On April 2, 2013, CACI International Inc, the U.S. Naval Institute, and the Center for Security Policy hosted "Combatting Asymmetric Threats: the Interplay of Offense and Defense," the seventh symposium in a series on Asymmetric Threats to National Security. The widely-attended event featured thought-provoking discussions on how the dynamics of offensive and defensive measures shape the character, conduct, and ultimate outcomes of asymmetric conflicts. Keynote speakers and panelists addressed the questions of whether the United States had forfeited its asymmetric advantages and how to win the asymmetric fight.
The Honorable James Gilmore, former governor of Virginia and current member of CACI's Board of Directors, gave the symposium's summary remarks, which are presented here.
"CACI is very committed to thought leadership. If I may say to all of you who are here today, you have been included in this invitation and this opportunity to be here today because of the strong belief that you are influential in the discussion involving the national security of this country. Therefore, we are most honored that you are here.
It is not possible, in a few minutes, to sum up everything that we have heard here today, but let me just give you a few additional thoughts. In our view, this world is more dangerous than it has ever been. Let's add a little bit of body to that. When I was in military service during the Cold War, it was a bipolar world. There was a life-or-death struggle going on between the Soviet Union and the United States, between communism and capitalism. That was a struggle that in a way created a stabilized situation around the world.
Today we still have a nation-state construct, the same one that has existed since the Treaty of Westphalia. There are still nation states across the world, about 195 across the world — all of them set up with their borders, with their governments, with their citizens within them, and as a result of that, we now continue to have that same potential for a dangerous national conflict. When you talk about, as the speakers did today, China, Iran, North Korea, even Russia, that danger remains even to this day. Now we have a second problem, and that is the problem that we have of a new construct where we have a world today in which international organizations can grow beyond borders and be a part of no country whatsoever. Those organizations can endanger and threaten our country and other countries as well.
The irony of where we stand with this type of dangerous world is that we can make really fundamental errors. We can turn all of our attention now to an organization, like al-Qaeda — and the al-Qaedas, by the way, that are coming along behind them — based either upon that particular philosophy or another. We can get involved with that adversary and lose track of the conventional challenges that we have to be prepared to face in the nation-state construct in which we are still living.
So there is now discussion: "Well, do we really need these aircraft carriers?" You probably saw that. All of you all read that in the paper. They are actually having a serious discussion about whether or not we really need all these aircraft carriers, or perhaps, as some of our speakers have questioned: "Well, suppose we reduce the fleet? Suppose we reduce the aircraft?" Well, then you are back to the place where you are perfectly prepared to deal with al-Qaeda, but now you are no longer prepared to deal with the nation-state challenge. So the truth is we are in a more dangerous world because, to be safe and to carry out our national security mission, we have to do even more than we have ever done before with the dual challenges that we are facing today in an unstable world.
One of the themes that we have heard today has been offense versus defense, another duality in all the themes that we have talked about here today. There is a duality in the world state today, with nation states on the one side but international organizations like al-Qaeda on the other side, that directly threatens us and now takes most of our focus and attention.
If we only focus on al-Qaeda and forget the nation-state construct that we still confront with Iran, North Korea, China, and these kinds of challenges, we can make mistakes on the one side of the ledger while we are focusing on the other, like for example, abandoning all of our aircraft carriers.
There is another duality, and this question was raised by one of our speakers — the nature and threat of what we are really dealing with here. We have been in a struggle ever since 9/11 when the Pentagon was struck in my home state of Virginia. I chaired the National Commission on Homeland Security during that time, three years before the attack and two years after the attack. The question that arose was: "What are we dealing with here today? Are we dealing with war, or are we dealing with crime?"
If you do some of the reading right now and listen to some of the spokesmen and some of the thinking that is going on in Congress, there is a lot of confusion. Are we dealing with war, or are we dealing with crime? Well, there are both sides of that coin. If you are dealing with war, you can do anything to defeat the enemy because it's "war." There are, however, consequences to defining the conflict in that way. Do we then elevate our adversaries to the dignity of being "enemy combatants?" Are they now enemy soldiers fighting for political ends? If they are enemy combatants, you can kill them at any time with a drone. If they are criminals, they are not entitled to the dignity of fighting for a political cause. Criminals, however, are entitled to constitutional safeguards under the rule of law.
On the other hand, if you define our adversaries strictly as criminals, how are you going to make that criminal prosecution in court? I've made those cases myself as a prosecutor, as an attorney general. We don't want the inconvenience of trying to track down witnesses and make cases and rules of courts of law against people who don't abide by any rule of law whatsoever. These are the challenges that we're facing right now.
And what have we got with al-Qaeda and people like al-Qaeda? Well, what we have is a universal rejection of the West, and the values of the West. They don't want nation states. They want an international, global caliphate, which doesn't abide by any rules of law made by a democratic process. They want to reject the order of the modern world.
We have heard eloquently about our weapons of war, the techniques of reconnaissance and communication, intelligence and cell phones and the ability to travel and the Internet, which is probably the most powerful force we have in the world today. The West also recognizes the dignity of women and the rule of law. These are the badges of Western civilization which are being rejected by al-Qaeda. That is a unifying force that they are bringing together, because they feel Western culture and modernity of our science overbearing their world view, and so they reject the West. They reject the open society, yet they use the advantages of the open society. For example, they broadcast their ideas to all their prospective followers through the open media. They influence through the media the way America thinks about itself and how it defends itself, as a force multiplier used by an opponent that doesn't even believe in Western civilization.
The nature of al-Qaeda is that it doesn't even belong to a country. None of the 195 countries of the world are al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is universal. It crosses borders. It goes everywhere, and as I said, again, there will be others who will follow in their wake. They want to create an international order that is not guided by Western civilization.
As a matter of fact, the Western system of nation states and liberty and science and opportunity is not compatible with what they want, because our system is a system that is responsible to the citizens of our respective countries. Their system says it is not the citizens of countries that rule or govern. In their system it is God and only God, and their leaders define what God intends. That surely isn't democracy. And so their world views are incompatible.
The new international movements are not the only forces trying to redefine the international order. Some nation states also are trying to reject Western civilization. In the January issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, an entrepreneur from Shanghai wrote an article about Communist China called "The Life of the Party." The article argues that the way of the 21st century is the Chinese way, which is entrepreneurship, capital, and business, but an authoritarian one-party rule and complete control of their population. And he was rather laughing at the United States a little bit and talking about the fact that our system of government is failing — failing! — and that people around the world will see that Western democracy is failing and the Chinese system will prevail by the end of the 21st century. That is a direct conceptual, intellectual challenge to the very foundations upon which all of us live.
You know what? There are some people who would find that argument appealing. Don't we have the lowest possible public opinion right now of Congress in the history of the United States, something like single digits or even the low teens of approval of the United States Congress? Is there not a drum-beat in the popular media contemptuous of our government?
Finally, the question is raised of whether we can protect our civilian population. The enemy wants to show that we can't protect our civilians. We can do battle with our adversaries militarily but we can't protect our civilians. It was demonstrated in the 9/11 attack. What is the foundation of Western civilization? It is the protection of our citizens, of our civilians. These are the advantages asymmetrically they have: the ability to destroy our citizens through sudden attacks; suicide missions; and to undermine our confidence in what we can or cannot do to protect our citizens.
But I would say to you that we also have asymmetrical advantages in the West. What is an asymmetry? It just means that there is an imbalance of power in any particular conflict. Our adversaries may come at us with these kinds of attacks on our citizens. There are certain nation states that support them, but here's the truth: the truth is that we here in the West have the asymmetrical advantage. We do. It is we who have the advantage.
One of our conference speakers talked about our coherent narrative. I would suggest to you that we in Western civilization have a perfectly coherent narrative. We believe in the liberty of people in societies that are responsive, in governments that are responsive to our people, that we are dedicated to the well-being of our people, that we stand for human dignity, including that of women. We have a coherent narrative and it is the most powerful narrative. To the people that our adversaries seek to subject to Sharia type of law, I say: "You don't have to settle for that. You can do better, and it is the Western idea that does better for you and for your children."
We are a strong society, an open society and we have the superior power of our ideas. Their goal is to make us become an authoritarian society ourselves. Their goal is to make us overreact to them so that, while we will not be conquered by them, we will remake our society ourselves and destroy our values and way of life.
There are some assertions that perhaps the National Defense Authorization Act began to suggest that our military could be used in our homeland. There are suggestions that the Patriot Act may have gone too far. Well, one thing is for sure. If they can detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States of America, they will transform our society forever. The result would be more calls for authoritarianism to protect our society from the outside threat. Therein lies the real danger.
So in closing, I want to tell you about a couple more asymmetric opportunities that we have. I have said we have the strength of our coherent narrative and our idea about what the world should be. That idea will always prevail when it is communicated. Second, we have the strength of our economy. Now, sooner or later, we're going to stop setting limits on ourselves and we're going to decide to grow the economy. We haven't done it yet, but I promise you we will. As Winston Churchill said — we've been quoting Churchill a lot today — we Americans "can always be trusted to do the right thing after we've exhausted all other possibilities." We'll do the right thing, and we will grow our economy. And when we do, we will continue to have the resources to defend ourselves, because there is no economy in the world that matches that of the United States of America and our Western allies. It is simply true.
I have to laugh at the comedic article by the Chinese author as he was talking about the glories of the Chinese economy. They can't understand why one authoritarian party can't make decisions about people and get it right all the time. They are puzzled how 300 million Americans will make all their decisions independently every day for themselves and get it done better. That is the strength of our economy, and in the end it will be the winner.
And finally, our greatest asymmetrical advantage is our people. Now it is very interesting. One of the speakers here today spoke about the force of our soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen, and that is true. We have the finest servicemen and servicewomen in the world, and that will continue because of the caliber of people that America produces. The real asymmetric strength of the United States rests in the people of the United States. Our asymmetric advantage is that the people of our country will be able to tolerate and deal with any of the asymmetric attacks that any enemy may inflict.
I suggest that the Department of Homeland Security talk more to the American people about these challenges and what might happen, so that if another 9/11 attack occurs the American people can shake it off and maintain our coherent narrative of what we are and what kind of people we will be. We will then be the beacon to the world. The citizens of the United States are not yet fully engaged in the entire defense of the nation that will be necessary in the 21st century. If the advantages of our free people are brought to bear, then, even though we live in a new and dangerous world, I promise you, ladies and gentlemen, we will prevail.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you."
The symposium report will be published in the summer of 2013.
The Asymmetric Threats to National Security symposia series are non-attribution forums and are held under Chatham House rules. Any attributions from the proceedings have been approved by the speakers. Governor Gilmore's comments are presented here with his permission.