Sep 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pentagon confirms top general reassured China during last days of Trump

Picture of Mark Milley

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A spokesperson for Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley confirmed on Wednesday that "in order to maintain strategic stability" in the final days of Donald Trump's presidency, Milley reassured his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. would not launch a surprise attack.

Driving the news: Newly released excerpts from "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — detailing secret moves by the nation's highest-ranking military officers to manage national security risks that Milley perceived Trump posed in the final days of his presidency — are driving questions about whether Milley went too far, Axios' Jonathan Swan writes.

  • According to Woodward and Costa, Milley believed the president had gone into "serious mental decline" following the election and was worried he might "go rogue."
  • On Jan. 8, Milley called senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center to a secret meeting in his Pentagon office. There, Milley ordered those present not to take orders unless he was involved.
  • "No matter what you are told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I'm part of that procedure," Milley said, per the book.
  • According to the book, Milley reportedly assured his Chinese counterpart that Trump would not attack China and that if Trump did decide to attack then Milley would give his Chinese counterpart a heads-up.

What they're saying: "The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs regularly communicates with Chiefs of Defense across the world, including with China and Russia," spokesperson David Butler said.

  • "These conversations remain vital to improving mutual understanding of U.S. national security interests, reducing tensions, providing clarity, and avoiding unintended consequences or conflict," he added.
  • "His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability."
  • "All calls from the Chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency."

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