Air Force Secretary: We’re worried about Russia but China is a bigger strategic threat

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Kendall: 'When you look at it objectively, China is a much greater strategic threat than Russia is'

ORLANDO, Fla. — Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall dropped a hint about the forthcoming U.S. national security strategy: 

“Russia and other threats will not be discounted, but China, with both regional and global ambitions, the resources to pursue them, and a repressive authoritarian system of government, will be our greatest strategic national security challenge,” he said March 3 at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium. 

China is the United States’ main competitor in space, Kendall noted. China’s advances in anti-satellite weapons threaten the security of U.S. and allied space systems and that concern will be reflected in the Biden administration’s forthcoming national security and national defense strategies. 

“I don’t want to get ahead of that process, but you can be confident that despite current events, the pacing challenge remains China,” said Kendall. 

In space and defense, China had spent the past 30 years building up its capabilities, said Kendall. 

Unlike Russia, China has significant financial resources and economic power, he said. “Its capabilities to pursue its ambitions are much greater than Russia’s.”

“China quite clearly has global ambitions as you see it trying to establish bases around the world,” he said. “When you look at it objectively, China is a much greater strategic threat than Russia is. Obviously with what’s happening right now you cannot ignore Russia, it’s very much a national security concern.”

With regard to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Kendall said, “In my view President Putin just made a very, very, serious miscalculation. He severely underestimated the global reaction the invasion of Ukraine would provoke, he severely underestimated the will and courage of the people of Ukraine, and he overestimated the capability of his own military.”

“I would be more inclined to put Russia in the ‘near peer’ competitor category than the pure competitor category,” Kendall said. He cautioned that the exception is Russia’s nuclear capability which remains a concern as Putin has threatened to launch tactical nukes — a smaller size category of nuclear weapons that Russia developed but has never used.