Senator visits library and speaks about threats to U.S.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed visited the Jamestown Philomenian Library last week to discuss international affairs with island residents. Reed was the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Library and spoke candidly about threats facing the United States today.
Reed, who owns a home in Jamestown, spoke of the risks and dangers associated with nuclear warfare, the Internet, Iran, North Korea, China and terrorists. “Today, in a global world, with instantaneous communication and air transportation, what’s discreetly a foreign issue is no longer quite so discreet,” he said. “There are very few places today, and very few problems today, that are truly remote.”
He continued: “In the context of this globalized and high speed world, I believe that the best way to think about international challenges is to assess the threats that we face and also to [assess] the resources we command to address these threats.”
Reed said that he believes that it is important to break threats into two categories: persistent threats and emerging threats. Persistent threats, he said, include the existence of nuclear weapons, conflicts between two countries, and non-state terrorist activities. He also mentioned chemical and biological warfare, but added, “Nuclear weapons are the most serious weapon that we have to manage.”
For emerging threats, Reed mentioned “cyber operations,” demographics and climate change. “We are seeing some significant environmental effects throughout the world,” Reed said.
Reed talked about the struggling economy being one of the hurdles that stands in the way of addressing threats to the United States, although he did mention that the U.S. is in better shape economically that it has been in past years. “If these issues are daunting – and they are – the resources are an issue,” he said. “I do think we pulled back from what could have been an economic collapse beginning with some extraordinary efforts in 2008.”
Reed said that the U.S. has not reached self-sustaining and adequate private sector job growth, and he believes that reaching that level is an important measure of the economy’s success.
“This situation has several effects,” he said. “First, it exacerbates many of the threats we face throughout the globe because of the poor performing economy. And second, it reduces the resources we have to deal with the threats. So we get double whammied.”
Reed went on to discuss the threat of nuclear warfare. He said that the existential threat of nuclear weapons dates back to 1945, but the fact that there has not been a single detonation by another county (“other than for testing purposes”) is testimony to the commitment by bipartisan leadership to prevent such an attack.
Reed said that the United States is keeping a close eye on possible nuclear risks posed by Iran and North Korea. Recently, North Korea initiated artillery attacks on South Korea, causing both civilian and military casualties. “A conflict on the Korean peninsula could quickly escalate because the North Koreans have nuclear weapons,” Reed said.
Even more alarming, he said, is Iran’s interest in nuclear power. “They claim that they are trying to develop a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle under the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty for commercial power,” he said. “But there are many indications that that might not be their final goal. There is some suggestion that they are trying to develop either an actual nuclear weapon or the ability to quickly take nuclear grade material and [attach] it to a launching device and make a virtual nuclear weapon.”
Reed also briefly mentioned China. “The Chinese are still, what they call, on a peaceful rise,” he said. He said that although China is “not the level militarily that we are,” the country is considered a nuclear power and is “moving up in rank.”
Reed also spoke about terrorism. “After 9/11, the non-state terrorist activity has been a conflict before us thorught the United States,” he said. “We have since that time spend considerable energy and considerable blood to derail and destroy the al-Qaeda family.” Reed then applauded the Navy SEALs for their “extraordinary combination of skill and courage” to enter Pakistan and eliminate Osama bin Laden. “They dealt a major blow to an organization that was already under pressure.”
Reed added that President Barack Obama has announced that U.S. and NATO forces will begin to leave Afghanistan next month, and that the major burden of efforts will be shifted to the Afghani forces by 2014. Although he did make clear that the U.S. would still need to have a presence in the region.
“The most serious existential threat we face is a terrorist group with a nuclear device and the capability to detonate it,” he said. “As a result, we have to continually be not only watchful, but be able to strike like we did against bin Laden preemptively.”
He continued: “There is very little opportunity to deter these groups. They have a theological imperative and it is difficult to use reason.”
Reed also spoke at length about what he called “cyber operations.”
“When I went to West Point, there were three battle spaces: air, sea and land,” Reed said. “Now there are four. Cyber. We are just beginning to come to grips with this issue.”
He said that in the last couple weeks, hackers have attacked the U.S. Senate system twice, the CIA Web site (“China has been accused. They deny it.”), Google e-mail accounts of senior U.S. government officials, and the International Monetary Fund.
“We aren’t talking about someone spamming you,” he said. “These are serious situations.”
Reed concluded his lecture on cyber operations by quoting CIA Chief Leon Panetta: “I often said that there is a strong likelihood that the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems,” Panetta said. “This is a real possibility in today’s world and as a result I think we have to aggressively be able to counter that.”