As the 21st century approaches, the United States faces a dynamic and uncertain security environment replete with both opportunities and challenges. On the positive side of the ledger, we are in a period of strategic opportunity. The threat of global war has receded and our core values of representative democracy and market economics are embraced in many parts of the world, creating new opportunities to promote peace, prosperity, and enhanced cooperation among nations. The sustained dynamism of the global economy is transforming commerce, culture, and global interactions. Our alliances, such as NATO, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance, which have been so critical to U.S. security, are adapting successfully to meet today's challenges and provide the foundation for a remarkably stable and prosperous world. Former adversaries, like Russia and other former members of the Warsaw Pact, now cooperate with us across a range of security issues. In fact, many in the world see the United States as the security partner of choice.
Nevertheless, the world remains a dangerous and highly uncertain place, and the United States likely will face a number of significant challenges to its security between now and 2015.
First, we will continue to confront a variety of regional dangers.
Foremost among these is the threat of coercion and large-scale, cross-border aggression against U.S. allies and friends in key regions by hostile states with significant military power. In Southwest Asia, both Iraq and Iran continue to pose threats to their neighbors and to the free flow of oil from the region. Access to oil will remain a U.S. national requirement for the foreseeable future. In the Middle East, the potential for conflict will remain until there is a just and lasting peace in the region and security for Israel.
In East Asia, the Korean peninsula remains divided. North Korea continues to pose a highly unpredictable threat due to the continued forward positioning of its offensive military capabilities on South Korea's border and the enormous pressures imposed by increasingly dire economic conditions. Elsewhere in the region, sovereignty issues and several territorial disputes remain potential sources of conflict.
Between now and 2015, it is reasonable to assume that more than one aspiring regional power will have both the desire and the means to challenge U.S. interests militarily.
In addition, failed or failing states may create instability, internal conflict, and humanitarian crises, in some cases within regions where the United States has vital or important interests. As we saw in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, and as we see today in countries ranging from Albania to Zaire, some governments will lose their ability to maintain public order and provide for the needs of their people, creating the conditions for civil unrest, famine, massive flows of migrants across international borders, and aggressive actions by neighboring states or even mass killings.
Second, despite the best efforts of the international community, states find it increasingly difficult to control the flow of sensitive information and regulate the spread of advanced technologies that can have military or terrorist uses. The proliferation of advanced weapons and technologies will continue. This could destabilize some regions and increase the number of potential adversaries with significant military capabilities, including smaller states and parties hostile to the United States, and change the character of the military challenges that threaten our national security.
Of particular concern is the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical ( NBC) weapons and their means of delivery; information warfare capabilities; advanced conventional weapons; stealth capabilities; unmanned aerial vehicles; and capabilities to access, or deny access to, space. The NBC proliferation trend is especially worrisome in the Former Soviet Union, where the ability of some states to exert effective control over significant, inherited stockpiles of NBC weapons, materials, and technologies is in doubt. It is also a concern in the Middle East, where the proliferation of advanced technologies provides rogue states such as Iran with increasingly sophisticated means to threaten regional security, and in East Asia, where such proliferation threatens to upset delicate military balances in a region rife with long-festering territorial disputes. The civilian marketplace is developing technology that has dual civilian and military applications, and this makes it difficult to slow the diffusion of technology to potentially hostile state and non-state actors. Nations such as the United States that embed such technology in their military forces could be particularly vulnerable to countermeasures if this challenge is not fully considered in system designs.
Third, as the early years of the post-Cold War period portended, U.S. interests will continue to be challenged by a variety of transnational dangers, and the lives of U.S. citizens will often be placed at risk, directly and indirectly. Increasingly capable and violent terrorists will continue to directly threaten the lives of American citizens and try to undermine U.S. policies and alliances. The illegal drug trade and international organized crime will continue to ignore our borders, attack our society, and threaten our personal liberty and well-being. Uncontrolled flows of migrants will sporadically destabilize regions of the world and threaten American interests and citizens.
Fourth, while we are dramatically safer than during the Cold War, the U.S. homeland is not free from external threats. In addition to the threat inherent in the strategic nuclear arsenals of other countries, there is the potential for further spread of intercontinental ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. In addition, other unconventional means of attack, such as terrorism, are no longer just threats to our diplomats, military forces, and private Americans overseas, but will threaten Americans at home in the years to come. Information warfare (attacks on our infrastructure through computer-based information networks) is a growing threat.
Indeed, U.S. dominance in the conventional military arena may encourage adversaries to use such asymmetric means to attack our forces and interests overseas and Americans at home. That is, they are likely to seek advantage over the United States by using unconventional approaches to circumvent or undermine our strengths while exploiting our vulnerabilities. Strategically, an aggressor may seek to avoid direct military confrontation with the United States, using instead means such as terrorism, NBC threats, information warfare, or environmental sabotage to achieve its goals. If, however, an adversary ultimately faces a conventional war with the United States, it could also employ asymmetric means to delay or deny U.S. access to critical facilities; disrupt our command, control, communications, and intelligence networks; deter allies and potential coalition partners from supporting U.S. intervention; or inflict higher than expected U.S. casualties in an attempt to weaken our national resolve.
Areas in which the United States has a significant advantage over potential opponents and increasing capabilities (e.g., space-based assets; command, control, communications, and computers; and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) could also involve inherent vulnerabilities that could be exploited by potential opponents (e.g., attacking our reliance on commercial communications) should we fail to account for such challenges. Dealing with such asymmetric challenges must be an important element of U.S. defense strategy, from fielding new capabilities to adapting how U.S. forces will operate in future contingencies.
Along with these projected trends (continued regional dangers, the proliferation of advanced weapons and technologies, transnational dangers, and the increased danger of asymmetric attacks), there are a number of "wild card" scenarios that could seriously challenge U.S. interests both at home and abroad. Such scenarios range from the unanticipated emergence of new technological threats, to the loss of U.S. access to critical facilities and lines of communication in key regions, to the takeover of friendly regimes by hostile parties. Taken individually, these scenarios are unlikely. But taken together, it is more likely that one or more wild cards will occur than it is that none will occur. In addition, while the probability of individual wild cards may be low, their consequences may be disproportionately high. Therefore, the United States must maintain military capabilities sufficient to deal with such events.
The security environment between now and 2015 will also likely be marked by the absence of a "global peer competitor" able to challenge the United States militarily around the world as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Furthermore, it is likely that no regional power or coalition will amass sufficient conventional military strength in the next 10 to 15 years to defeat our armed forces, once the full military potential of the United States is mobilized and deployed to the region of conflict. The United States is the world's only superpower today, and it is expected to remain so throughout the 1997-2015 period.
In the period beyond 2015, there is the possibility that a regional great power or global peer competitor may emerge. Russia and China are seen by some as having the potential to be such competitors, though their respective futures are quite uncertain.
Russia's future will depend in large measure on its ability to develop its economy, which in turn is dependent upon a stable political environment. Russia has made progress in building new democratic institutions, and the United States has made extensive efforts, successful in many cases, to build a partnership with Russia across the political, economic, and security fields. Russia's agreements with NATO will assist in integrating it into a larger European security architecture. Those agreements may dramatically alter Russian attitudes and shape a different security picture. Russia's military forces will either undergo substantial change, including additional downsizing and reorganizing, or face a continued process of progressive deterioration. Russia is also expected to continue to emphasize its research and development program, with modernization of its strategic nuclear capabilities and their continuous operational effectiveness a top priority. However, bringing a significant number of conventional weapons systems into production will depend on the success of its economic recovery.
China has the potential to become a major military power in Asia. The United States will continue to engage China, seeking to foster cooperation in areas where our interests overlap and influence it to make a positive contribution to regional stability and act as a responsible member of the international community. China is likely to continue to face a number of internal challenges, including the further development of its economic infrastructure and the tension between a modern market economy and authoritarian political system, that may slow the pace of its military modernization. Moreover, China's efforts to modernize its forces and improve its power-projection capabilities will not go unnoticed, likely spurring concerns from others in the region.
Finally, it is important to note that this projection of the security environment rests on two fundamental assumptions: that the United States will remain politically and militarily engaged in the world over the next 15 to 20 years, and that it will maintain military superiority over current and potential rivals. If the United States were to withdraw from its international commitments, relinquish its diplomatic leadership, or relinquish its military superiority, the world would become an even more dangerous place, and the threats to the United States, our allies, friends, and interests would be even more severe.
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