U.S. Must Stand Vigilant in Face of New Threats, Flournoy Says

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 — Extrem­ist net­works are meld­ing togeth­er, unsafe tech­nolo­gies are rapid­ly increas­ing, and the Unit­ed States must stand vig­i­lant in the face of these threats, the under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy said here yes­ter­day.

U.S. troops are fight­ing in Afghanistan today because the region has been a breed­ing ground of “plau­si­ble” threats of mas­sive harm to Amer­i­cans, Michèle Flournoy told the World Affairs Council. 

The most vicious and elab­o­rate attacks of ter­ror­ism in the past decade have orig­i­nat­ed in Afghanistan, “and it’s on the Pak­istani side of the bor­der that Afghanistan’s senior lead­er­ship con­tin­ues to evade jus­tice and plot future attacks,” Flournoy said. 

Ter­ror­ists can eas­i­ly access tech­nolo­gies of mass destruc­tion, and they have the will to use them, she added. The recent car­go plane bomb effort by ter­ror­ists in Yemen is one exam­ple of how such attacks can be unpre­dictable, she said. 

Free nations in the world can­not allow ter­ror­ist groups to per­pet­u­ate, Flournoy told the council. 

“From the threat of [impro­vised explo­sive devices] in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles, it is clear that a wide range of cur­rent and future adver­saries … will be able to employ tech­nolo­gies that can under­mine the con­ven­tion­al advan­tages of U.S. forces,” Flournoy said. 

The spread of high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nol­o­gy in a mul­ti­po­lar world — defined as “a world of dynam­ic shifts in pow­er and influ­ence” — has cre­at­ed a glob­al trend that is reshap­ing the face of U.S. secu­ri­ty, Flournoy said. She com­pared the post-World War I era, when the Unit­ed States iso­lat­ed itself from oth­er coun­tries, to the world after World War II, when the nation part­nered with oth­er coun­tries to build strong alliances such as NATO

The Unit­ed States also made com­mit­ments to Europe and Asia for eco­nom­ic and social devel­op­ment, which result­ed in a glob­al order that served the world well for decades, the under­sec­re­tary said. 

With Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma en route to India next week, Flournoy not­ed how that coun­try is an exam­ple of a new world pow­er amid glob­al change. 

“The Unit­ed States is deeply invest­ed in enhanc­ing a part­ner­ship with India for eco­nom­ic trade and invest­ment to defense coop­er­a­tion,” she said. 

Com­bat­ing pira­cy off the coast of Soma­lia is a Unit­ed States and Indi­an effort, she said. The two coun­tries forged diplo­mat­ic and secu­ri­ty ties fol­low­ing ter­ror­ist attacks on both nations. In 10 years, bilat­er­al trade has tripled, and both coun­tries have a land­mark agree­ment on civ­il nuclear coop­er­a­tion, she said. 

Chi­na is anoth­er coun­try with which the Unit­ed States wants to fur­ther its relationship. 

“We are seek­ing in the Defense Depart­ment a greater com­mit­ment from Chi­na to a more con­sis­tent and trans­par­ent mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship,” Flournoy said. “This is vital to main­tain­ing sta­bil­i­ty and pre­vent­ing need­less misunderstanding.” 

From a secu­ri­ty stand­point, the Unit­ed States wel­comes strong region­al forces that share a com­mit­ment to democ­ra­cy, plu­ral­ism and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, Flournoy said, cit­ing Indone­sia. It is the fourth-most pop­u­lat­ed nation and home to the largest Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty in the world. 

“[Indone­sia] is a strong and val­ued part­ner of the Unit­ed States and South­east Asia,” Flournoy said. The Unit­ed States and Indone­sia recent­ly signed a defense agree­ment to coop­er­ate in mar­itime secu­ri­ty, peace­keep­ing, human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief. 

“The high seas, inter­na­tion­al air­space, out­er space and cyber­space are the con­nec­tive tis­sue of our glob­al econ­o­my,” the under­sec­re­tary said. “The glob­al com­mu­ni­ty makes com­merce and the spread of tech­nol­o­gy pos­si­ble; con­verse­ly, the spread of tech­nol­o­gy makes the glob­al com­mons ever more vital to our strate­gic posi­tion and our nation­al prosperity.” 

These com­mons are increas­ing­ly con­test­ed and need defend­ing against threats such as pirates in the world’s sea lanes, virus­es and hack­ers in com­put­er net­works, and harm­ful space debris and poten­tial anti­satel­lite weapons in space, Flournoy said. 

Such glob­al trends force the Unit­ed States to recon­sid­er how to define nation­al secu­ri­ty and even how to define war. Hybrid war also is of con­cern to the mil­i­tary, in which more than one approach is used in warfare. 

Flournoy said a hybrid war could involve an ene­my that uses a wide range of means simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, such as con­ven­tion­al forces or gueril­la tac­tics. “It might spon­sor an act of ter­ror­ism of weapons of mass destruc­tion, dis­rupt its rival’s econ­o­my through finan­cial manip­u­la­tion, hack into an opponent’s infor­ma­tion net­works, wage a glob­al infor­ma­tion cam­paign, or do sev­er­al of these things all at once,” she said. 

Flournoy told the coun­cil that mem­bers of the pub­lic are more resilient to ene­my threats when armed with knowledge. 

“Your work has nev­er been more impor­tant,” she told the audi­ence. “This kind of for­ward think­ing is how we suc­cess­ful­ly pro­tect­ed Amer­i­ca in the after­math of World War II. And this is the basic pre­scrip­tion for safe­ty and secu­ri­ty in this very dif­fer­ent world we face.” 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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