Pentagon Head Mark Esper on U.S. external challenges during the pandemic era
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper noted that the United States remains “vigilant” against external threats, despite the challenges of the pandemic. He also expressed confidence in NATO’s readiness to protect Eastern European countries.
Despite the absence of serious provocations and the pandemic, a number of countries, including Russia and China, continue to resort to acts of concern, the secretary said at a Web event hosted by the Washington Brookings Institution on Monday, May 4.
“We are seeing an increase in Chinese activity in the South China Sea. We see Russia continuing to conduct reconnaissance near our airspace outside of Alaska and on the northern border. We’re seeing militant groups in Iraq, terrorists from Africa to the Middle East and Afghanistan,” Mark Esper said, adding that while the countries are primarily concerned about the pandemic today, the U.S. remains “wary” and “shoulder to shoulder with our partners and allies. – These are uncertain times. You do not know how countries or the military will act. So we must remain vigilant.
The secretary of defense added that the U.S. has done “all it can” to maximize the readiness of military forces at foreign bases, including sending coronavirus tests and doctors.
Regarding the protection of Eastern Europe from potential Russian aggression, Mark Esper noted NATO’s growing readiness to defend its eastern flank, but did not specify the future of the largest North Atlantic Alliance exercise in 25 years, Defender 2020, which began in 2020. More than 20,000 American soldiers were to take part in it. The exercise was suspended and the United States stopped sending troops and equipment to Europe in March.
The U.S. defense secretary noted that NATO is a strong alliance, increasing its defense spending, and his priority remains the development of the program “30-30-30”, or “Four-thirty”, which provides for the possibility of moving across the Atlantic and within Europe 30 battalions, 30 squadrons and 30 warships within 30 days.
“We’ve seen an increase in NATO readiness over the past few years,” said Mark Esper. – So I think the overall NATO readiness trend is positive, both in terms of available capacity and ability to deploy it in a timely manner.
The U.S. Defense Secretary also noted that in terms of foreign policy, Russia today “is still busy in Libya, and of course, in Syria.
In general, as Mark Esper assured, despite the challenges of the pandemic, the U.S. is closely monitoring potential external threats, but Washington must take a number of steps to adapt to “new realities. The head of the Pentagon noted that so far the impact of the pandemic on the preparedness of the U.S. armed forces has been small. However, in order to avoid “greater influence” in the future, U.S. agencies should now resort to active strategic planning.
To date, the U.S. military, which reaches two million troops, has less than 5,000 people infected with the coronavirus, less than 100 are hospitalized, and there are two fatalities, the secretary of defense said.
“It is a tragedy that we lost two soldiers,” said Mark Esper. – But overall, we are in pretty good shape at the moment.