Somali pirates, Mexican drug smugglers and Islamic terrorists are the types of groups that pose the greatest threat to the United States in the coming decades and, according to a report released on Tuesday, the Pentagon is not adapting quickly enough to stop them.
The National Strategy Information Center said the U.S. military will remain in a 20th-century mindset if it does not appreciate the singular significance of armed groups emerging from weak, failing or failed countries.
In its 36-page report, the Washington think tank said the nation's greatest threats will not come from the armies of other nations.
"The seriousness of these challenges is further magnified by the fact that these state and nonstate actors often do not act alone," the report said. "Rather, they develop cooperative relationships ranging from de facto coalitions to loose affiliations.
"These challenges cannot be managed if we remain diverted by 20th-century, state-centric mindsets and capabilities," it said. "There is a creative, relatively inexpensive 21st-century security agenda available that, if adopted, can make a difference — and save U.S. lives and treasure."
The group said the Pentagon's four-year strategic plan released last month does not put enough emphasis on what the report described as "irregular conflicts." The Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review concluded that the U.S. faces a wide range of threats from other nations and nontraditional enemies.
Richard Schultz, a Tufts University professor and one of the think tank report's authors, said the military's strategy is "trying to cover everything, but not be able to cover the most important thing."
Mr. Schultz and Roy Godson, a retired Georgetown University professor and president of the National Strategy Information Center, wrote the report, titled "Adapting America's Security Paradigm and Security Agenda," after consulting with 20 senior-level military, intelligence and diplomatic officials from the U.S. and democratic nations around the world, including India, Israel and the United Kingdom.
"At least for the next 20 years out we are likely to be confronted with the same security environment," Mr. Godson said of the threat of armed and violent groups such as al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Mexican drug cartels.
The report, which was presented during an event at the National Press Club, concludes that these groups will likely spring from weak, failing or failed states, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. These groups can be aided by authoritarian regimes, including China, Iran and Russia.
About half the world's population lives in such a country, according to the report.
To change from a "20th-century mindset," the military must have some specialized units trained and dedicated to fighting "irregular warfare," Mr. Godson said in summarizing the report's conclusions.
"There are creative public servants and soldiers with these exceptional skills," the report said. "We need many more."
Mr. Godson also stressed the need for training teams that can help rebuild weak governments, help implement the rule of law and gain the trust of the citizenry. He also called for a dedicated corps of military and civilian professionals to help build local, regional and national coalitions in an effort to prevent conflicts in unstable nations.
"We need modern-day Lawrence of Arabias," Mr. Godson said. "The really good news is these skill sets are not expensive financially."
Finally, the report suggested that the U.S. improve its strategic communication with foreign countries and that frontline foreign police, military and other officers be trained to help improve intelligence collection in problem countries.
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