Russia and China are Seducing U.S. Allies With Cheap Weapons, Warns General Joseph Votel

One of the most senior generals in the U.S. suggested America faces losing influence in the world because its partners are looking to buy military equipment and training from its rivals, particularly Russia and China, who offer cheaper weapons and can supply them faster.

In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, General Joseph L. Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), warned that "some of our partners are seeking alternate sources of military equipment from near-peer competitors like Russia and China".

Votel said the U.S. increasingly relies on "interoperability" in its military operations—using its allies to "accomplish common objectives"—and so its programs to supply partners with the equipment and training they need are vital in maintaining this cooperation.

Joseph Votel
General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, attends the National Council on at 26th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

He made reference to U.S. government-funded Building Partner Capacity (BPC) programs, which "encompass security cooperation and security assistance activities," and Foreign Military Sales (FMS).

"However, due to political considerations, cost, or delivery speed, some of our partners are seeking alternate sources of military equipment from near-peer competitors like Russia and China," Votel said. "When our partners go elsewhere, it reduces our interoperability and challenges our ability to incorporate their contributions into theater efforts."

In 2017, the U.S. State Department spent $5.7bn on Foreign Military Financing, according to a data guide published by the Security Assistance Monitor group, around the average spend in recent years. That military aid went to 53 countries, including $150m for Iraq, $350m for Jordan, and $3.1bn for Israel.

In his wide-ranging statement, laying out CENTCOM's view of U.S. defense challenges in the Middle East, Votel accused Russia of acting as "arsonist and firefighter" in Syria by "fueling the conflict in Syria between the Syrian Regime, YPG, and Turkey, then claiming to serve as an arbiter to resolve the dispute".

"Moscow continues to advocate for alternate diplomatic initiatives to Western-led political negotiations in Syria and Afghan-led peace processes in Afghanistan, attempting to thwart the UN's role and limit the advance of American influence," he added.

He also said Russia's role in Syria, militarily supporting the Assad regime in its brutal fight against jihadists and rebel forces, established Moscow "as a long-term player in the region, and the Kremlin is using the conflict in Syria to test and exercise new weapons and tactics, often with little regard for collateral damage or civilian casualties."

Votel warned: "An increase in Russian surface-to-air missile systems in the region threatens our access and ability to dominate the airspace."

Russia is accused of helping Assad's forces carry out atrocities against civilians, though both Moscow and Damascus deny this. Among those atrocities is a chemical attack on the residents of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017, which killed at least 74 people after a missile containing sarin gas allegedly hit the town.

Syria denies possessing chemical weapons. The regime claims a missile hit a chemical weapons depot in Khan Sheikhoun held by the now-disbanded Al-Qaeda affiliate known as the Nusra Front.

But the U.N. and others, including the U.S. and U.K., say the evidence points to Damascus being responsible for the chemical attack. In response, President Donald Trump authorized a missile strike on the Syrian air base thought to be the launch base for the sarin gas attack, destroying a number of military planes and buildings.