Dealing With Today's Asymmetric Threat to U.S. and Global Security

Terrorism and Islamic extremism are major factors in the current asymmetric threat picture. However, there are myriad asymmetric threats to U.S. and global security that must be examined further in developing a truly Integrated National Asymmetric Threat Strategy.

Asymmetrical threats are not uniquely military, but require the engagement of all elements of national power, including that applied by Congress, the judiciary and the executive branch, as well as the private sector. To best meet today's asymmetric threat to U.S. and global security, government and industry should partner to develop a comprehensive and unified national strategy. Leaders in all sectors must work together if we are to be successful against a dedicated, capable and multi-faceted threat.

Four major functional areas of responsibility have been suggested that are integral to a global and national asymmetric threat response paradigm.

  1. Strategic Communications
  2. Securing the Homeland
  3. Economics
  4. Diplomacy

Together, these areas would unite all relevant departments of government and other national resources, where appropriate, to build a consensus on a national strategy to address and defeat such asymmetrical threats.

A broad, yet in-depth, understanding of the scope and complexity of these diverse challenges and how the U.S. must deal with them is required. This response should be based upon a formulation of national policies and strategies that address diplomatic and military responses and synergies, social and cultural initiatives to bolster the understanding and will of the American people, and other programs to directly counter the terrorist and extremist threats faced by the U.S. and our foreign partners.

These policies and strategies implemented at the national level must be integrated and synchronized, considering the application of all elements of our national resources and power, including

  • Military capabilities
  • Economic capabilities
  • Diplomatic and political capabilities
  • Information and communications capabilities
  • Intelligence Community capabilities
  • Law enforcement capabilities
  • Legal frameworks
  • Scientific development
  • Educational and cultural resources
  • All other branches of U.S. and local government

A new Integrated National Asymmetric Threat Strategy response plan must incorporate this multitude of potential threats and remain flexible so that we may defend ourselves, our country and our allies against future potential threats. There is consensus that asymmetric threats, including acts of terrorism, will be a prominent feature of the threat environment that the U.S. and our allies will face for at least the next several decades.

Four Pillars of a Unified Asymmetric Threat Strategy

1. A Strategic Communications Strategy

America's strategic communications programs are a significant national weakness. The U.S. government must revitalize, reinstitute, and aggressively implement an enhanced, worldwide strategic communications program addressing both near- and long-term needs. Of particular note, Islamist extremists have clearly understood and exploited the value of strategic communications in propagating their ideology and intimidating their adversaries. The U.S. and others have not yet found effective means to cope with or counter this threat. To do so requires a Strategic Communications Plan that

  • Leverages communications both defensively and offensively by telling America's story internally and externally
  • Effectively counters propaganda such as misinformation, distortions, prejudices and untruths
  • Promotes the U.S. as the inspirational world leader in advancing freedom, the rights of the individual and forms of government that embrace equality and the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • Leverages current and future communication technologies to convey these messages on a consistent, frequent and worldwide basis
  • Responds to global, national, state and local needs and goals because one tactical action or missed action can destroy the entire communication plan

2. A Defense and Homeland Security Strategy

Asymmetric threats are not solely military and require the integrated engagement of all elements of international and national power to be effective. It is, therefore, imperative for national homeland security planners, military strategists, doctrinal experts, policy analysts and scholars to coalesce around a set of common terms, strategies and operational methods to successfully combat these threats. A defense and homeland security strategy must

  • Respond to adversaries with a common voice and approach. The U.S. government seems to have missed recent opportunities to engage the Iranian government, on such issues as the development of weapons of mass destruction. A response from the U.S. President or senior representative might have spoken directly to the Iranian people and candidly set out both American expectations of the Iranian government and what America could offer in return.
  • Create a credible and widely accepted counter-narrative to enemies, which must come from within the Muslim community, e.g., through clerics and women's movements. The counter-narrative must be consistent with Muslim culture and traditions to be effective.
  • Help governments of failed or failing states to rebuild. The U.S. and other groups must increasingly focus on helping failing states establish governments that can provide effective political, economic, social and security institutions that are grounded in internationally accepted rules of law. Also, when engaged in military conflicts, stabilization operations need to be planned and conducted simultaneously with any concurrent combat operations.

3. An Economic Strategy

A sound economic strategy contributes to national security. The next administration will have to address the de facto economic crisis, while planning to meet long-term economic goals. This will include identifying what should have the highest priority in government spending — defense, homeland security, health, education, intelligence, diplomacy and aid for natural disasters, for example. To address these questions the U.S. should

  • Establish a national economic strategy to lead to long-term economic stability and growth, and world economic leadership. The nation also needs to ensure sufficient resources to permit the government to fight world terror and help build a stable world.
  • Develop a long-range budget to create appropriate economic and financial programs for national security. It was suggested that the U.S. should develop a ten-year budget to help drive economic strategy into the future. A comprehensive national economic strategy that considers the economic impact of asymmetric threats would be more successful if it encompassed a period more on the scale of these long-term problems.
  • Redirect American agricultural know-how to the production of food supplies throughout the world to help ensure adequate levels of food and nutrition for people at home and abroad. Food shortages are an increasing concern, particularly in developing countries where population growth is outpacing economic growth and agricultural output.
  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for energy independence. While a degree of energy interdependence is given, perhaps even desirable, the increasing American dependence on foreign energy resources is threatening America's economic and national security interests. The nation's strategy must be one of increasing available clean energy resources through research and development, innovation, conservation and efficient wind, solar and biofuels development. Such a strategy may be the single most important thing the U.S. can do to redress strategic, environmental and economic problems.

A new economic security strategy will require trade-offs and changes in priorities. Therefore, governmental policies must evaluate carefully the issues of free and open market competition, protection and promotion of domestic commercial interests and enhancement of global market economies that will aid emerging national economies.

4. A Diplomatic Strategy

National, regional, cultural and religious influences require a different global and regional diplomatic model. Various governmental agencies "carve" the world differently and one department or agency's regions do not necessarily overlap with those of another. This degrades the quality of coordination, integration and synchronization of missions and programs. Consequently, there needs be a national alignment of regional responsibilities among U.S. governmental departments/agencies to fully develop a new and relevant diplomatic strategy.

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