December 31, 2012
Credit: Credit: USMC
Bill Sweetman Washington
Global security has faced more calamitous threats than it does in 2013, but seldom has it faced an array of challenges that pose such a complex challenge to defense planners.
As the map on the previous pages shows (expanded in its online version) the diversity of armed conflict is close to infinite. In the western Pacific, what China sees as its return to the world stage is causing tensions with its smaller and historically unfriendly neighbors and their ally, the United States, in a manner that reminds some of the 19th century rise of Germany. India and Pakistan are armed for, if not intent on, a combined-arms war that would be familiar from World War II.
Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and North Korean rocket technology have spilled over into Iran, which is driving towards becoming a nuclear power outside the web of treaties, protocols and inspections that have kept nuclear weapons from being used since 1945. Consequently Israel—target of Iran's rhetoric, proxy wars via Hezbollah and Hamas and nuclear missiles—is driven to a higher state of tension, not only attacking Hamas in Gaza, but apparently bombing a site in Sudan where rockets were being prepared for shipment to Gaza.
Sudan itself is part of an arc of instability across Africa that is destabilizing Mali at its western end, and, in the east, spills into the Indian Ocean as a continuing piracy threat. While militant Islamist leaders are involved in piracy, it is also about ransom and money for the desperately poor, from whom the world's pirates have always been drawn.
Indeed, war and criminal activity have not been so similar or so closely allied since the last of the old-world pirates were put down in the early 1800s. Drug cartels fight the government for effective control of Mexico, and support insurrections across South and Central America. What was once an exclusively military weapon, the submarine, has been re-created for bulk shipment of narcotics.
Distinguishing a military opponent from a criminal may be difficult in the Indian Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. It is next to impossible in cyberspace, where the same piece of malware, the same source and the same methods may be used to exfiltrate data from a bank or a weapon design team, and where attacks on civilian infrastructure (such as power systems) can be used to hobble military deployments or equipment.
Cyberspace and near-Earth space, even more than the oceans, are part of the battlefield. Orbital space is another unique conflict environment, where there is a genuine fear that kinetic warfare could deny or compromise the use of space to victim, attacker and everyone else by unleashing a cloud of debris.