DIA Director LtGen Vincent Stewart testified at the Senate Armed Services Committee Worldwide Threat Assessment hearing May 23 on Capitol Hill.
Stewart addressed a number of threats to the U.S., including DIA’s five no-fail missions: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations.
“Today, the United States faces an increasingly complex array of challenges to our national security,” Stewart said. “We are faced with the rise of foreign militaries with ever-improving capabilities, threats from cyberactors, highly adaptive terrorist organizations, aggressive non-state actors, and hostile foreign intelligence services.”
Stewart first turned his attention to North Korea, which he stated remains a critical security challenge for the U.S. He stressed Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile capable of posing a direct threat to the U.S., as demonstrated by two probable nuclear tests and an unprecedented level of ballistic missile launches in 2016.
“If left on its current trajectory, the regime will ultimately succeed in fielding a nuclear armed missile capable of threatening the U.S homeland,” Stewart said. “While nearly impossible to predict when this capability will be operational, the North Korean regime is on a pathway where this capability is inevitable.”
According to Stewart, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views nuclear weapons as the principal tool of regime survival against outside threats and North Korea continues to expand its stockpile of weapons-grade fissile material. Stewart later noted North Korea also maintains chemical weapons as part of its arsenal.
On the threat from Russia, Stewart discussed Russia’s use of military power to achieve key strategic objectives. Stewart assessed Russia has devoted significant resources to modernizing its forces and Russian leadership considers a capable nuclear force as the foundation of its strategic deterrent. Their general purpose forces are vital for power projection in the region and deployments far outside its borders.
“The Russian Government seeks to be the center of influence in what it describes as a multi-polar, post-West world order,” Stewart said. “To support this world view, Moscow pursues aggressive foreign and defense policies by employing a full spectrum of influence and coercion aimed at challenging U.S. interests around the globe.”
Stewart noted Russia’s reforms are progressing and effectively building a more agile force capable of conducting expeditionary operations. Russia has used the Syrian intervention to showcase its modern military, conducting Russia’s first deployment outside their immediate region since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Regarding East Asia, Stewart addressed China’s long-term military modernization program. He emphasized China continues to move forward with reforms and increase their overall military capability.
“China now stands firmly in the category as a near peer U.S. competitor,” Stewart stated.
The committee was also provided information on China’s developing capabilities to dissuade, deter, or defeat possible third-party intervention during a large-scale theater campaign, such as a Taiwan contingency.
“A key component of China’s strategy in a regional contingency is planning for potential U.S. intervention,” Stewart stated. “The [People’s Liberation Army] has given priority to developing and deploying regional ballistic and cruise missiles to expand its conventional strike capabilities against U.S. forces and bases throughout the region.”
Stewart also provided a summary of multiple threats and areas of concerns in Southwest Asia, including his outlook for Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban.
“In 2017, we believe the [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] will incrementally improve its capabilities to challenge the Taliban, but military operations will not be decisive,” Stewart said. “We expect the Taliban to further consolidate control mostly in rural terrain and continue to pressure provincial capitals.”
In response to a committee question regarding Russian involvement in Afghanistan, Stewart stated Russia will continue to work with all parties in conflict in order to “guarantee a seat at the table” during any future diplomatic solution. He also commented on the role of Pakistan in ensuring a stable and secure Afghanistan.
“We need to be clear to Pakistan that Afghanistan's security and stability does not pose a threat,” Stewart said.
Speaking about conflicts in Iraq and Syria, Stewart highlighted that the Islamic State has lost more than 60 percent of its territory in Iraq and around 45 percent of its territory in Syria since the group’s height in August 2014. However, he underscored that even with less room to operate, the group remains a serious threat.
“Trend lines moving in the right direction, but this fight will not end soon,” Stewart said. “Despite its loss of terrain and resources, ISIS retains strong military capabilities, leadership, and command and control, and it remains capable of presenting a strong defense against numerically superior forces…”
Stewart also stated that ISIS is preparing for the loss of key territory and moving key leaders out of cities like Mosul and Raqqah to more remote locations. Stewart noted foreign fighters returning to their home nations remain a significant concern.
Following the defeat of ISIS in Iraq, Stewart remains concerned about possible sectarian violence. Stewart stressed that if issues between the Sunnis, Shia and Kurds are not adequately addressed, fighting between the groups could occur.
On the threat faced from Iran, Stewart told the committee Iran remains a significant challenge to the United States within the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and Iran is engaged in the region’s conflicts to further its security goals and expand its influence upon neighboring countries. Iran remains committed to modernizing its military and building the capacity of its partners across the region, including designated terrorist organizations.
“Iran’s national security strategy continues to focus on deterring and, if necessary, defending against external threats, undermining the current regional security architecture, seeking new partnerships, and expanding its efforts to complicate U.S. actions,” Stewart said.
Stewart also provided information on Iran’s efforts to modernize its military, and Iran’s adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear treaty. Iran is assessed to have distributed some financial gains from the JCPOA to its security forces and to upgrade its conventional forces, although the majority has gone to economic programs, according to Stewart.
The hearing also covered regional issues in Africa and Latin America, and transnational threats from terrorism, foreign intelligence services and cyber. The full Statement for Record can be found here.