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DOD Policy Chief Kahl Discusses Strategic Competition With Baltic Allies

Gerald Scroop

September 17, 2021

The United States and its allies are involved in strategic competition with China and Russia, and Colin Kahl, the Defense Department's undersecretary for policy, explained how this competition should be approached.

Kahl spoke via video to the Baltic Military Conference being held in Lithuania. 

He stressed that the answer to strategic competition is allies and partners working together.

Strategic competition is exacerbated by threats that know no borders. These include COVID-19, climate change, cyber threats, violent extremism and more, he said. 

Man speaks on a ZOOM call.

And NATO is taken seriously by U.S. leaders. Kahl stressed that American commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty — an attack on one country is an attack on all — is rock solid and unshakable. "It is not a transactional arrangement," he said. "It is for the president of the United States, a sacred commitment."

Kahl said that while China may be "the pacing threat" for the United States, Russia may actually be a larger problem in the short run. "In the coming years, Russia may actually represent the primary security challenge that we face in the military domain for the United States and certainly for Europe," he said. "Russia is an increasingly assertive adversary that remains determined to enhance its global influence and play a disruptive role on the global stage, including through attempts to divide the West."

Russian behavior — in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia and in the cyber world — is a major challenge for the United States and its allies. "Far too often, Moscow erodes transparency and predictability, uses military force to achieve its goals, supports proxy groups to sow chaos and doubt, undermines the rules-based international order through cyber and international activities and violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors," Kahl said. "The United States continues to closely monitor Russian military activity along NATO's eastern flank and in the Black Sea region."

America is clear-eyed about the challenges from Russia. "We will engage Russia from a position of collective strength," the undersecretary said. "U.S. military forces in Europe remain robust, ready and flexible, providing a credible and effective deterrent. At NATO, we are working with allies and partners to ensure military readiness to enhance a combat credible deterrent across the transatlantic community."

Kahl is quick to say the door remains open if Russian leaders change their behaviors and want to resume constructive dialogue. Kahl also said that the competition with China does not preclude the United States working with China where it makes sense and where interests converge.

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