Evolving Global Threats: The U.S. Assessment


by Robbin Laird

In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Directors of National Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence agency laid out their review of global threats and then answered questions from the Committee.

If one wanted proof of the mental leaps the U.S. will need to make to get in front of developments, the testimony and exchanges were clear highlights.  The focus on 9/11 continues and Afghanistan and Iraq predominate.  Which makes sense in terms of the history of the past decade; it makes no sense for the decade ahead.

A number of comments leap out.

First, we learn that Iran has not decided whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons.  We learn that the leadership is doing a cost-benefit analysis of whether this is a good idea.

But the reality is that the key players in the region are already acting on the assumption that Iran will go nuclear and the Iranian leadership looking at Gadaffi’s giving up of the pursuit of nuclear weapons and his fate clearly understand the benefits of not being subject to threats from Western powers.


The lessons being learned outside the beltway is that an atomic bomb might be the only thing between their survival and American ‘ready fire aim” diplomacy.)

The Potential Impact of the Missing Manpads will be one of the stories in our forthcoming first Grey Swan Report. Credit Image: Bigstock

Second, the testimony and the Q and A focus upon the missing MANPADS from Libya.  This is almost treating MANPADS as if one was doing a topographical analysis from 50,000 feet.  There is absolutely no discussion of the relationship between the decision to strike Libya and the loss of control over these dangerous weapons.  So where is the sense of accountability?

Here is an amazing exchange between Senator Hagan and General Clapper.

“Senator Hagan: How did you estimate 20,000 MANPADS and then 5,000 recovered?

General Clapper: Well the  5,000 recovered is –

Senator Hagan: Right.

General Clapper: By Count.

Senator Hagan: Right

General Clapper: And that was the best intelligence assessment that we had, based on all-source analysis of the number of MANPADs they had before the demonstrations and the like started.”

OK guys how about this question: Why did the intelligence analysis not inform combat operations so that the MANPADS could have been contained, captured and destroyed?”

I will answer my question in part by when you “lead from behind” you put no troops on the ground; no troops on the ground, no ability to find, capture, and destroy these weapons.


And where is the ramp up in defensive systems able to deal with the virtual certainty of this threat hitting the civilian sector?


Then of course we have the ever present Senator McCain, the voice for continued presence in Afghanistan until whenever.

“Senator McCain: So our relationship with Pakistan must be based on the realistic assessment that ISI’s relationship with the Haqqani network and other organizations will probably not change.

General Clapper: Yes sir.  I mean therea re cases where our interests converge, you know, government to government, and that relationship and that factoid is reflected in the relationship with ISI.”

And the policy consequences are?  For a slight hint, the Pakistanis are not likely to support an indefinite operation by Western forces in Afghanistan and the consequences of this are?

And in the continuing saga, the Intelligence Community continues to ignore the nature of global arms trade upon global capabilities: where is the discussion of China as an arms exporter on global dynamics?


I testified before the COMMISSION TO ASSESS 
TO THE UNITED STATES chaired by Secretary Rumsfeld.  The Committee had been set up for the very plausible reason that analyzing countries INDIGENOUS capabilities to develop missiles was hardly the definer of the equation of deployed capabilities.  Those who sought ballistic and other missiles were operating on the world market for components, subsystems or complete systems.


Needless to say in the Testimony the discussion was of Chinese growing military capabilities to defend their interests REGIONALLY and that is largely it.

We learn from Clapper that “Since 2008, Beijing has show a greater willingness to project military force to protect national interests, including Chinese maritime shipping as far away as the Middle East…..” But that is as bold as it gets.

And we might note, that Senator McCain’s puzzling over Pakistani policy might link with Chinese weapons proliferation to gain some measure of the gap between policy and reality.

Next, there is a stunning lack of discussion of the impact of the Arab Spring on the defense framework of the past thirty years.  The Arab Spring, the rise of Iran and other dynamics in the Middle East have shattered the operational framework for US policy in the region.

The Committee virtually ignored the Arab Spring.  But at least Clapper discussed it. Only on page 14 of his testimony do we get to the seminal set of events resetting US security policy.

We learn that the regional implications of the Arab Spring are as follows:  “This new reginal environment poses challenges for US strategic partnerships in the Arab world.  However, we judge that Arab leaders will continue to cooperate with the United States.

This is beyond amazing.  How can he possibly know this? Which leaders are we discussing?  Isn’t the point of the upheaval that we do not know?  And where is the discussion of the impeding bankruptcy of Egypt on US and other interests, and the inevitable greater Saudi role in Egypt and what will be the Israeli reaction?


And completely missing in action is a key strategic development: the role of the Arctic in energy and related security.  If we are concerned with the Middle East, a major reason is because of energy security.  So instead of pursuing the phantom of solar energy and investing in firms about to go bankrupt, what about investing in the Arctic and make sure that our interests are protected.

But in an exercise of tunnel vision, there is absolutely no capacity to think through regional linkages.  And of course, the challenge of the decade ahead is precisely that.  This will require a revamping of U.S. power projection capabilities inextricably intertwined with allied perspective, forces and approaches.  Hardly easy but indispensable, unless of course threats have no relationship to the capabilities one needs for the period ahead.,