Omaha: The United States, which rushed to replace and rebuild its ability to wage counter insurgency warfare over the last decade, must plan for a new future in the Pacific and leave COIN behind.
That was the bold message of Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld speaking here at the Strategic Command Cyber and Space conference. While there have been clear indicators that this is the direction in which America’s military was moving. Winnefeld’s speech is far and away the clearest statement of what he called this new strategy.
“We are not likely to have as our next fight a counterinsurgency,” he said. While America has been teaching its troops Arabic and other regional languages, training them how to win friends and influence people at the village and provincial levels, “the world has changed,” Winnefeld said. America’s enemies and competitors are “coming up with new asymmetric advantages. They’ve been studying us closely…,” he said. So, “we need to avoid the temptation to look in our rear view mirror.”
Our future conflicts, the vice chairman said, will probably occur “in a far more technically challenging environment.” As he described it, the fight will be much closer to a conventional military conflict, characterized by “intense electronic warfighting,” swarm attacks and cyberwar.
All this is occurring as 20th century’s warfare, characterized by state clashes over “nice bright Westphalian borders” fades to black. Now, “borders are simply fading away,” with cyber best exemplifying this trend. “The border between near and far…has been obliterated by the Internet…,” the admiral said. The border between public and private is fading, as is the divide between companies and countries, with “some companies acting as countries” and some individuals being used by countries as “proxies.”
In the cyber realm, these borders are particularly difficult to spot, when they exist. For example, Winnefeld asked, “at what point dose espionage rise to a hostile act by stripping a nation of its most precious secrets….” If you wanted proof that America has reassessed China, that was a clear shot across the Chinese bow. Of course, this week’s announcement that American Marines will effectively be based in northern Australia was also a pretty clear signal to China.