U.S. In Danger of Losing Global Dominance to Russian and Chinese 'Authoritarian Stability,' Pentagon Warns

A new report published by the Pentagon has warned that the U.S. is at risk of losing the global battle for influence to authoritarian nations such as Russia and China.

A 150-page white paper, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and acquired by Politico, says that Russia poses a particularly active threat to the U.S.-led world order. The document warns that America is underestimating Russian aggression and is not prepared to deal with the wide range of techniques used by Moscow to undermine democracies worldwide.

The "Strategic Multilayer Assessment" suggests the U.S. is entering a new period of ideological competition with nations like Russia and China, who have rejected liberal democracy in favor of "authoritarian stability."

But in this new struggle, the authors argue that America lacks a clear ideological message of the kind that carried it through the Cold War. Belinda Bragg, a research scientist for the NSI government consulting firm, wrote parts of the study. She said that the U.S. needs "to better articulate U.S. interests and strategy to both ourselves and others."

Another contributor, Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, added that domestic divisions are damaging efforts to create a new American identity. "We still have a story to tell but because we are so polarized and are doubting ourselves we have a narrative problem," she told Politico. "Russia does not."

The report detailed the methods Russia is using to undermine the U.S. and its traditional allies. Navy Rear Admiral Jeffrey Czerewko, the Joint Chiefs' deputy director for global operations, listed "economic competition, influence campaigns, paramilitary actions, cyber intrusions, and political warfare," all of which he expected to become more common.

Contributor Jason Werchan, a member of the U.S. European Command strategy division, wrote that malign Russian activities include "threatening other states militarily, or compromising their societies, economies, and governments by employing a range of means and methods to include propaganda, disinformation, and cultural, religious, and energy coercion."

Alignment between Moscow and Beijing is cause for particular concern, the paper said. Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have lauded closer ties between the two neighbors, who could form a potent anti-American front.

"The world system, and America's influence in it, would be completed upended if Moscow and Beijing aligned more closely," Werchan suggested. The document also suggests steps that could undermine the relationship, such as sowing concern in Russia about China's mammoth economic and infrastructure projects across the globe.

Ultimately, the authors note that Russia's greatest weakness is its most powerful man: Putin. Thomas Sherlock, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, gathered data for the study. He noted "relatively weak approval among the [Russian] public for a forceful external posture, including intervention in the 'near abroad' to check American power or protect Russian-speakers from perceived discrimination."

The network of oligarchs that keeps Putin in power is also a weak spot for his authoritarian regime.

"While both elites and members of the mass public are supportive of restoring Russia's great power status, they often define a great power and its priorities more in terms of socio-economic development than in the production and demonstration of hard power," the report reads. "These perspectives increasingly come into conflict with those of the Kremlin."

Russia, China, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are pictured on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 6, 2019. DMITRI LOVETSKY/AFP/Getty