The greatest challenge to U.S. national security today is not any specific foreign weapons system, terrorist leader or hostile military organization. Rather, what is new and challenging for U.S. national security is the extent to which our adversaries and competitors are collaborating, learning and innovating. Whether we are talking about non-state organizations such as Al Qaeda, the Taliban or Hezbollah, rogue state such as Iran, North Korea and Syria or so-called peers such as Russia and China, what is striking is the degree to which all of them are engaged in these behaviors.
Al Qaeda is itself the result of a collaboration between the former Arab fighters of Afghanistan and the Egyptian Brotherhood. Al Qaeda’s learning behavior and capacity for innovation are well documented. The 9/11 plot was carefully managed, the targets scouted and the operation rehearsed. Al Qaeda has used modern communications and transportation systems to create and support a distributed network of like-minded groups that share intelligence on their adversaries and use after-action reports from various attacks to refine their operations. The Taliban has adapted the experiences of insurgents in Iraq to their needs in Afghanistan.
Hezbollah, with the advantage of a collaboration with Iran, learned from past confrontations with Israel and the experience of the United States in Iraq. The result was the 2006 summer war in which it surprised the Israeli Defense Forces and the world with its use of paramilitary units, advanced command, control and communications systems, modern anti-tank weapons, simple unguided rockets and specialized training. Even the drug cartels show evidence of learning and innovation, building semi-submersible vessels and digging tunnels to counter enhanced border security.
Rogue states such as Iran, North Korea and Syria have teamed up to develop advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. They have studied the United States, identified our military weaknesses and sought to acquire those capabilities — such as advanced anti-access and area denial weapons — that would most discomfit our operations against them.
Russia and China created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization designed to oppose so-called American hegemony. Russia has sold China advanced fighter aircraft, diesel submarines and surface-to-air missile systems. Beijing is investing in maneuvering warheads for their ballistic missiles so as to target U.S. aircraft carriers.
Our adversaries and competitors are not the only ones who can cooperate, learn and innovate. We too have done so and must continue to so do. A great example of the American ability to collaborate, learn and innovate is the effort by the Joint IED Defense Organization (JIEDDO) to attack the networks that support and direct the targeting of U.S. forces in Iraq. Attacking the networks requires collaboration between a wide variety of military organizations, extensive learning about the adversary and the development and deployment of innovative technologies and capabilities.
In the future, collaboration, learning and innovation will be even more important for all elements of the U.S. government. We no longer have the advantages of limitless budgetary resources and the overhang of Cold War military assets. Only by collaboration, learning and innovation — by the United States and its friends and allies, U.S. government departments and agencies and between the public and private sectors — will we be able to match and defeat our adversaries.
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