Selva Describes Reality of Great Power Competition

Great power competition is back, and its emphasis in the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy is a recognition of something “we should have recognized 10 years ago,” the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast today.

Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva said the strategies recognize that competition among the United States, Russia and China will dominate foreign relations in the coming years.

“We have spent the last 10 years observing a world where China is ascendant and Russia is accumulating wealth and influence across the Asian and European continents,” he said. “And the United States is engaged with both.”

If there were no conflict or friction points among the nations, then it would be “just normal commerce,” Selva said. But that is not the case, he added. Russia took two provinces from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008. It illegally annexed Ukraine in 2014 and continues to support insurgents in the eastern part of the country. Russia supports the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.

China is building artificial islands in the South China Sea and proclaiming extraterritorial claims, Selva said. The Chinese also are investing heavily in defense capabilities and not being transparent, he added.

Nations Vying for Place on World’s Economic Stage

“There have been and there remain friction points between Russia, China and the United States,” the general said. “So, to say it’s not a great power competition, to say that we are not all vying for a place on the world’s economic stage, on the world’s political stage, and even on the national security stage is actually ignoring what’s real.”

The National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy have explained what should have been obvious, the general told the group. “Our relationship has to be defined by the way we are conducting ourselves, not the way we wish we would conduct ourselves,” he said.

China, Russia and the United States are competing for influence globally, the general said. “If that doesn’t define a great power competition, I don’t know what does,” he added. “That doesn’t presume we will have a global war. That doesn’t assume that the competition ends in violence. But if you don’t understand the competition at the front end that strength actually matters in competitions — economic, political or military strength — then you’re ignoring history.”

The great power competition will last years and will be fundamental in how national security policy and foreign policy are debated and formed for decades to come, Selva said.

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