Posted By Tim Hains
On Feb. 1, former CIA directors John McLaughlin and David Petraeus testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the subject of: "The State of the World: National Security Threats and Challenges."
Petraeus described the largest threats to America in the modern era, but said the worst could be a lack of motivation: "The international order that America created is now under unprecedented threat from multiple directions, including by increasingly capable revisionist powers, that is countries dissatisfied with the status quo, by Islamic extremist organizations that want to destroy our way of life, and by technologies and tactics that are reducing America's capacity to defend ourselves and our interests. As important as those various threats are, however, the world order has also been undermined by something, perhaps even more pernicious. A loss of self-confidence."
He also said: "The paradox of the moment is that just as the threats to the world order we created have grown ever more apparent, American resolve about its defense has become somewhat ambivalent. To be clear, America cannot do everything, everywhere."
Transcripts of both statements are below.
Gen. Petraeus opening statement (beginning at 6:20 of the above video):
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Ranking member Smith, members of the committee, thanks for the opportunity to testify today.
It's a privilege to be with a House once again and to be here with my friend John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, as was mentioned, and someone's whose counsel I sought on numerous occasions during my time in government and beyond. This morning fact, we'll try to complement each other's opening statements. I'll highlight the increasingly complex and serious threats and I agree with Dr. Kissinger's assessment, by the way. Those threats to the international order that has stood us in reasonably good stead since the end of World War II.
And John will provide a more detailed accounting of the specific threats we face. And we'll both be ready to address questions on the debilitating effects on our defense capabilities of sequestration, the failure to pass defense budgets in a timely manner and excess basing. And in thinking about the top of today's hearing, the state of the world, I was reminded of Winston Churchill's famous adage, the farther back you can look the farther forward you are likely to see.
So before turning to where we are in the world today, I think it would be useful to consider where we have been and how we got to where we are now. A little more than a century ago at the dawn of the 20th centuries, Americans had reason to be hopeful. The great powers were at peace, economic interdependence among nations was increasing, miraculous new technologies were appearing at dizzying speed.
Yet this optimistic vision would soon fall to pieces. Instead, the first half of the 20th century would prove to be the bloodiest, most devastating in human history with the two most destructive wars in history, the worst economic collapse in history, and the near takeover of the planet by an alliance of dictatorships responsible for the worse crimes against humanity in history.
The United States came of age as a world power amidst the rubble left by the succession of calamities and resolved in the wake of 1945, to try to prevent them from ever happening again. To keep the peace, we laid led an effort to establish a system of global alliances and security commitments underwritten by U.S. military power and the deployment of our forces to bases in Europe and Asia.
To create a foundation for prosperity, we put in place an open, free, and rules-based international economic order intended to safeguard against the spiral of protectionism that produce the impoverishment and radicalization of the 1930s. And to protect freedom here at home, we adopted a foreign policy that sought to protect and, where possible, promote freedom, broad along with human rights and rule of law.
These were the bipartisan foundations for the international order that emerged after World War II. They were the product of American leadership, American power and American values and while imperfect, on balance, they succeeded. The extent of that success can be seen when we compare the first half of the 20th century with the second half of that century, a period that witnessed the longest stretch without a great power war in centuries.
The most dramatic expansion of human prosperity in history and the spread of democracy to every inhabited continent on the planet. To borrow a phrase from the historian Robert Kagan, this is the world that America made. It is also the world that I fear is now in danger of being unmade. The international order that America created is now under unprecedented threat from multiple directions, including by increasingly capable revisionist powers, that is countries dissatisfied with the status quo, by Islamic extremist organizations that want to destroy our way of life, and by technologies and tactics that are reducing America's capacity to defend ourselves and our interests. As important as those various threats are, however, the world order has also been undermined by something, perhaps even more pernicious.
A loss of self-confidence resolved and strategic clarity on America's part about our vital interest in preserving and protecting the system we sacrifice so much to bring into being, and have sacrificed so much to preserve. The major challenge to the U.S.-led international order, the rise of a set of revisionist powers is a development Americans have recognized, but been somewhat reluctant to confront.
Since the end of the Cold War, our hopeful assumption is been that mutual self-interest could provide a pathway for deepening partnership among the major powers. While globalization would gradually liberalize the internal policies of all countries. What we have seen, instead unfortunately, is that in certain countries have grown more powerful, so too has their desire to challenge at least some elements of the status quo.
While domestically their authoritarianism has grown both more entrenched and yet also more insecure. In particular, we see several countries including Iran, Russia and China now working to establish a kind of sphere of influence over their respective, near abroad's, which include areas of vital strategic importance to the U.S. And where we have allies and partners to whom we are bound by shared interests and values.
To be sure, each of the revisionist powers requires a very different approach on America's part. China, for example, is not just a rising great power and strategic competitor, it is also our number one trading partner. And our relationship with it is the most important relationship in the world. In fact, in each case, our relationship inevitably combines some aspects of intensifying rivalry with other aspects of shared interest, including the need to develop some concept of mutual restraint and respect.
The challenge for the U.S. is to find the often elusive equilibrium, something that is likely to occur only if we combine hardheaded diplomacy with an equally hardheaded reinvestment in shoring up what has become a deteriorating balance of power. A very different far more radical revisionist force threatening the international order is Islamic extremism.
The ideology that animates the Islamic state, and Al Qaida and their affiliates, the greatest weakness of Islamic extremism is also its greatest strength, which is its protean ability to exist and indeed thrive without inhabiting a conventional nation state. What it lacks in traditional power terms, it compensates for in conviction resilience, resourcefulness and ferocity and in its hydra like qualities. It is unlike any adversary, we have faced before.
What is still missing, in many cases, is the truly comprehensive approach needed to combat these extremists, though to be fair, there has been progress in recent years in developing an approach that enables local partners and allows us to achieve a sustainable strategy with sustainability being measured in blood and treasure. And sustainability being an essential quality, given the likely duration of the struggle which we are engaged, which I have characterized as generational in nature.
The defeat of Islamic extremist groups does of course require a vital military component. But even if we succeed militarily and metaphorically, putting a stake through the heart of Daesh elements in Iraq and Syria as I believe we will. That success will be fleeting unless the underlying conflicts in those countries and the greater Middle East that enabled ISIL's rise are addressed and resolved.
We must also recognize that long-term success in this conflict requires that the ideology of Islamic extremist is -- is itself discredited. And contending with the ideological caliphate in cyberspace may well prove more challenging than taking away the rest of what is now a shrinking physical caliphate on the ground in Iraq and Syria.
Here I should note that our most important ally in this war is the overwhelming majority of Muslims who reject Al Qaida, Daesh in their fanatical barbaric worldview. Indeed, it is millions of Muslims who are fighting and dying in the greatest numbers on the front lines of this war, including Arab and Kurdish fighters, bravely battling ISIL in Mosul, Gulf Arab forces taking the fight to AQAP in Yemen, Afghans courageously struggling against the resurgent Taliban in a nascent Islamic State affiliate.
Somali forces confronting Al-Shabaab and the Libyan elements that recently drove another Islamic state entity from the enclave it had seized on the North African Coast. We must also remember that Islamic extremists want to portray this fight as a clash of civilizations with America at war against Islam. We must not let them do that. Indeed, we must be very sensitive to actions that might give them ammunition in such an effort.
Compounding the danger posed by revisionist forces are technologies that are eroding America's conventional military edge. In this respect, the wars of the post-9/11 period were, in some respects, a preview of the future. While the U.S. deployed forces into Iraq and Afghanistan that were superbly constructed for ratified decisive operations of the kind that we waged during the Gulf War in 1991. Our adversaries responded with strategies that for a fraction of the cost, nullified many of our advantages.
What Islamic extremists demonstrated through insurgency and terrorism, revisionist powers like Russia, China and Iran promised to take to a whole new level of sophistication and with much more sophistic weaponry, as well. Among the fast developing tools and their arsenals are anti-Axis area denial weapons that will complicate our ability to project power into vital regions and uphold our security commitments.
Increasingly capable cyber weapons for employment alone and attacks on infrastructure, or in influence campaigns, or in support of conventional and unconventional force operations, including so-called hybrid warfare, a renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons and threats to U.S. primacy in space of vital sanctuary for U.S. military power that is increasingly contested.
These are all serious threats and John will enumerate them further in his opening statement. Despite these challenges, I believe America is in a commanding position to sustain and indeed, bolster the international order that has served us. And paradoxically, some of those seeking to change it, as well.
We have an extraordinary network of partners, who are stakeholders in the current order and can be mobilized far more effectively for its defense. Our economy remains the largest in the world and an engine of unsurpassed innovation. And as a result of America's values, political pluralism, rule of law, a free and open society, we can recruit the best and brightest from every corner of the planet, a strategic advantage that none of our competitors can match.
The paradox of the moment is that just as the threats to the world order we created have grown ever more apparent, American resolve about its defense has become somewhat ambivalent. To be clear, America cannot do everything, everywhere.
Indeed, no one understands that better than the individual who is privileged -- privileged to command the surge in Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan. But when the most egregious violation of the most basic principles of the international order we helped shape, are tolerated, or excused. That lack of action undermines the entire system and is an invitation to further challenges.
Americans should not take the current international order for granted. It did not will itself into existence, we created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self sustaining, we have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and eventually, collapse. This is precisely what some our adversaries seek to encourage.
President Putin, for example, understands that while conventional aggression may occasionally enable Russia to grab a bit of land on it's periphery, the real center of gravity is the political will of the major democratic powers, to defend Euro-Atlantic institutions, like NATO and the E.U.
That is why Russia is tenaciously working to so doubt about the legitimacy of these institutions and our entire democratic way of life. Perhaps, because Russian civilization has a foot in the West, Russia is a great power, has always been well-positioned in a way that China and Iran are not, to wage ideological warfare that eats at the Euro-Atlantic world from within.
In this respect, Mr. Chairman, I would argue that repulsing this challenge is as much a test of America's faith and our best traditions and values, as it is of our military strength. Though our military strength, obviously, is a crucial component of our national power and does need shoring up. As you and your Senator counterpart have explained so clearly.
I began my remarks this morning by evoking a dark time in the history of mankind. Yet, it was only at our darkest hour in the 1940s that we summoned the imagination and determination to build the world order of which all of us here today, have been the lucky heirs. Perhaps it is in the nature of humanity, that only once we come to grasp fully how bad things could be, were we capable of galvanizing ourselves to set them right.
That is also the great responsibility and equally great opportunity that those in positions of power have before them now; to conjure out of the accelerating crises and deepening challenges of the moment, a world that is better than the one we inherited. And it is my hope that we will demonstrate the will and commit the resources needed to do just that.
Mr. Chairman, I have typically ended my testimony before the House and Senate of Armed Services Committees in the past by thanking the committee members for their steadfast support of our men and women in uniform, particularly during the post-9/11 period. I end my statement this morning the same way, repeating the gratitude that those in uniform felt during the height of our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the committee's extraordinary support for so many critical initiatives on and off the battlefield, even when some members questioned the policies we were executing.
I can assure you that this committees unwavering support of those serving our nation in uniform means a great deal, to those on the battlefield and to those supporting them, and it is with those great Americans in mind that I've offered my thoughts here this morning.
In his opening statement, McLaughlin spoke about four threats to the current state of the world: a diffuusion of power among nations, demographic trends, growing discontent, and a technology revolution.
"One symptom is the devolution of power to individuals, asymmetric power, you might say, social media, for example. And they're free to use this for good, or evil in measures beyond anything we've experienced in the past," he said.
Transcript of the former acting director of the CIA's opening statement (beginning at 22:40 of the above video):
MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Smith, members of the committee, thanks so much for the opportunity to testify to this great committee. And thanks so much for pairing me with my friend, General David Petraeus, who's done so much at home and abroad to advance American interests and keep our nation secure. Your ambitious title, The State of the World, is enough to make any briefer a little humble. You have a lengthy, detailed written statement from me. So I'm gonna summarize it quickly so we can get to your questions.
You know, as General Petraeus points out, the world is going through a major transition toward one that more closely resembles the great power politics, the balance of power period that predates the Cold War. Meanwhile, the norms that make up the global order, as General Petraeus has said, are under challenge as Russia, China, others test the sanctity of borders, the rules governing the maritime and air domains. And without consensus on rules, the international order, the international system, slips into chaos. This is the story of the 20th century.
My testimony does two things to elaborate on this. First, I sketch some of the broad global trends that will condition everything else in coming years. And then I'm gonna look at some specific issues arraying them, along a spectrum from those that are urgent, to those that are longer-range, or emerging.
First, global trends, big things that affect everything else. First, we're witnessing a diffusion of power among nations. The U.S. will remain unconvinced, the single most influential country in the world. But we will, as General Petraeus suggested, success for us will center on our ability to manage alliances and build coalitions.
Second, demographic trends over the next couple decades will contribute to societal stresses and instability. By 2035, world population will hit 8.3 billion, but less than three percent of this growth is going to occur in the developed world. So that means that demand for services will be rising precisely in those parts of the world least able to handle that.
Third, we're seeing a growing discontent with governance almost everywhere. Our own election, populist movements in Europe, Brexit in the U.K. Years ago, the Arab spring where those pressures are still just under the surface.
And fourth, and finally, a technology revolution greater in speed and scope than anything we've experienced in the 20th century or the 21st century, so far. Last century, it was physics and engineering. This century, its information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics and all of these jammed together in a continuously inventive way and not always by the United States.
One symptom is the devolution of power to individuals, asymmetric power, you might say, social media, for example. And they're free to use this for good, or evil in measures beyond anything we've experienced in the past. So now, let's turn to some specific issues and start with the urgent.
Now, urgent for me, means those that threaten the lives of Americans and our closest allies, or the physical security of the United States. Those are the things that are urgent on an immediate and ongoing basis. So that takes me to things like terrorism, nuclear weapons, cyber.
On terrorism, ISIS is still a very serious threat, but I think it's weaker on four of the five measures that I mentioned the last time I testified to this committee about a year ago. It has less territory, less money, a slowing recruitment pipeline and a less attractive narrative. But, it is still strong on the final measure that I mentioned, access to us, to targets. By virtue of having gathered so many more foreign fighters from the West, close to 7,000 at its height, its jihadist can filter back into Western societies and neighboring societies, including Russia.
Nineteen-hundred have reportedly already return to Europe, where based on my experience with those security services, they have to be stretched to the limit. Moreover, ISIS has a more robust international network than Al Qaida ever had, and if driven out of Syria and Iraq, can shelter and plot in dozens of countries around the world.
Al Qaida meanwhile, is not out of business; it's working to exploit ISIS's weakening position in Syria and Iraq. And its Yemen branch, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and for several attempts against the U.S. homeland, is using the civil war there in Syria to seize additional territory and sink deeper roots.
On the nuclear front, the most urgent issue facing us, as you've already referred to, is North Korea. They've been working on ICBM since the mid-1990s. They achieve stage separation at altitude in 1998. They've since launched two satellites with multistage rockets, they've carried out five nuclear tests and reportedly have between 12 and 20 nuclear weapons; with the potential to go to about 100 in the next five years. The bottom line here; the odds are high that they will get to a nuclear ICBM capability during this administration and possibly even during the current Congress.
On cyber; the Russian hacking of our election, the reported Chinese steal of OPM data illustrate our vulnerability. We can tighten our defenses, of course, but we need something more. Possibly some international agreements on what norms govern this domain on which the entire world depends. Some work is underway on that in the G20, but it's very early.
Now, in today's world everything can be seen as urgent; but let's call this next batch of issues, "ongoing and vitally important," and I'm gonna mention four.
First, the Middle East; all of its problems converge in Syria. Serious importance is in the long list of things that will be affected by how it ends. Consider them; the durability of ISIS, U.S. standing in the region, Russia's influence there, Iran's reach beyond its borders, Turkey's clout in the region.
How Turkey balances its NATO commitments with its budding partnership with Russia, the flow of migrants to Europe; where perceptions of overload played into the U.K.'s Brexit decision and have increased centrifugal pressures within the European Union.
Second, Europe itself; contending simultaneously with the lease for destabilizing trends. We used to take Europe for granted, no more. The volatility of the Euro, the migration crisis, the centrifugal force as strengthened by Brexit, the challenges to existing borders flowing from Russia's actions in the East. This at the very center of America's traditional and most reliable alliance partnership.
Third, China is moving aggressively to check U.S. influence and dominate Asia. China's economic growth on the one hand is at a 25 year low, but President Xi has not stopped from fielding potentially transformational initiatives. Like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, most of our allies of joined, and the New Silk Road trade and transportation network connecting China with the Middle East and Europe.
Moreover, he's moving into a vacuum created by our withdrawal from the Transpacific Partnership; by pushing a competing initiative that will pull in 16 of the world's fastest-growing economies, comprising about one half of the world's population. Here's my point; our Asian allies whose trade is already heavily oriented -- 30 percent for Australia, for example, are deeply worried they will be pulled into China's economic orbit if the U.S. does not stay heavily engaged.
Fourth, regarding Russia. I came away from a recent trip there in which I also stopped in Ukraine and Latvia. Impressed with the hostility of Russia's narrative and Putin's domination of the media and the opposition. Meanwhile, there is no letup of Russian pressure on Ukraine; you can see in the Washington Post this morning, but Putin will still be maneuvering to get Western sanctions lifted.
Now, let me say there's no harm in seeking an improved relationship with Russia. I remember times when we had such a relationship. But, in any bargaining, we need to know our own interests clearly and calculate them as dispassionately, as coldly, as clinically as Putin will calculate his.
Historically, when Russia encounters weakness or hesitation, it demands more. Then it blames the opponent for escalation when the opponent resists, then it calls for discussions; which it uses to consolidate its gains. So deals with Russia will not come easily. Another batch of issues are those that will be emerging revolving in days ahead.
Let me mention just two; one fairly obvious, the less so. First, the Iran Nuclear Deal; as a compromise it's by definition, not perfect, but Iran is giving up 98 percent of its enriched stockpile of uranium and mothballing about 13,000 centrifuges. You know these things. And all this buys time, but we'll have to stay alert for cheating and continuously gauge what's in store when the provisions expire in 10 or 15 years.
So far, the U.N. organizations responsible for monitoring all of this are not reporting major violations. You may have seen reports of an Iran missile test in the last several days; technically not a violation under the nuclear agreement. And the U.N. resolution on this says it can be a violation if there's a nuclear connection to it. So far that is not established.
Second, it's gonna be important to talk -- to keep track of an ongoing revolution in the international energy market. This is the one that is a little less obvious. Oil's been key -- a key driver of geopolitics for years. And is determined the policies, and I would say the very character of many countries; such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, to an extent, Iran.
But a combination of fracking here in the United States, conservation, battery technology, declining Chinese demand, have created an oversupply and pushed crude oil prices downward. Now, OPEC is trying the old gambit of jacking prices up by cutting supply, but I'm -- I doubt this will work as it once did. And this will introduce stresses into societies overly dependent on oil revenue.
The U.S. is insulated from this because North America is heading for self-sufficiency in energy; natural gas over the next couple decades, with the U.S. becoming a net exporter of oil. This could tempt us to pull back from engagement in areas we traditionally depended on for oil, but this would be a mistake.
Let me conclude these remarks by returning to the humility I expressed at the beginning of this testimony. I'd say we will probably be surprised in the coming months by something neither General Petraeus nor I have mentioned. That is almost always the case; and it is the best argument for maintaining high agility in our military, diplomatic and intelligence agencies.
So I want to thank you once again for the invitation to testify in this committee. It's always a pleasure and I think we're ready to engage with your questions.