Joint Chiefs Nominee: Russia Biggest Threat to U.S. Security

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Russia poses the world’s greatest threat to U.S. national security, President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff declared on Thursday. The White House quickly distanced the president from that blunt assessment.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford told senators at his confirmation hearing, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

The four-star general said there are other threats to the nation, which must be addressed in concert. He pointed to China with its expanding military capability and presence in the Pacific, North Korea with its ballistic missile capability and Islamic State.

But he said, “My assessment today … is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security.”

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest distanced Obama from the assessment, saying Dunford’s comments reflected his own view and not necessarily “the consensus analysis of the president’s national security team.”

Yet Earnest said that much has changed since 2012, when Obama mocked his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, for calling Russia the top U.S. geopolitical threat. Earnest said Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine and “saber-rattling” over its nuclear program and military activities near borders with NATO allies have increased U.S. concerns.