Secretary of the Army - AUSA Symposium on Building an Expeditionary Army for Persistent Conflict
January 11, 2008
Honorable Pete Geren
Secretary of the Army
AUSA Symposium Remarks
Fort Bliss, TX
06 December 2007
Thank you for your kind introduction, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning.
Your theme at this year's symposium, "Building an Expeditionary Army for Persistent Conflict," is one of the most complex challenges our Army has ever faced. And it presents challenges, and each of you here this morning is a partner in the effort to address these challenges.
The topics you will discuss - organization, modernization, networking and leadership - and the work you do in your organizations -- whether military or civilian, government or private -- are matters central to the transformation of the United States Army and our ability with our joint partners to dominate land operations now and in the future.
But this morning I want to discuss the last two words in the title of your symposium - "persistent conflict" - what does it mean and why we think the next 20 years - maybe longer - will be an "era of persistent conflict."
It is impossible to predict the future in detail. In fact, if we tried to, we would get it wrong, but certain trends are clear and they threaten persistent conflict and may result in persistent engagement by the U.S. military. Many of you and your organizations spend as much time as we do trying to predict the future.
For starters, "globalization" will continue and accelerate. We will see ever-greater interconnectedness among markets, labor pools, and capital flows. Information, goods, weapons will flow faster, in greater volume, more cheaply, and with fewer barriers. Protectionists - here or abroad - are going to lose this battle - they may succeed in putting up speed bumps - distorting isolated segments of the international marketplace, but they are on the wrong side of history.
The global economy will continue to expand, creating new wealth, unevenly distributed around the world, and raising the living standards and the expectations of many formerly impoverished workers and their families. In China and India, peasants are moving out of the countryside and into factories, and joining the world economy, destroying old cultures and ancient traditions but offering hope for millions.
But in parts of the world - in much of the Muslim world and Africa - large population groups are being "left behind," suffering dislocation and cultural upheaval without experiencing the benefits or the hope of the newly created wealth, making them prime targets for the purveyors of the philosophy of radical Islam and an anti-Western agenda.
In nations without stable democracies - without the safety valve offered by the type of political process we take for granted - this could lead to instability and failed nation states.
We are witnessing the balance of power shift around the world. If current trends continue, China will pass Japan as the Number Two economy in the world by 2016. India will pass some European economies in the next 15 years - and could pass China, with its one-child policy, in population. A resurgent Russia, emboldened by bulging oil revenues and controlling the energy destiny of many of her neighbors, is reasserting itself on the world stage and in the affairs of its former Soviet states, now young and defiant nation states where the seeds of democracy are taking root.
Demographic changes are re-ordering societies around the world. Populations of some of the world's most impoverished nations will double in the next 20 years. Japan and Europe are growing old - and facing the prospects of fewer workers supporting a bulging population of retirees.
Technology will continue to advance around the world - a tool of progress for most - but a weapon for organization and aggression for radical organizations seeking to exploit the turbulence and dislocation of a rapidly changing world. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda have greater reach around the world today than our major media networks had only a few years ago. And they have demonstrated remarkable sophistication in their use of technology and strategic communications - former Secretary Rumsfeld used to say that a lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its boots on.
On the military front, niche capabilities such as cruise missiles and improved air defense artillery systems threaten to deny our access to key regions of the world.
And on the ground, we have seen relatively primitive technology prove to be the bane of the world's most technologically advanced military - with garage door openers and cell phones triggering explosions that have killed more soldiers and destroyed more Bradleys and tanks than we have lost in all the conflicts of the last 30 years and pose a similar threat to the most revolutionary technologies on the drawing boards of our world's most advanced military powers, including ours.
The demand for fossil fuels is increasing exponentially - with China and India developing an insatiable demand for new energy resources. With China expanding its influence around the world to insure its energy future.
Rising prices are rapidly redistributing much of the world's wealth, enriching the coffers of many regions and nations hostile to the West, and some pouring into nations struggling to contain growing radical forces in their societies. The majority of the world's proven oil reserves is now controlled by "national oil companies" - in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iran and Libya - rather than by market-focused energy producers. National oil companies that could use their energy supplies to pursue political and strategic objectives rather than respond to the demands of the market. Russia has brazenly flexed its energy muscles to manipulate markets in the Ukraine.
Oil is a powerful strategic weapon in the hands of those with whom we may find ourselves at odds.
Climate change and natural disasters also contribute to the instability that can give rise to conflict. Humanitarian crises, population migrations and epidemic diseases threaten cultural and social stability. Modern communications bring these disasters into our living room, 24-7. Technology and modern transportation offer opportunities to mitigate the impact of such disasters - but also the opportunity to exploit disasters by radical groups.
A humanitarian crisis in Somalia provoked by famine drew our country into peacekeeping that became conflict in the mid-90s. As did the political and humanitarian crisis that befell Haiti.
Desperate people around the world look to America - the world's lone superpower - with a heart of gold - for solutions. And often we say yes and step into the chaos of an ungoverned or barely governed society - calling on our military to carry the burden.
And in ungoverned regions, and in this dynamic -- and in some regions, destabilized -- environment, we have shadowy terrorist organizations seeking to advance their radical agenda. For America and the for the West, the most virulent threat is Islamic extremism, particularly the Sunni Salafi variant promoted by Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda.
The Salafis and sympathetic parties seek to impose a pure Islamic law known as "Sharia" on Muslim countries, eliminate U.S. and Western influence in their homelands and spread Islam around the world - and are motivated to re-establish the original Muslim state, the Caliphate. We see the West as a beacon for liberty - they see the West as decadent, licentious and the world of X-rated movies.
It doesn't matter whether we believe that they can accomplish this. It matters that they believe it is achievable and that violent jihad is the path to victory - and they're patient - willing to work for generations and destroy innocent lives in their pursuit of their goals.
We also know that Al Qaida is seeking weapons of mass destruction and would use them against us given the chance. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England put it, why did they kill 3,000 people' Because they didn't know how to kill 300,000.
Iran poses both a non-state and a state challenge to us. It promotes its own form of Shia Islam and subsidizes proxy groups - such as Lebanese Hizballah -- that are anti-Israel and anti-U.S. Iran currently funnels lethal support to our enemies in Iraq. With increasing oil revenues fueling their ambitions.
And although a National Intelligence Estimate released this week contains some encouraging news, the fine print contains warning signs. Iran remains a threat to the United States and a destabilizing force in a key region of the world.
Hizballah itself is an example of the military challenges we may face in the future. Hizballah was credited with a strategic victory over Israel last summer and has been emboldened by its world-wide recognition.
The conflict also demonstrated just how effective a determined, prepared irregular force could be using niche capabilities such as anti-ship and anti-tank weapons against a larger, more technologically advanced but conventional force. The success of Hizballah has fueled the ambitions of like-minded groups once intimidated by the military might of the West.
Overseas, our response to the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 - led by our military - alleviated suffering and built good will in that critical region of the world. Pakistan, a member of the nuclear club, is struggling to balance the demands of radical Muslims and a growing Western-oriented younger population and maintain order.
We could talk all day about this - many of you could add much to the discussion - but to sum up, we look to the horizon and see a future of persistent conflict - and the likelihood of persistent engagement. We have to be ready, and - as my daughter would say - ready for whatever. We would say full-spectrum readiness. And FCS is key to full-spectrum readiness.
AUSA, Chief Sullivan, thanks for hosting this conference.