U.S. Military Given Six Months to Check if Troops Speak Russian, Chinese, Korean, Farsi and Arabic

The U.S. military has been ordered to evaluate the critical language skills of its personnel within the next six months, according to the National Defense Authorization Act signed Monday by President Donald Trump.

The 2019 NDAA has made specific reference to the languages spoken by top U.S. foes, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and the various nations and groups across the Arab World. In one section, the act calls directly on Defense Secretary James Mattis to review the U.S. military's foreign language capabilities by February and report back to Congress with the results.

"Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall—(1) evaluate the operational requirements for members of the Armed Forces possessing foreign language expertise in critical languages, including Chinese, Korean, Russian, Farsi, and Arabic; and (2) submit to the congressional defense committees a plan to address any shortfalls in these critical areas," the document read.

Sergeant Major Bobby White and Sergeant Justine Westbrook (from left), both from the Army’s 361st Civil Affairs Brigade, play a Russian version of Scrabble for practice during a four-day language class, in Daenner Kaserne, in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on March 15, 2017. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act calls on the military to ensure it has enough expertise in Russian, Chinese, Korea, Farsi and Arabic. Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson Wolfe/U.S. Army 7th Mission Support Command Public Affairs Office/Department of Defense

The 2019 NDAA was set to boost the Pentagon's budget to $716 billion at a time when Trump was attempting to further assert U.S. dominance across the globe as well as in space. The White House's debut National Security Strategy in December targeted Russia and China as leading "revisionist powers," the "rogue states" of Iran and North Korea as well as "transnational threat organizations, particularly jihadist terrorist groups," which the U.S. has deployed forces to combat in Arabic-speaking countries such as Iraq and Syria.

In recent years, Russia and China have both sought to expand their international influence and modernize their armed forces in campaigns that have increasingly been viewed by the U.S. as a challenge to its own military and political superiority. The U.S. has accused both countries of destabilizing activities and has bolstered its own military presence abroad in an attempt to counter Russian and Chinese interests. While Trump has attempted to work more closely with his Russian counterpart, the U.S. has enforced sanctions on Moscow, and has threatened to wage an all-out trade war with Beijing.

Trump has also enacted harsh economic restrictions on North Korea, which has developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in order to defend itself from a potential invasion. The president has sought to reverse decades of hostility with Pyongyang and has tried to secure the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which he and his officials have said was necessary to establish a lasting peace to a decades-long conflict.

The Trump administration has also extended ongoing U.S. military operations in the Middle East. As the Pentagon waged war on the Islamic State militant group—where the militants emerged from a Sunni Muslim insurgency in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq—tensions have risen between the U.S. and Iran, which was also battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. has denounced Iranian and Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—whom the West and its allies have accused of war crimes—and has blamed Iran for propping up mostly Shiite Muslim militant groups across the region. Trump's feud with Iran has particularly escalated since the Republican leader abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal that is still supported by fellow signatories China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K.