Saturday, 20 January 2018

Mattis: Russia and China the main threat, not terrorism

US Defence Secretary James Mattis says competition between great powers, not terrorism, is now the main focus of America's national security.

Russia Accuses US Of Carving Out "Alternative Government" In Syria As Mattis Says No Longer Focusing On Terrorism


19 Jauary, 2018

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the United States of working to carve out "an alternative government" on Syrian soil in statements made at a UN press briefing related to the recent Turkish military build-up poised to assault Syrian Kurdish areas of Northern Syria. Lavrov's words come after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in a speech on Wednesday that US military forces would remain in Syria indefinitely until various objectives are met, which include Syrian government transition and the curtailing of Iran's influence.

Lavrov said "It’s a fact that US forces are seriously involved in creating alternative government bodies on vast part of the Syrian territory. And this, of course, absolutely contradicts their own obligations, which they committed to on numerous occasions, including at the UN Security Council, on maintaining the sovereignty and the territorial integrity on Syria."

The Russian FM further accused the US of contradicting its previous claim that US troops - which number at least 2,000 according to recent Pentagon statements - were only in Syria to fight the Islamic State and not wage a proxy war against the Syrian government and its allies.

The prior US policy of regime change in Syria, which began under the Obama administration and intensified under a CIA program, was something many analysts perceived that President Trump had abandoned - consistent with earlier campaign promises. In the summer of last year Trump shut down the CIA program - widely reported to be the agency's largest covert program - even while boosting support for the Pentagon program to arm and train the predominately Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"Rex Tillerson told me many times that the only reason for their presence there [in Syria] is defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISL). Now they have some much more long-standing plans," Lavrov said further of the inconsistency in US policy. "We will have to take this into account and look for solutions that won’t allow the destruction of Syrian sovereignty."

At the start of this week the Pentagon rolled out with deeply controversial plans for the US coalition in Syria to establish a 30,000-strong new border security force primarily utilizing the SDF, which many analysts see ultimately as a US commitment to the partitioning of Syria along ethnic and sectarian lines. And Russia has now issued a formal complaint alleging as much. 

Meanwhile US Defense Secretary James Mattis unveiled a bit of a foreign policy 180 when in a speech on Friday he said that US national security focus was no longer terrorism, but "competition between great powers." He said the US faced "growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia," while unveiling a new national defense strategy.

To put things in context

US security focus no longer terrorism - Defense Secretary
US Defence Secretary James Mattis says competition between great powers, not terrorism, is now the main focus of America's national security.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis. Photo: AFP
The US faced "growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia", he said, unveiling the national defence strategy.
In an apparent reference to Russia, he warned against "threaten[ing] America's experiment in democracy".
"If you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day," he said.
America has been gripped by ongoing investigations into alleged collusion between the Trump 2016 election campaign and Russia.
Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Mr Mattis also appealed to Congress to fund the military adequately and refrain from "indiscriminate and automatic cuts" to the US federal budget.

How much have America's defence priorities changed?

This is the first time the defence policies of the Trump administration have been spelled out in one place.
The threats listed are the same as under the Obama administration but the order of priority is different.
Formerly, jihadist militant groups like Islamic State or al-Qaeda were the focus but recently America's former Cold War opponents, Russia and China, have reasserted themselves strategically.
"We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models," Mr Mattis said.

Meanwhile, North Korea ...

Dying North Koreans a sign US diplomatic strategy works, Tillerson says

Signs of starvation and death in North Korea indicate that US diplomatic strategy works fine, says the secretary of state. The objective now is not to let Pyongyang evoke sympathy around the world for its sanctions-induced woes.

The unexpectedly-revealing description of what Rex Tillerson apparently considers successful diplomacy came from his own mouth on Wednesday as he was speaking at Stanford University with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Japanese… have had over a 100 North Korean fishing boats that have drifted into Japanese waters. Two-thirds of the people on those boats have died,” Tillerson said, citing the Japanese delegation that attended a conference in Vancouver, Canada, earlier this week.

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