Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley watches Twilight Tattoo during his last Salute from the Chief on JB Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., on April 25, 2019. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke.
The nominee to be the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer continued to sound the alarm about China’s growing influence in the Pacific, an issue that promises to be the top US concern for decades to come.
“I think China is the main challenge to US national security in the next 50 to 100 years,” Gen. Mark Milley, currently the Army’s chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his July 11 confirmation hearing. “I think some historian in 2119 is going to look back at this century and write a book, and the central theme is going to be the relationship between the United States and China. I hope there is not going to be an arms race.”
President Donald Trump picked Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early April. If confirmed, he will replace retiring Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who has served as chairman since October 2015.
Milley’s confirmation hearing was dominated by warnings about China’s growth—a key focus of the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy. That country has explosively advanced in all military domains, along with outspending the US in research and development, the general said. His answers to the committee’s advance policy questions note concern about China’s electronic warfare, cyber, space, and nuclear capabilities, which are driving American investments in those areas as well.
There is a “very significant” amount of US military capacity in the Pacific, largely west of the International Date Line—including about 370,000 personnel, 2,000 aircraft, and 200 ships, Milley noted. “There’s very, very good capability to deter and respond if deterrence fails,” he said.
In his experience, which includes postings in Hawaii and South Korea, Milley pointed to a “very robust network of allies and partners,” whether through full defense treaties with the US or other close relationships. These countries have concerns about China that are “palpable as you go around the region,” he said. There’s “anxiety and fear these countries have of an aggressive China,” he said, especially on issues such as military growth in the South China Sea.
China is trying to woo nations around the world with offers of military training, technology, education, setting up a base in Africa and offering affordable 5G network infrastructure. The head of US Southern Command testified July 9 that the best way to fend off that influence is to continue daily US operations and exercises while training foreign militaries.
“They want the United States there, they want us there as a security partner, they want us there as a security guarantor,” Milley said.
Milley also supported Pentagon programs that face scrutiny on Capitol Hill, particularly for nuclear modernization efforts like the Air Force’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, as well as for a new, low-yield nuclear missile now in the works to counter Russia. Critics say the weapon is unnecessary and will spur a new arms race.
“All the pieces of the nuclear triad need to be modernized,” Milley said. "One thing that is really of critical importance to the US and defense of the US is to ensure we have a reliable and safe nuclear, strategic response option.”
Milley also backed the Trump administration’s proposal for a Space Force as a military department under the Air Force. He said he does not view its possible creation as adding new bureaucracy, but that it is instead a “group of people dedicated to operations in space” who complement, not duplicate, the other military services. Space needs to be viewed as a military domain, and the Space Force is the right approach for the Pentagon, Milley said.