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US defense advantages shrinking, warns retired Navy vice admiral

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Chuck Munns, Aiken Rotary Pits (copy)

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Charles "Chuck" Munns speaks at an Aiken Rotary Club meeting in 2019. Munns spoke at the Up & Atom virtual breakfast, hosted by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, Wednesday morning. (Colin Demarest/Staff)

The national security and defense advantages the U.S. has long enjoyed are dwindling, an issue aggravated by a world brandishing complex threats, a retired Navy vice admiral told a virtual crowd in Aiken on Wednesday.

“The distance we enjoyed in the Cold War, and certainly in the last two decades with terrorism, the distance of our strength versus others has atrophied,” said Charles Munns, an Aikenite who advises the Defense and Energy departments. “While we are still near the top, while we are still in a pretty good spot, that distance between us and our competitors has shrunk.”

Contemporary competition, he continued, resembles the Cold War but now stretches across multiple countries and multiple fronts. Munns specifically mentioned Russia and China – the former blamed for the sweeping SolarWinds hack and election interference, and the latter considered a menace to American intellectual property and economic vitality.

“Many diffuse capabilities have to be dealt with today: cyber, counter-space, stealth, special operations forces, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and so on and so forth,” Munns said, addressing the early morning Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness get-together known as Up & Atom. “So, it’s a complicated world.”

Such a tangled international landscape, Munns suggested Wednesday, demands collaboration.

“Anyone who thinks we – any one country – can do this alone doesn’t understand the world today,” the retired vice admiral said.

In an interview with the Aiken Standard earlier this month, Munns said U.S. security benefits from “our participation in the world organizations and orders, and that clearly includes treaties. Now, every treaty can be improved, and we should always work on improving them. But to not have them? That allows other countries to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.”

In tackling China, Munns said this week, an agenda of “confront, compete and cooperate” could be the solution.


Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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