Global Threats and Challenges: The Decades Ahead
Statement for the Record
to the Senate Armed Services Committee
Lieutenant General Patrick M. Hughes, USA
Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
February 2, 1999
I am pleased to once again have the opportunity to provide the
committee my views on the global threats and challenges confronting
our nation over the next two decades. As we have witnessed during the
past year -- with the continuing proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction highlighted by the nuclear detonations in India and
Pakistan ... heightened tensions along the line of control in Kashmir
... disorder in Indonesia ... terrorist bombings of our embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania ... North Korean and Iranian progress in developing
longer-range missiles ... intense ethnic conflict, particularly in the
Balkans and Central Africa ... internal uncertainty and economic
crisis in Russia ... the devastating impact of Hurricane Mitch in
Central America ... narcotics trafficking and its corrosive effects on
governance in Colombia and surrounding countries ... Iraq's continued
belligerence ... and growing concern with the direction North Korea is
taking -- the international security environment remains volatile,
complex, and difficult.
I expect this general global turmoil to continue (and perhaps worsen)
at least through the next decade, because the underlying causes --
political, economic, social, and technological -- remain largely in
place. We should therefore anticipate an environment in which threats,
challenges, and opportunities coexist, intertwine, and evolve
seemingly at random. I am particularly concerned that the simultaneous
occurrence of many "lesser" crises will result in a "net effect" that
could diffuse our focus, dissipate our power and resources, cause us
to be reactive, and ultimately, undermine our ability to shape the
Against this backdrop of change, turmoil, and uncertainty, I see five
central themes that will define the nature of the military threats and
challenges we are likely to encounter over the next two decades. These
themes expand upon points I have raised in prior testimony as the
Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, and reflect more than ten years
of my thinking about the future global security environment.
-- No global military challenger on the scale of the former Soviet
Union is likely to emerge, but the United States will continue to be
confronted with a host of "lesser" dangers -- regional, transnational,
and asymmetric. Terrorism will continue to be an important threat,
particularly when terrorist acts include the use of weapons of mass
destruction. Collectively, these lesser dangers represent a formidable
barrier to the emergence of a stable, secure, and prosperous
international order and will continue to absorb a great deal of the
U.S. military's time, energy, and resources.
-- The strategic nuclear threat to the U.S. will endure, but its
character has and will continue to change significantly. While the
number of Russian strategic warheads will shrink dramatically, Moscow
will retain a potent delivery capability and rely increasingly on
strategic forces. China will modernize and expand its relatively small
and dated strategic deterrent force. Though less certain, I am
increasingly concerned that adversaries -- notably North Korea and
Iran -- will develop and field nuclear-armed missiles with
intercontinental range. This more diverse and complex strategic
nuclear threat environment affects Cold War thinking about nuclear
deterrence, policy, force posture, and strategic targeting.
-- The threat posed by regional weapons of mass destruction (WMD) --
already the greatest threat to deployed U.S. forces -- will increase.
Several rogue states will likely join the nuclear club, chemical and
biological weapons will be widely proliferated, and the numbers of
longer-range theater ballistic and cruise missiles will increase
significantly, particularly in the Middle East. This dynamic has the
potential to fundamentally alter theater force balances, the nature of
regional war and conflict, and U.S. contingency planning and
-- Large regional forces remain a substantial concern. A number of key
regional powers -- China and possibly Russia at the high end, but also
an unimpeded Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, and, at least through the
near term, North Korea -- will field conventional military forces that
are large and well-equipped by today's standards. The degree to which
these "industrial age" forces can adopt and apply selected "high-end
capabilities" -- WMD, missiles, satellite reconnaissance, global
positioning, precision-strike, advanced radar, and so forth -- remains
to be seen. In the right regional context, they could pose a
significant threat to U.S. mission success, particularly in the period
The global dynamic will continue to spur numerous regional and local
crises. Prolonged tensions in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the
Aegean, tribal and internecine disputes throughout many parts of
Africa, continued hostility between India and Pakistan, ongoing border
disputes between several nations, and ethnic and political conflict in
resource-rich Central Asia -- all have the potential to erupt abruptly
into active conflict.
These trends, combined with declining military budgets worldwide, have
had (and will continue to have) important consequences.
-- First, there has been a dramatic increase in the operations tempo
of U.S. and allied forces. Only a few advanced militaries possess the
strategic mobility to project power to remote, undeveloped regions,
and even fewer militaries have the communications, transportation,
logistics, and intelligence support to stay in distant deployed sites
for extended periods of time (particularly under threatening and
sometimes lethal conditions). These frequent deployments sap resources
and limit training time.
-- Likewise, our increased daily global engagement posture limits the
forces and resources available to respond immediately to other, more
demanding, regional warfare contingencies. Anticipating a threat
environment in which more than one situation (perhaps several) will
require a direct military response simultaneously, is critical to
contingency and operational planning. Numerous, simultaneous,
smaller-scale crises could have a large-war impact.
-- Finally, these "lesser crises" can divert attention away from
other, more significant, systemic global problems. Given the general
global condition, I expect the demand for humanitarian and other
"peace operations" to remain high. The effect of this is that U.S. and
allied forces may, of necessity, have to react to a continuing
sequence of "emergencies" rather than devoting their capabilities
toward the shaping of a more stable global order.
Rogues, Renegades, and Outlaws. A number of individuals, subnational
groups, and states -- Usama Bin Ladin and others with similar views,
various international criminal and terrorist persons and
organizations, and the governments and leaders of Iraq, Iran, North
Korea, Libya, and others -- do not share our view of the future. They
typically resent the dominant global role played by the U.S., and feel
threatened by the rapid expansion of "western" (and particularly
American) values, ideals, culture, and institutions. These entities
generally recognize U.S. military superiority and seek to advance
their ends while avoiding direct engagement with the U.S. military "on
our terms." They will undertake any number of asymmetric and
asynchronous efforts to avoid, slow, halt, prevent, or undo U.S.
initiatives and will continue to sponsor many kinds of anti-U.S.
activities. They frequently engage in behavior outside accepted
international norms -- despotism, violent extremism, terror, and
unacceptable use of military force -- as they struggle to improve
their position while undermining the established or emerging order.
While these entities are not at present linked by a widely shared
unifying ideology, one could conceivably arise under the rhetoric of
providing a counterpoint to U.S. power.
Technology development and proliferation. I am very concerned about
weapons of mass destruction and missile proliferation and will address
these issues separately. However, there are other critical "enabling"
technologies -- including numerous "new sciences" -- that can
dramatically affect the nature and capabilities of future threats.
Some examples include:
-- Nanotechnology ... packaging advanced capabilities and functions in
very small and lightweight form using micro and sub-micro
manufacturing and machining technology (in particular, building
weapons systems that are smaller, faster, lighter, yet more
-- Biotechnologies ... particularly the bioengineering of organisms
created for very specific purposes (e.g. biological agents that will
infect and incapacitate a specific group of people).
-- Information-related technologies ... including advanced encryption,
high volume data handling, complex computational capability, and
offensive and defensive information warfare capabilities.
Critical Uncertainties. There are numerous issues -- to include the
great transitions underway in Russia and China, the future of the
Korean peninsula, the prospects for lasting peace in the Middle East,
the Balkans, and sub-Sahara Africa, evolving global and regional
security structures and institutions, and an array of upcoming
leadership changes -- whose outcome will dramatically impact the
global security situation. Uncertainty about these and other key
issues brings great stress to the international order. I can foresee
no condition, power, or circumstance that is likely to emerge during
the next 10-20 years that will transcend these factors and lead to a
more stable and predictable global order.