Tomorrow’s Threats

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It is becoming clearer that respected views of the national-security threats facing the U.S. are diverging:

Twenty-first century trends like the growth of technology represent new opportunities, but they also represent more uncertainty and certainly more risks to the United States, our allies, global peace, prosperity and security. We live in a world where our homeland is vulnerable to cyber attackers who can strike from anywhere in the world, where states like North Korea seek to develop missiles capable of hitting American soil, and where extremist groups like Hezbollah possess a more deadly arsenal of weapons than many nations.

— Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, June 19, University of Nebraska.

Potential adversaries are acquiring fighters on a par with or better than our legacy fourth generation fleet. They’re developing sophisticated early-warning radar systems and employing better surface-to-air missile systems…the Air Force needs the F-35 to stay a step ahead, to make sure that the future fight is an away game, and to minimize the risk to our ground forces when conflict inevitably does occur. Its interoperability among services and partner nations, its survivability against the advanced integrated air defense systems, and its ability to hold any target at risk make the F-35 the only real viable option that I see to form the backbone of our future fighter fleet.

— General Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, testifying before Congress, June 19.

You are entering the Army at a time that the world is most dangerous I have seen during my 37 years of service.

— General Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, to the U.S. Military Academy’s graduating class, May 24.

And, as Monty Python used to say, now for something completely different:

For the three and a half centuries of the modern international era, great powers have almost always confronted rivals determined to defeat them and replace the global order they worked to bring about. In the last century, this process unfolded three times. The results were violent, costly and dangerous, and included two world wars and a cold war. Today, there are threats, but they tend to be regional, years away or limited in scale. None rises to the level of being global, immediate and existential. The United States faces no great-power rival. And this is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The biggest strategic question facing America is how to extend this respite rather than squander it.

— Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a top foreign-policy aide to President George H.W. Bush, in a column in Sunday’s New York Times.

The contrast between Hagel, Welsh and Odierno, on the one hand, and Haass, on the other, represents the central U.S. national-security issue of our day.

It breaks down into two basic questions:

— What are the paramount threats the U.S. government will be called on to defeat over the next generation?

— To what degree is our current military infrastructure arrayed to detect and defeat those threats before they can do real damage?