An Air Force general believes that Russia, more than other countries, has both the means and the mentality to pose a credible threat to the United States.
In the opinion of a US Air Force general, the main threat to the United States today comes from Russia, thanks to the advanced design of submarines and cruise missiles.
“[Russia] developed abilities that did not exist twenty years ago. . . cruise missiles with very low radar cross-section, submarines on par with our submarines, ”the head of US Northern Command General of the Air Force Glen VanHerck explained in comments given at a Center for Strategic & International Studies conference titled Rethinking Homeland Defense: Domain Awareness, Information Dominance, and Decision Superiority.
Russian cruise missiles deserve special attention in the eyes of VanHerck. He explained that Russia’s more modernized missiles are much more capable than Russian stocks inherited from the Soviets and can strike the United States from launch points in Russia itself.
Ultimately, Russia would like to combine an increasingly deadly missile and military hardware threat with sophisticated space and cybernetic capabilities to give weight to the country’s foreign policy ambitions. The Russian intention is, in essence, “to create a deterrent for themselves, to destroy our will and to delay or degrade our ability to project ourselves forward.”
In addition, Russia seems more and more comfortable exercising bombastic rhetoric and is also flexing its military might fairly close to American territory. The year before, the Russian presence had significantly increased in US airspace and waters. Northern Command “has had more incursions into our air defense identification zones since the end of the Cold War,” VanHerck explained.
In addition, a significant portion of the Russian Pacific Fleet was operating just off the coast of Alaska in the United States’ Economic Exclusion Zone. A Russian submarine even had the audacity to come to the surface “in the middle of a bunch of fishing boats up there. [near the Alaskan coast] and actually fired a missile from there. The purpose of Russian muscle flexion in North American waters? Assert its dominance in the Arctic.
As global warming accelerates, Russia is uniquely positioned to take advantage of a warming environment. In addition to sea routes that remain ice-free for longer periods of time, Russia will also have access to the mineral resources of its regions in the far north, both on land and underwater. These resources could prove to be incredibly lucrative and are especially important for an oil-dependent and declining economy that has so far made little progress in weaning itself from an economic model that is predominantly dependent on fossil fuels.
Economic and military influence over the Arctic is a high priority for the Russian state, a desire that is likely to grow rather than diminish over time. The United States should take note.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National interest. He holds a master’s degree in public policy and covers US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.