General Mark Tilley discusses global security threats

General Mark Tilley discusses the 4 plus 1 global security threats

The Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley spoke at a National Press Club Luncheon on July 27, 2017.

4 + 1: Global security threats

Speaks about “the world in a nutshell” with the current “global strategic environment” from 13:44 to 25:42 in the above linked video.

General James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, is leading a detailed strategic review process of the US military, which may be completed “sometime in the Fall” 2017, which may alter the evaluation of the security focus.

There are many ways to classify global security threats, but currently the Department of Defense uses a mnemonic system of “4 + 1” to rank global challenges for 4 nation states (Russia, China, North Korea, Iran) and of 1 non-nation state of violent extremist terrorist organizations  that “seek to do damage to US national interest” (Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS, Al Nusra Front and similar groups). These challenges are how DOD decides on the size of the force and how to equip the joint force.

The “capability and will” of a threat are used to evaluate their risk.

Milley states that Russia and China are not our enemies. An “enemy” is a group or a nation state our military is actively engaged with in armed conflict.  Milley points out that “Competition is one thing, even if adversarial”. There is a “giant difference between open conflict and those activities below open conflict.” A “conflict below open conflict is a desirable goal”, especially with Russia and China due to their “size, capacity, and capability”.


Russian “military capability is significant” and “extraordinary”. Russia is the “only country on earth that represents an existential threat” “because they have the inherent capability of nuclear weapons” that could “strike and destroy” the United States. Other countries have nuclear capabilities, but only Russia has the “capability to actually destroy the United States”. Russia’s conventional military capability has been “modernized significantly” in the last 5 to 15 years.

“Will or intent” is a subjective judgment. “All we know from behavior is that Russia has acted aggressively externally to its boundaries in places like Crimea and Georgia and the Donetsk region of Ukraine and elsewhere”. They also “operate and try to undermine things like elections in European countries and other countries”, as well as cyber activity and “various non-military direct action pressures”.

General Milley asks “Why are they behaving like that?”. There are many debated reasons.

Milley states his personal military view is that “Russian leadership is a purely rational actor” operating off of “traditional cost benefit as they perceive it”. Milley believes Russian aggression can be deterred. Even though Russia does “undermine the United States interests in Europe and elsewhere” that Russia also has “areas of common interests”.  Russia as a “great power” is a country that the United States needs to “cautiously” and with “deliberate forethought work towards common objectives and prevent undermining of our interests”. This is a “delicate balance”, but the United States has done this before and can continue to do so with Russia. “That will involve assuring our allies and partners while deterring further aggression”, but can be “properly managed”.


China is “a significant rising power”. Since 1979 China has advanced and developed economically. China’s economic power is “one of the most significant, if not the most significant” “shifts in global economic power in the last 5 centuries” since the “rise of the West and the industrial revolution”.

The “Chinese economic growth over the last 40 years is really, really significant” says Milley. “Historically when economic power shifts so significantly then military power typically follows.” Milley believes this is happening with the significant increase in size and strength of Chinese military capabilities.

Milley asks “What is their will and intent? What is their purpose? What are they trying to do?” He points out that the Chinese have been fairly transparent” in laying out their “China dream. China wants to reestablish their historic 5,000 year role to be the “most significant power in Asia”, as well as become a global “co-equal with the United States” by mid-century. They would “like to do this peacefully” with a “win-win strategy”, but are also building up a military force if necessary to pursue their goals.

China is “an extremely rational actor”. Milley believes, as with Russia, that “proper leadership and engagement and deterrence and assurance measures that we can work our way into the future without significant armed conflict.”


The country’s desire for a nuclear weapon has “sort of been put on pause.” “We hope for good, but are watching that very closely.”

What is Iran’s intent? Milley notes that we know with “certainty that Iran consciously and with malfeasance of forethought tries to undermine US national security interests in the Middle East.” They do this with many direct means of supporting terrorism. The US is “always in a posture relative to Iran to support our friends and allies in the region and to be very, very wary of Iran”.

North Korea

Milley thinks North Korea is the “single greatest threat to the international community and facing the United States” as a “near term, very significant threat”. North Korea has “advanced significantly and quicker than many had expected with an intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could possibly strike the United States”. The US policy for many decades has been the “objective that North Korea would not possess nuclear weapons” and “certainly” not have the ability to have nuclear weapons that can strike the United States.

“North Korea is extremely dangerous and gets more dangerous as the weeks go by.” Milley points out that most of the information is classified, so couldn’t give many details. The US is trying a “wide variety of methods in the diplomatic and economic sphere” to bring a peaceful resolution, but “time is running out a bit”.

Terrorist organizations

There are situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and west Africa with each having “different factors and analysis with every country being slightly different, so you can’t group all of them into one.”  Milley thinks we are in a “very long struggle against violent extremist organizations, terrorist organizations”.

These groups have a radically different view of the world than we do and their intent is to “consciously kill Americans and undermine American interests”. They also want to “kill other locals, friends and partners not only in the Middle East”, but elsewhere. The military works “by, through and with our partners in the region and increase their capabilities and try to reduce terrorist threats to where local police forces and local intelligent forces can manage at a local level”.

Milley believes “We will destroy the organization entity called ISIS.” with the Caliphate and “traditional organizational structures” in the “not too distant future”. The followers will likely disperse morphing into different radical groups. Milley notes that the “very radical ideology” of these groups “ultimately will have to be destroyed mostly by the people’s of the region.”

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