National Security & Defense

Defense Secretary Carter: Russia and ISIS Are Greatest Threats to U.S. Security

Defense Secretary Carter with Marines at Camp Pendleton. (Photo: Master Sergeant Adrian Cadiz)

I​n an appearance before troops at Camp Pendleton on Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter dubbed Russia and ISIS the two greatest threats to American national security.

Carter mentioned “the ugly phenomenon” that is ISIS in his response to a U.S. Marine who asked about the country’s “most significant [national security] challenges.” Then he addressed Russia. “We also have to respond to . . . the behavior of the Russian government under . . . Vladimir Putin, which was signified in Ukraine, which is I think taking Russia in the wrong direction for his own people,” he said.

While Carter’s statement squares with the assessment offered by a number of senior military officials, it’s an unusually clear concurrence from a member of President Obama’s cabinet. 

Obama’s incoming top military adviser called Russia “an existential threat” during congressional testimony in July. “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” said General Joseph Dunford, who is set to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October. “And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

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Secretary of State John Kerry, however, disagrees with Carter and Dunford. “The secretary doesn’t agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in response to Dunford. “You know, these are major powers with whom we engage and cooperate on a number of issues, despite any disagreements we may have with them,” he added. ”Certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities within the region, but we don’t view it as an existential threat.” 

Toner did say his boss considers ISIS an “existential threat,” which marks a significant shift in position from past statements. In February of 2014, one month after Obama referred to ISIS as a “JV team,” Kerry called climate change “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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