acting as a mediator in the country's half-decade old civil war, brought on by a Western-backed coup in Kiev in 2014.
Good to put the #defencespending debate into perspective every now and then.— Timo S. Koster (@tskos) 17 мая 2019 г.
Annual spending on #defence by #Russia roughly equals six percent of total spending by #NATO allies.
Comparison in the graphic below and in SIPRI’s #MILEX report: https://t.co/vGw23q0xha https://t.co/lEFVNLEX4e pic.twitter.com/1bZW4HZ69H
'Chinese Threat' Isn't Just About the US's Massive Trade Deficit, Apparently
While Russia may be “the most pressing threat,” in Heritage's estimation, China is “the most comprehensive threat” to the US, thanks to its continued military modernisation efforts, and to Chinese actions like its military's “live-fire exercises in the East China Sea near Taiwan.”
The report does not mention how US plans to deploy long-range missiles and anti-missile shield components across Asia and the Pacific squares with the concept of a 'Chinese threat' to the US, rather than the other way around. Nor does it ask questions about how the US might respond if the Chinese Navy began sailing 'freedom of navigation' missions in sea zones in and around the US, as the US Navy is already doing in the East and South China Seas.
Don't Forget Iran!
Iran, which has featured on lists of "threats" to the US going back to George W. Bush's 'axis of evil' days, also qualifies in Heritage's ranking, since it's “the state actor that is most hostile to American interests in the Middle East,” and because it is allegedly on its way to becoming a nuclear power armed with long-range missiles, missile defences and unmanned drone capabilities.
Tensions between the two countries ramped up this spring after the US deployed a carrier strike group in the Middle East, citing an unspecified 'Iranian threat' to US interests. Since then, the Persian Gulf has seen a series of dangerous incidents, including a string of sabotage attacks against commercial vessels, tanker seizures and drone shootdowns, including Iran's destruction of a $220 million US spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz using a home-grown air defence system. With each escalation, the two countries have threatened one another with destruction in the event of war, but Iran has yet to back down against its numerically and technically superior adversary.
'Axis of Enemies' List Includes Actual Terrorists
Hard as it may be to believe, Heritage ranks Russia, China and Iran alongside actual Middle Eastern terrorist groups among the “aggressive” threats to the US, even though two of these countries have played a key role in fighting these same terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, and none of them have staged terrorist attacks aimed at killing thousands of Americans.
While admitting that Daesh (ISIS)* has been “decimated” and has lost its caliphate (thanks to the combined efforts of Syrian and Iraqi forces and their Russian, Iranian and US coalition allies), Heritage warns that the threat “has not been completely eliminated and has made efforts to reassert itself in the region.” To deal with this threat, the think tank recommends putting “effective pressure” on both terror groups and “those that support them,” although it doesn’t specify who these “supporters” might be.
Last week, in a press conference presenting Russian satellite intelligence on an illegal oil smuggling operation run by "leading American corporations," private military contracts, the Pentagon and the CIA, Russian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov expressed doubts about the sincerity of US concerns about Daesh , saying that for the estimated $30 million profits from illegal oil smuggling out of Syria each month, the US will likely be "ready to 'guard' Syrian oil wells from 'hidden Daesh cells' indefinitely."
US Military Surprisingly Unprepared
President Trump has repeatedly boasted about the US military being "the most powerful it has ever been" and the need to keep it the strongest in the world. However, when it comes to dealing with the many global "threats" the US faces around the world, Heritage warns that all four branches of the US military rank only “Marginal” in their overall capabilities, scoring in the middle of a ranking system arranged from ‘very weak’ to ‘very strong’. The think tank is particularly concerned about the military's inability to wage two or more major conflicts in various corners of the globe simultaneously.
Speaking at an event in Washington, DC to launch the 2020 Index late last week, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats chairwoman Joni Ernst said this year’s index “highlights the real threats which keep me and many others up at night.”
“We must stave off the threats just outlined and ensure both our allies and our adversaries never question our resolve, or our capability. We cannot allow tomorrow to be the day that China makes a calculation that taking Taiwan by force would result in anything but failure. We cannot allow Russia to decide the United States and our NATO allies would back down following a Russian invasion of the Baltic states,” Ernst said, without specifying what would prompt either power to wage an unprovoked war of aggression with US allies.
*A terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.