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.”
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