Documents on Terrorism
Statement by Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; February 7, 2001

Statement by Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson
Director, Defense Intelligence Agency
Global Threats and Challenges Through 2015
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
February 7, 2001
The Emerging Global Security Environment

"What's past is prologue" Shakespeare wrote. Those words have relevance today with respect to the recent and future global security environment. The 1990s were a time of transition and turmoil as familiar Cold War issues, precepts, structures, and strategies gave way to new security paradigms and problems. That transition continues, with the end nowhere in sight. In fact, I expect the next 10 to 15 years to be at least as turbulent, if not more so. The basic forces bringing stress and change to the international order -- some of them outlined below -- will remain largely at work, and no power, circumstance, or condition is likely to emerge capable of overcoming these and creating a more stable global environment. Within this environment, the 'Big C' issues -- especially counter drug, counter intelligence, counter proliferation, counter terrorism -- that have been a focal point of this Committee's efforts will remain key challenges for the United States. I will discuss each of these in some detail.

Globalization -- defined here as the increasing (and increasingly less restricted) flow of money, people, information, technology, ideas, etc. throughout the world -- remains an important, and perhaps even the dominant, influence. Globalization is generally a positive force that will leave most of the world's people better off. But in some ways, globalization will exacerbate local and regional tensions, increase the prospects and capabilities for conflict, and empower those who would do us harm. For instance, the globalization of technology and information -- especially regarding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and advanced conventional weapons -- will increasingly accord smaller states, groups, and individuals destructive capabilities previously limited to major world powers. Encouraging and consolidating the positive aspects of globalization, while managing and containing its 'downsides,' will be a continuing challenge.

Globalization is independent of any national policy and can weaken the power of governments to control events within and beyond their borders. Nevertheless, many individuals, groups, and states equate globalization to 'Americanization' ... that is, the expansion, consolidation, and perceived dominance of US power, values, ideals, culture, and institutions. This dynamic -- in which the US is seen as both a principal proponent for and key benefactor of globalization -- and the global reaction to it, will underpin many of the security challenges we face during the first two decades of the 21st century.

Not everyone shares our particular view of the future and disaffected states, groups, and individuals will remain an important factor and a key challenge for US policy.

Some (e.g. Iran, various terrorists, and other criminal groups) simply reject or fear our values and goals. They will continue to exploit certain aspects of globalization, even as they try to fend off some of its consequences (like openness and increased global connectivity). They will frequently engage in violence -- targeting our policies, facilities, interests, and personnel -- to advance their interests and undermine ours.

Others, either unable or unwilling to share in the benefits of globalization, will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. These conditions will create fertile ground for political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism. For many of those ‘left behind,' the US will be viewed as a primary source of their troubles and a primary target of their frustration.

Still others will, at times, simply resent (or be envious of) US power and perceived hegemony, and will engage in 'milder' forms of anti-US rhetoric and behavior. As a consequence, we are likely to confront temporary anti-US 'coalitions' organized or spontaneously forming to combat or rally against a specific US policy initiative or action.

Global demographic trends remain a factor. World population will increase by more than a billion by 2015, with 95 percent of that growth occurring in the developing world. Meanwhile developing-world urbanization will continue, with some 20-30 million of the world's poorest people migrating to urban areas each year. These trends will have profound implications that will vary by country and region. Poorer states, or those with weak governance, will experience additional strains on their resources, infrastructures, and leadership. Many will struggle to cope, some will undoubtedly fail. At the same time, some advanced and emerging market states -- including key European and Asian allies -- will be forced to reexamine longstanding political, social, and cultural precepts as they attempt to overcome the challenges of rapidly aging populations and declining workforce cohorts. In these and other cases, demographic pressures will remain a potential source of stress and instability.

Rapid technology development and proliferation -- particularly with respect to information, processing, and communications technologies, biotechnology, advanced materials and manufacturing, and weapons (especially weapons of mass destruction) -- will continue to have a profound impact on the way people live, think, work, organize, and fight. The globalization of technology, the integration and fusion of various technological advancements, and unanticipated applications of emerging technologies, make it difficult to predict the technological future. Regarding military technology, two other trends -- constrained global defense spending, and the changing global armaments industry -- will affect the nature of future conflict.

Global defense spending dropped some 50% during the past decade and, with the exception of Asia, is likely to remain limited for some time to come. This trend will continue to have multiple impacts. First, both adversaries and allies are not likely to keep pace with the US military (despite our own spending limitations). This will continue to spur foes toward asymmetric options, widen the capability gap between US and allied forces, reduce the number of allied redundant systems, and increase the demand on unique US force capabilities. Additional, longer-term impacts -- on global defense technology development and proliferation, and on US-allied defense industrial consolidation, cooperation, and technological competitiveness -- are likely, though difficult to foresee.

Limited defense budgets, declining arms markets, and the globalization of technology are leading to a more competitive global armaments industry. In this environment, with many states attempting to diversify either export markets or sources of arms, technology transfer restrictions and arms embargoes will be more difficult to maintain. Military technology diffusion is a certainty. Advantages will accrue to states with strong commercial technology sectors, the 'adaptiveness' to successfully link civilian technologies to defense programs, and the foresight to accurately anticipate future warfare requirements. China is one state that meets these criteria, and pursues an aggressive, systematic, comprehensive, and well-integrated technology acquisition strategy.

While the US will remain in the vanguard of technological prowess, some aspects of our general military-technological advantage are likely to erode, and some technological surprises will undoubtedly occur. But we cannot be very specific about which technologies will 'show up' ... in what quantities ... in the hands of which adversaries ... or how those technologies may be applied in innovative ways.

The complex integration of these factors with other 'second and third order' trends and consequences -- including the frequency, intensity, and brutality of ethnic conflict, local resource shortages, natural disasters, epidemics, mass migrations, and limited global response capabilities -- portend an extremely dynamic, complex, and uncertain global future. Consider for instance the significant doubts we face today concerning the likely directions of Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, and the Korean peninsula. Developments in each of these key states and regions will go a long way toward defining the 21st century security environment, but outcomes are simply too tough to call. This complexity humbles those of us charged with making judgments about the future and makes specific 'point-projections' of the future threat less meaningful. It is perhaps more useful for us to identify some of the more troubling potential circumstances, and broadly define the kinds of challenges we are most likely to encounter.

Key Near Term Concerns

While specific threats are impossible to predict, and new threats and challenges can arise almost without warning in today's environment, over the next 12-24 months, I am most concerned about the following potential situations.

Longer-Term Threats and Challenges

Beyond these immediate concerns, I have a long list of more enduring potential threats and challenges. Some of these are in the category of 'the cost of doing business' in that they are generally a consequence of our unique power and position and will exist so long as we remain globally engaged. Others are more a reflection of the complex mix of political, social, economic, technological, and military conditions that characterize today's world. Still others reflect more direct anti-American sentiments held by various nations, groups, and individuals. While none of these individual challenges is as directly threatening to the US as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, collectively they form a significant barrier to our goals for the future.

Engagement challenges

So long as the global security environment remains turbulent and the US retains (and remains willing to exercise) unique leadership and response capabilities, we will likely experience a high demand for military, diplomatic, and intelligence engagement. This turbulence could spawn a spectrum of potential conflict ranging from larger-scale combat contingencies, through containment deployments, peace operations, and humanitarian relief operations. Since we never commit our troops without the best intelligence we can provide, there are significant 'costs' for our intelligence services.

First, 'engagement contingencies' will generally occur toward the lower end of the conflict spectrum, in less-developed nations. As a consequence, they will frequently require our forces to operate in challenging 'asymmetric environments' (urban centers, or remote, austere, or otherwise underdeveloped areas with limited infrastructures, inadequate health and sanitation facilities, high levels of industrial or other toxic contamination, etc.). These environments will present unique deployment, operational, intelligence, and logistical problems that may limit many of our 'information age' force advantages. Similarly, such contingencies will, more often than not, pit us against adversaries who are likely to employ a variety of asymmetric approaches to offset our general military superiority. (I will address some of these in the following section).

Another consequence of high levels of peacetime engagement is increased operations (and personnel) tempo (OPTEMPO) for both our military and intelligence services. High OPTEMPO strains equipment, resources, and personnel, reduces time for 'normal' activities such as training, education & maintenance, disrupts personnel and unit rotation cycles, and stresses personnel. These impacts are cumulative, worsening over time. Speaking strictly from the intelligence perspective, I was very concerned during the recent Kosovo campaign that we would have had a tough time supporting another major crisis, should one have arisen. Additionally, as a manager of intelligence resources, I remain concerned that our intelligence capability is being stretched 'a mile wide and an inch deep.' Prioritizing our efforts against the most important threats ... maintaining focus on those ... doing the research, data base maintenance, and long term analytic projects required to maintain our analytic depth ... and generally being proactive instead of reactive ... are all more difficult to do in a high tempo security environment.

Finally, high levels of peacetime engagement can limit our flexibility and extend our response times because committed forces, personnel, and resources are not easily extracted and readily available for new contingencies. In fact, it may be that on a daily basis, our simultaneous involvement in 'many lesser crises' equates to a 'major theater war' contingency ... in terms of our available resources and capabilities.

Asymmetric challenges

Our future opponents -- from states to drug lords -- are likely to be smart and adaptive. Recognizing our general military superiority, they will avoid engaging 'on our terms,' opting instead to pursue strategies designed to render our military power indecisive or irrelevant to their operations and objectives. They will make the effort (intelligence work) to understand how we think, organize, command, and operate ... will attempt to identify our strengths, weaknesses, and potential vulnerabilities ... and will pursue a variety of generally lower-cost operational and technological initiatives which they hope will achieve disproportionate (especially psychological) results. They seek capabilities that we are either unwilling or unable to counter, thereby either denying our leadership the 'military option,' or forcing us to 'disengage' before they are defeated. At the worst, asymmetric approaches threaten to undermine the 'full spectrum dominance' envisioned in our Joint Vision 2020 concept.

While specific adversaries, objectives, targets, and means of attack will vary widely from situation to situation, I think most asymmetric approaches will fit generally into five broad, overlapping categories:

Beyond these broader generalizations, I have highlighted below several types of asymmetric approaches we are most likely to encounter during the next 10-15 years.

The Foreign Intelligence Threat. Adversaries hoping to employ asymmetric approaches against the United States need detailed intelligence on US decision-making, operational concepts, capabilities, shortcomings, and vulnerabilities. Consequently, we continue to face extensive intelligence threats from a large number of foreign nations and sub-national entities including terrorists, international criminal organizations, foreign commercial enterprises, and other disgruntled groups and individuals. These intelligence efforts are generally targeted against our national security policy-making apparatus, national infrastructure, military plans, personnel, and capabilities, and our critical technologies. While foreign states -- particularly Russia and China -- present the biggest intelligence threat, all our adversaries are likely to exploit technological advances to expand their collection activities. Moreover, the open nature of our society, and increasing ease with which money, technology, information, and people move around the globe in the modem era, make effective counterintelligence and security that much more complex and difficult to achieve.

Cover, Concealment, Camouflage, Denial and Deception (C3D2). Many potential adversaries -- nations, groups, and individuals -- are undertaking more and increasingly sophisticated C3D2 operations against the United States. These efforts are generally designed to hide key activities, facilities, and capabilities (e.g. mobilization or attack preparations, WMD programs, advanced weapons systems developments, treaty noncompliance, etc.) from US intelligence, to manipulate US perceptions and assessments of those programs, and to protect key capabilities from US precision strike platforms. Foreign knowledge of US intelligence and military operations capabilities is essential to effective C3D2. Advances in satellite warning capabilities, the growing availability of camouflage, concealment, deception, and obscurant materials, advanced technology for and experience with building underground facilities, and the growing use of fiber optics and encryption, will increase the C3D2 challenge.

Counter-Space Capabilities. The US reliance on (and advantages in) the use of space platforms is well known by our potential adversaries. Many are attempting to reduce this advantage by developing capabilities to threaten US space assets, in particular through denial and deception, signal jamming, and ground segment attack. A number of countries are interested in or experimenting with a variety of technologies that could be used to develop counter-space capabilities. These efforts could result in improved systems for space object tracking, electronic warfare or jamming, and directed energy weapons. China and Russia have across-the board programs underway, and other smaller states and non-state entities are pursuing more limited -- though potentially effective -- approaches. By 2015, future adversaries will be able to employ a wide variety of means to disrupt, degrade, or defeat portions of the US space support system.

Threats to Critical Infrastructure. Many adversaries believe the best way to avoid, deter, or offset US military superiority is to develop a capability to threaten the US homeland. In addition to more traditional strategic nuclear threats (discussed below), our national infrastructure is vulnerable to disruptions by other forms of physical and computer attack. The interdependent nature of the infrastructure creates even more of a vulnerability. Foreign states have the greatest attack potential (in terms of resources and capabilities), but the most immediate and serious threat today is from insiders, terrorists, criminals, and other small groups or individuals carrying out well-coordinated strikes against selected critical nodes.

Criminal Challenges

International criminal activity of all kinds will continue to plague US interests. I am very concerned about the growing sophistication of criminal groups and individuals and their increasing potential to exploit certain aspects of globalization for their own gain. The potential for such groups to usurp power, or undermine social and economic stability is likely to increase.

International drug cultivation, production, transport, and use will remain a major problem. The connection between drug cartels, corruption, and outright insurgency will likely increase (witness Colombia) as drug money provides an important funding source for all types of criminal and anti-government activity. Emerging democracies and economically strapped states will be particularly susceptible. The drug trade will continue to produce tensions between and among drug producing, transport, and user nations.

I am also increasingly concerned about other forms of international criminal activity -- for instance, 'cyber-criminals' who attempt to exploit the electronic underpinnings of the global financial, commercial, and capital market systems, and nationally based 'mafia' groups who seek to undermine legitimate governments in states like Russia and Nigeria. Globally, criminal cartels are becoming more sophisticated at exploiting technology, developing or taking control of legitimate commercial activities, and seeking to directly influence -- through infiltration, manipulation, and bribery -- local, state, and national governments, legitimate transnational organizations, and businesses. Increased cooperation between independent criminal elements, including terrorist organizations, is likely. Greater interaction among the US military, the Intelligence Community, and other federal agencies will be required to counter this growing threat.

Strategic challenges

Beyond the asymmetric and infrastructure threats to our homeland outlined above, we will continue to face an array of more traditional, albeit evolving, strategic threats. Under virtually any circumstance short of state failure, Russia will maintain a viable strategic nuclear force. Moscow has begun deployment of the new SS-27 ICBM and has upgrades to this missile and several other systems under development. While strategic forces retain their priority, they have not been immune to the problems affecting the rest of the Russian military. System aging, chronic underfunding, and arms control agreements ensure that Russian strategic warhead totals will continue to decline -- from some 5,000 today to a future force perhaps under 1,500 warheads (depending on arms control treaties, decisions we make about missile defense, the state of the Russian economy, Russian perceptions of other strategic threats, etc).

At the same time, for at least the next decade or so, Moscow will rely increasingly on nuclear weapons to compensate for its diminished conventional capability. This policy -- published in the October 1999 Russian Military Doctrine statement and reiterated in January and April 2000 -- lowers the theoretical threshold for Russian use of nuclear weapons. One additional concern, which will remain with us so long as Russia remains in some turmoil, is the potential for a Russian nuclear weapon (or more likely, nuclear material) to be stolen by or otherwise diverted to a state of concern, a terrorist group, or other criminal organization.

One of Beijing's top military priorities is to strengthen and modernize its small, dated strategic nuclear deterrent. While the ultimate extent of China's strategic modernization is difficult to forecast, the number, reliability, survivability, and accuracy of Chinese strategic missiles capable of hitting the US will increase during the next 20 years. We know little about China's concepts for nuclear weapons use, especially with respect to Beijing's views on the role and utility of strategic weapons in an international crisis involving important Chinese interests (e.g. Taiwan or the Korean peninsula).

China currently has about 20 CSS-4 ICBMs with a range of over 13,000 km. Several new strategic missile systems are under development, including two new road-mobile solid-propellant ICBMs. One of these, the 8,000 km DF-31, was successfully flight-tested in 1999 and 2000. Another, longer-range mobile ICBM will likely be tested within the next several years.

China currently has a single XIA class SSBN, which is not operational. It is intended to carry 12 CSS-NX-3 missiles (with ranges exceeding 1,000 km). China is developing a new SSBN and an associated SLBM (the 8,000+ km JL-2). These systems will likely be developed and tested later this decade.

China also has upgrade programs for associated command, control, communications and other related strategic force capabilities.

Beyond China and Russia, several states -- especially North Korea and, later on, Iran and possibly Iraq -- could field small numbers of long-range, WMD-equipped missiles capable of striking the United States. Again, we know very little about how these states think about strategic weapons, deterrence, and escalation.

North Korea has made substantial missile progress during the last several years. The August 1998 launch of the Taepo Dong (TD) 1 system demonstrated several of the key technologies required to develop an ICBM, including stage separation. A three-stage TD 1 could potentially deliver a light payload to the US, albeit with very poor accuracy. North Korea is also developing a TD 2 ICBM, which could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to Alaska or Hawaii, and a lighter payload to the western half of the US. A three-stage TD 2 could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload anywhere in the US. In September 1999, and again in June and October 2000, North Korea agreed to refrain from testing long-range missiles ... a pledge it has lived up to so far.

Iran's Defense Minister has publicly talked of plans for developing a platform more capable than the Shahab 3 (a 1,300 km MRBM based on North Korea's No Dong). While this could refer to a space launch vehicle, Iran may also have ICBM plans. Sustained cooperation with Russian, North Korean, and Chinese entities is furthering Tehran's expertise and it could test a space launch vehicle (with ICBM applications) within 15 years. However, if Iran purchased an ICBM from North Korea or elsewhere, further development might not be necessary.

Despite the damage done to Iraq's missile infrastructure during the Gulf War, Operation Desert Fox, and subsequent UNSCOM activities, Iraq may have ambitions for longer-range missiles, including an ICBM. Depending on the success of acquisition efforts and the degree of foreign support, it is possible that Iraq could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the US by 2015.

As these trends unfold, the strategic threat picture will become more complex, diverse, and complicated, leaving our homeland potentially more vulnerable to a wider array of strategic challenges.

Regional Military Challenges

Joint Vision 2020 is the conceptual template for US force development. It envisions a 21st Century 'information age' US military that leverages high quality, highly-trained personnel, advanced technology, and the development of several key operational concepts -- including dominant maneuver, precision engagement, full dimensional protection, and focused logistics -- to achieve dominance across the range of military operations. The United States is moving steadily toward the capabilities embodied in this vision.

In contrast, other large militaries are generally making much slower progress, and will continue to field primarily 'industrial age' forces -- mostly mass and firepower oriented, equipped predominantly with late-generation Cold War (vice 21st Century) technologies, and retaining centralized, hierarchical command-and-control structures. While less advanced than the US military, these large regional forces will still be potent by regional standards, and, in many cases, be fully capable of accomplishing significant regional objectives. Moreover, during the next 15 years, many regional states will seek to augment these 'traditional' forces with selected high-end capabilities, including: WMD and missiles, advanced C41 systems, satellite reconnaissance, precision strike systems, global positioning, advanced air defense systems, and advanced anti- surface ship capabilities. To some extent, these 'niche' capabilities will be designed to counter key US concepts (precision strike, global access, information superiority, etc.), in an attempt to deter the US from becoming involved in regional contingencies, or to raise the cost of US engagement.

Volumetric weapons (VW) are an example of the types of 'counter US' technologies potential adversaries may pursue. Unlike 'traditional' military weapons, which rely on high explosive technologies, VW depend primarily on simple air blast or overpressure to damage or destroy their targets. They actually form clouds, or volumes, of fuel rich materials that detonate relatively slowly. The result is a much larger area of high pressure that causes more damage to personnel (even dug in) and structures. VW technology is becoming more widely known, with several countries openly advertising it for sale. We should anticipate facing VW in either a terrorist or combat environment during the next 15 years.

For the most part, however, even large regional forces will be hard pressed to match our dominant maneuver, power projection, and precision engagement capabilities. But in a specific combat situation, the precise threat these forces pose will depend on a number of factors, including: the degree to which they have absorbed and can apply key '21st Century' technologies, have overcome deficiencies in training, leadership, doctrine, and logistics, and on the specific operational-tactical environment. Under the right conditions, their large numbers, combined with other 'situational advantages' -- such as initiative, limited objectives, short lines of communication, familiar terrain, time to deploy and prepare combat positions, and the skillful use of 'asymmetric' approaches -- could present significant challenges to US mission success. China and perhaps Russia at the high end, followed by North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, are all examples of militaries that could field large forces with a mix of current and advanced capabilities.

The Bottom Lines

The global turmoil we've encountered since the end of the Cold War will likely continue ... because the basic conditions fostering that turmoil remain in place. As a result, we are likely to continue to face a high demand for US military engagement on a global scale, a trend that has wide ranging consequences for our military and intelligence services. We have the potential to be increasingly involved in a variety of environments against adversaries employing a wide range of asymmetric approaches.

At the 'high end' of the conflict spectrum, the United States will continue to face an array of strategic threats ... but their character will be different from the Cold War. Russia will maintain a viable, though much smaller strategic force, but will rely increasingly on nuclear weapons to compensate for diminished conventional capability. China is expanding and modernizing its strategic capability. Other states of concern, especially North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, could field ICBMs with WMD, presenting a new strategic threat that we've not faced before. At the same time, 'non-traditional' threats to our homeland and critical infrastructure will likely increase. Collectively this mix of more traditional and emerging challenges will compound the strategic threat picture.

Some regional states will maintain large, mostly 'industrial-age' military forces, augmented by WMD and longer-range missiles and selected '21st Century' technologies & capabilities. Under the right conditions, these regional militaries could pose a significant challenge, despite our enduring overall military superiority.

The security challenges the United States will confront during the next 15 years will vary widely ... depending on the strengths and weaknesses of individual adversaries ... their means and objectives ... and the unique situational, environmental, and other characteristics of the specific operating environment. Accordingly, the Joint Vision 2020 goal of 'full spectrum dominance' ... that is, being able to dominate our adversaries across the wide spectrum of conceivable combat operations ... remains a fundamental force requirement.

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