WASHINGTON: If you want to understand why President Obama spoke so much about terrorism in his widely panned West Point speech, the head of Pentagon intelligence explained it pretty well today.

Terrorism is and remains the top threat to the United States, Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Mike Vickers said this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The most interesting, and some would say anomalous, threat assessment he offered: China comes in at number seven after Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Syrian civil war, Russian “revanchism,” Iran, North Korea and what he called the “persistent volatility” across South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa.

That’s right, China appears to come seventh when the Intelligence Community is planning and advising President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. It makes sense when you consider the long-range goals China appears to have set itself and the absence of a direct confrontation — so far — between the two powers.

Now folks in the Intelligence Community may well tut tut and profess that they examine each situation as it occurs, but budgeting requires prioritization and here it is.

What does all this mean in aggregate to the Intelligence Community and the Pentagon? Vickers said, “[as] senior intelligence officials, we haven’t seen this range of challenges on an administration’s plate in our careers.” Not only is the range of threats geographically enormous and conceptually varied, they are, as Vickers noted, “these are highly asymmetric challenges.” In Pentagon parlance that means the United States military isn’t necessarily well prepared to cope with them. And there are a lot of them.

Is Mike Vickers arguing that the Intelligence Community needs to remain very well financed, even in this age of declining defense budgets? Sounds like!


  • zoe

    well when you bomb people in several other countries and fund people to attack established countries, I think its logical to reason at some point they are going to want to fight back.

  • Don Bacon

    Let’s apply some information to the Intelligence.
    –Al Qaeda has received a big boost from US-caused instability. Terrorism is best countered with intelligence and policing, not military.
    –Syria is a product of anti-Syria forces from a couple dozen countries supported by the US and its ally Saudi Arabia. Syria is on top of it, though, and is winning. The US Intelligence for 3 years has been predicting President Assad would fall, and here he is about to win another election. Syria is a close ally of Russia and Iran, so the US hates that.
    –Russia was not considered a problem until the US-instigated fascist-aided coup in Kyev, and the commensurate threat to Russia’s naval port. Besides protecting its Crimea interests, and fending off NATO encroachment, Russia has no other territorial ambitions. Ukraine can not exist financially without ties to Russia.
    –Iran? That’s a concocted “threat.” Iran hasn’t invaded (like US and Israel) any country and doesn’t threaten any. Why should it? The US with great expense gave Iran a new ally, Iraq, and Afghanistan on the other side is coming up next. The situation with Russia has moved Iran (and China — that’s big) closer to Russia.
    –North Korea is not a threat to the US and the ROK military and economy greatly outweigh DPRK. ROK is now a US Army accompanied tour, and the Army is building a new mini-city at Camp Humphreys complete with schools etc. so it’s not a threat. But DPRK has be hyped as a threat to justify the continued US occupation of Korea and Japan.
    –the persistent volatility in MENA is a result of US-promoted instability in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya.
    –China way down the list? I’ll take egg-rolls with that.

    • ycplum

      “Terrorism is best countered with intelligence and policing, not military.”

      International terrorism has forced a change in our traditional terminologies and concepts. I pretty much agree with you, but I believe terrorism requires “policing” using the military due to the international nature of the threat and their potential firepower.

      “US-instigated fascist-aided coup in Kyev”
      What coup are you talking about? The riot that got out of hand was put down quickly (some say excessively, but that is another issue) in less than 12 hours. He was in control and there was no other threat to him. The chicken fled the country. I may have cut him some slack if he simply moved his command to another Ukrainian city, but he left the country entirely. He wasn’t ” kicked out”, he abandoned his post.

      “North Korea is not a threat to the US and the ROK military”

      To an extent, you are correct, but they are a threat to the lives of South Koreans and their economy should they decide to attack South Korean. The ROK will eventually win, but North Korea will do serious damage.

      • Don Bacon

        Terrorism has lost its true meaning when it’s used to describe opposition to US military occupation.

        terrorism: The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political. See also antiterrorism; combating terrorism; counterterrorism; force protection condition. — DOD Dictionary

        In Kyev, I’m speaking of the takeover of the Ukraine government sponsored by the US to install US-selected people esp. Arseniy Yatsenyuk in a junta. Because neo-Nazi participation as seen here clearly endangered his life . Viktor Yanukovych (think Gaddafi – we came, we saw he died) fled the country.

        Here’s a pre-coup photo of State’s Nuland, who enginered the whole thing, with Yatsenyk (R.) and Ukraine fascists Vitali Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok.

        As for Korea, my comment stands, you didn’t change anything. The US presence for sure wouldn’t mean less damage to Korea if the balloon goes up, since the last time it happend the US pretty much destroyed the country, including leveling every city in North Korea with high-explosive bombs.

        • ycplum

          I meant the definition of “policing”. Terrorism use to be a domestic issue that can dealt with by a police force. Now that it is an international issue, it has to be dealt with by the military when the terrorists are operating outside the country.
          It was hardly a takeover in Kiev. Did the US have influent, probably, but there was no coup. The government of Kiev basically filled an empty slot. As for these threats, which one came close to actually threatening his life? Again, I can understand him leaving Kiev to someplace safer in the Ukraine. Leaving the Ukraine altogether when he had full control of the government is just cowardice.
          The primary purpose of the US forces in South Korea is not to repel the North Koreans. It is to serve as a tripwire. Other countries (UK cough, France cough, cough) have made military treaties and when an ally (Poland, cough, Czeckoslavakia, cough, cough) gets invaded, these other allies drag their feet or makes some excuse to avoid a war. As an assurance against such actions, a military unit is often deployed in the ally country, such as South Korea or West Germany after WW II. Any attack on our allies would result in Americans also being attacked and backing out of treaty obligations would be extremely politically untenable domestically. It is also why the eastern European countries want more American presence in their country after Russia annexed Crimea.

  • Henry

    “national defense’ shysters always need new threatening isms to scare the people.

  • Joe Blow

    Given that… matter how much we desire to profess otherwise…..Russia and China are STILL the only true STRATEGIC threats to us, Secretary Vickers assessment is deeply flawed.

    • Don Bacon

      How do Russia and China threaten the US?

      • Joe Blow

        Well, geee, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that each have enough nuclear weapons to lay waste to most (if not all) our major cities. Guess that doesn’t amount to a threat?

        • Don Bacon

          Well, gee, if that’s the extent of the threat, then the solution is time-tested and rather simple, MAD augmented by new technology.

          But did the intel even mention nukes?

  • Matt

    “China comes in at number seven after Al Qaeda and its affiliates”

    China can terminate your country. We keep hearing over and over, because China is not listening, that China needs to be careful or risk of miscalculation could lead to a great-power war. And that risk is number 7. The US could be terminated in the next year or two, and that risk is number 7. Hello, is anybody home?

    Russia can terminate your country even better than China. It appears to be forming an alliance with China. Denials aside, it appears that this alliance includes a military component. Russia just sent shock waves throughout the world with the invasion of Crimea. This despite warnings of miscalculation that could lead to WWIII. And this risk is number 3.

    This all boggles the mind given the historical comparisons to pre-WWI and even pre-WWII.

    It appears to me that the national security leaders in this country went to the same school as economists. On the eve of the biggest crash since the Great Depression, economists were utterly clueless about we faced. Now we can see the same thing in national security.

    • Don Bacon

      How can Russia and China terminate the U.S. militarily?
      It’s impossible, so no wonder your mind is boggled.
      Now financially, the U.S. is suffering relative to China because China has a smarter foreign policy strategy, for one thing. And currently Russia is besting the US/NATO in Europe by a smarter strategy as well.

      • Matt

        So you think when the dust clears the US military will still be around?

        Apparently, you aren’t all that worried that China is continually ignoring calls to be careful so there isn’t an accident or miscalculation. And Russia decided to borrow the playbook from China.

        What are you going to do when there is an accident or miscalculation, and the damn thing blows up into a great-power war?

        • Don Bacon

          Times they are a-changing, and it’s time for the U.S. to wake up and smell the coffee. The time is passing when the US could rule the world and its financial system. Other countries are demonstrating that the world is becoming multi-polar. The U.S. rather than dictating what others countries must do will have to learn what most of us learned in grammar school, that it’s important to play well with others, not fight with them.

          The U.S. doesn’t get it yet. Obama at West Point: “Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will.” Do Russia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and others need a U.S. leader? No. It’s the end of “the new world order.”

          Regarding China, a country that formerly has been subjugated by the U.S. and has been occupied by the US Marines, those days are over. China is now a great power and there’s not much the US can do about that except continue to buy China-made goods.

          Currently the U.S. (forgetting Pearl Harbor) is foolishly siding with U.S.-occupied Japan against China and being hypocritical about the island issues. When Japan occupies disputed islands it’s fine and China should stay away, but when China does the same thing it’s wrong. Stupid policies like this can no longer survive in the world.

          • Curtis Conway

            Don, Which Chinese Islands are occupied by the Japanese? Please be specific.

          • Don Bacon

            Curtis, I didn’t say Chinese islands are occupied by Japan, I said disputed islands. the most notable example is the Senkaku/Diaoyu chain in the East China Sea, seen here.

            President Nixon returned the Senkakus to Japanese administrative control with the understanding that Japan would negotiate their sovereignty with “China”, especially Taiwan which, by any interpretation is the most plausible candidate due to proximity as you can see here. By nationalizing three of the islands in 2012, the Japanese government basically spat on that deal.

            The Potsdam Declaration (Declaration Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender) of 1945 set the terms of Japan’s unconditional surrender. It was issued jointly by the Allied powers – the US, Britain, and China (the Nationalist or Kuomintang government); and the Soviet Union later “adhered to” the declaration. The Japanese government explicitly accepted it. The declaration said that Japan should retain no overseas territories.

            China was excluded from a later conference issued the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, and hundreds of islands south of Japan were ceded to Japan, comprising the whole of Okinawa prefecture, including the Senkaku.

            Ten years ago, Japan extended its “ID Zone” to within 130 km of China’s coast, and recently has taken administrative control of the Senkakus.

          • Curtis Conway

            Context is everything. The nature of the region has changed significantly since the events you have saw fit to recognize. Since that time Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Viet Nam has tried to negotiate with the Chinese about their claims to ancient possession rights to islands that are clearly within their 200nm economic zone. The Chinese have explicitly decided not to go to international arbitration to solve the problems. Who is the bad actor here?

            In the mean time the US has been encouraging the South Koreans and Japanese to reconcile and join forces is assuming more security responsibilities in the region. The building up of forces is happening, but the reconciliation has not. Most of the countries in the Pacific Rim have reviewed their HiStory and expressed concern about a stronger Japan (militarily). With the Dragon and the Bear rising in prominence on the international stage, and both are expanding and modernizing their military far beyond the needs to administer security in their regions, one is left to wonder what their ultimate goal is. The Russian Republic has been conducting regular (single if not multiple a month) live ICBM launch exercises across the expanse of their territory, and selling advanced military equipment to China. What are they getting ready for? Trust but verify. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you do not plan, then you are planning to fail implicitly.

          • Don Bacon

            The US would never go to international arbitration to solve any problems, so criticism of China on that point is disingenuous.

            We may ponder and guess forever about what nations might do. I prefer to look at the facts of what they have done and are doing. Everybody in Asia (except US puppet Australia) hates Japan for what they have done. Japan has its work cut out to reverse that.

      • ycplum

        Nukes, but the probability is extreeeeemely low that it will come to pass in the immediate or intermediate future. lol

    • ycplum

      China is a the greatest potential (key word) long term threat. However, it is far from being an immediate threat. As a nation with responsibilities to their own people, any confrontation with the US has to be measured. Not so with terrorists.
      If you look at the number of US citizens and soldiers attacked and killed in the last 15 years, the mass bulk was due to terrorists. They are an immediate threat, although not a low-probability existential threat like Russia or China (which is, I believe, your point).


    The severity of the situation is completely explained by the use of the word “asymmetric.” “Asymmetric” is far more powerful than nuclear weapons have ever been; it confers huge advantages on even the weakest of countries. It is far more powerful than nuclear weapons ever were — we could photograph and count those, but “asymmetric” is just out there, mysterious, looming over all the invasions we were supposed to make until President Obama just said (not for the first time) that we weren’t going to do. It is so, so mysterious because nobody ever tells us what it is — just that there are brilliant people out there going to use it, it on us.

    I’ve been involved closely in defense since 1962 (not including the times I was deployed to the Western Pacific in 1956 because of Hungary, and again to the Western Pacific in 1958 because of Lebanon and Quemoy-Matsu). I lived through the constant fear of Berlin crises, with their nuclear implications, and the Cuban missile crisis (same). I lived through the 73 war. I watched all across the 1970s when Richard Perle was warning that the super SS-18 was going to come crashing down on us. And so on. For Vickers to say this is the most dangerous world he has ever seen seems ridiculous — but it is budget season, though the outcome of the 2016 budget and continued sequestration can only throw us even deeper into despairs. The “asymmetrists” are after us!