- Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson called for the US to go on the offensive against Russia and China as the great power rivals use their navies in increasingly aggressive land, sea, and power grabs.
- Russia and China have both directly challenged the US Navy with dangerous and aggressive flying and sailing, and now the US Navy wants to start moving first.
- Richardson emphasised the need for patience, diplomacy, and establishing rules, but was clear that if the rules are broken, the US needs to crack down.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson called for the US to go on the offensive against Russia and China as the great power US adversaries use their navies in increasingly aggressive land, sea, and power grabs.
In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine with military force. In November 2018, Russia’s navy attacked and took custody of Ukrainian sailors while briefly shutting down Ukrainian access to the Sea of Azov, which Crimea separates from the Black Sea. Also, as Russia bolstered Syria’s shaky regime during its 8-year-long civil war, it’s grown its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
China, after promising in 2015 not to militarize the South China Sea, has done exactly that with sophisticated radars, missile launchers, and some rotation of combat aircraft to the artificial islands built there by Beijing. In October 2018, a Chinese destroyer had an unsafe encounter with a US destroyer in what looked like an attempt to crash into the ship in the contested waterway.
At an Atlantic Council event on Wednesday, Richardson took questions that pressed him on how the US should respond to these growing threats, and he generally called for more aggression and putting the ball in Beijing and Moscow’s court.
Asked by former deputy secretary general of NATO Alexander Vershbow what the US could do to push back against Russia increasingly taking over key waterways, Richardson said it’s time to strike first.
Hit first against Russia
Richardson said the US has to think about “not only responses in pushing back, but how do we push first in a couple of areas? I think it would be great if we could get folks, Russians, some of these competitors to respond to our first move. There’s an advantage every now and then to playing the white side of the board.”
Russian forces routinely test the US Navy with dangerous stunts at air and sea. Twice in 2018 Russian jets buzzed dangerously close to US Navy planes, and in 2015 two Su-24s repeatedly simulated bombing runs on destroyer USS Donald Cook.
Richardson said that increasing training with partner forces in the area, establishing a headquarters in a nearby allied country like Romania could give the US more leverage to respond, but then made a surprising revelation.
“One area where we’re doing some new things is with respect to missile defence. So we have Aegis Ashore in Romania, I think that that capability makes a tremendous statement [to Russia],” said Richardson.
The US’s missile defences in Europe have consistently been discussed as measures to counter threats from Iran, but Russia has consistently argued that the US installed these systems to help wage war against Moscow. Richardson seemed to confirm the site in Romania had some utility in a fight against Russia. Another Aegis radar and interceptor battery is planned for Poland.
Get ‘muscular’ with China
On China, which recently threatened to sink US Navy aircraft carriers with a new set of missiles it’s widely publicized, Richardson pointed to a recent trip to Beijing in which he urged stability, but still called for a “muscular” response.
“Let’s not be obstructing one another, driving our ships in front of one another, throwing obstacles in front of the ship. Let’s just be biased towards making it easy,” Richardson said in calling for a treaty on behaviour at sea.
Ultimately, Richardson said that once rules are agreed upon between the US and China, it’s on the US to strongly enforce those rules.
“Just putting some of these enforcement mechanisms in so it makes it harder to play fast and loose with the rules. But you’ve got to make a move to enforce those things. I think a lot of that structure exists, it’s just we’ve got to be a little more muscular to enforce it,” he said.
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