In a candid and often alarming assessment of the international security environment earlier this week at Festival of the Arts, Gen. George Casey forecasted at least another decade of “protracted confrontation among states, non-states and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence” to accomplish political and ideological goals.
“We’re still at war with a global, extremist network,” said Casey, who served his country for more than 40 years. “I believe it’s a long-term ideological struggle that will play out in duration more like the Cold War rather than any conventional war.”
The retired four-star general—the 36th chief of staff of the U.S. Army (2007 to 2011) and former senior coalition commander in Iraq—spoke for more than an hour at the Cultural Arts Center, addressing some of the major threats to our national security.
Regional instability: “While we’ve had some success against al-Qaida and weakened it with the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s not dead by any stretch of the imagination. This is an ideological struggle between moderate and extremist Islam. And it’s a struggle that we need to see joined. We are not going to defeat Islamic extremism by ourselves. The battle is going to have to be won within Islam.
“I believe that the struggle that’s going on in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Iraq ... this is the defining struggle of the next decade. ... And it’s very frustrating for us because it’s not like the Cold War, where we could go out and win it. We can only support these countries and help them win. It’s going to take a long time, lots of resources and lots of patience.”
Weapons of mass destruction: “The reason that stability in these countries is so important is because of the nexus between instability, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction—and I believe that is the greatest risk facing us right now. ... Add to that mix rouge states like North Korea and Iran that not only sponsor proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but are also state sponsors of terror, and that adds to an already volatile mix.
“There are about 1,000 terrorist groups around the world today. We know they’re out there actively seeking weapons of mass destruction, primarily biological and chemical—and, to some extent, nuclear. Getting one of these devices and successfully employing it is hard, otherwise they would have done it already. I’ve been saying for the past few years that I expect to see a [WMD] attack on us. It hasn’t happened, and that’s a good thing. But, for me, it’s only a matter of time.”
Cyber terrorism: “I treat this like a weapon of mass destruction because it’s been significantly effective. ... There are more than 75 million pieces of malware [malicious software] already on the Internet; a new piece enters the Internet every 2.2 seconds. It’s no wonder that between 2010 and 2011, cyber attacks went up by almost 50 percent.
“I believe this threat is real and prescient. The threshold has been crossed; [cyber tools can impact] infrastructure. Cyber tools can be used to destroy electrical generators and shut down our electrical system. ... When former secretary of defense Leon Panetta talked about a cyber attack as the next Pearl Harbor, that really got my antennae up.”
Economic crisis: “For defense, there is $15 billion more in cuts coming next year and the year after for a total of 10 years. This protracted and arbitrary cutting of the defense budget, for me, is a recipe for a hollow force. ... With the first sequestration cut, we’ve taken a step toward a hollow [military force]. It’s troubling to me because this is not what we usually do, which is to draw down after wars. We’re drawing down while we’re involved in a long-term ideological struggle against global extremism. This military that’s being cut back is going to be needed, in some form or another, in the next year or two.”