- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

“We are living in a new strategic environment that we do not yet fully understand. … Some of our adversaries are undeniably at work developing ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. This ushers in an entirely new age of threat, terrorism, intelligence and defense.”

I made those statements in a commentary essay in The San Francisco Chronicle, on Friday, Aug. 21, 1998.

We are usually not so prescient. Give credit to decades of reading intelligence estimates on Soviet, Chinese, Iranian, North Korean and Syrian weapons developments and proliferation.

Now Israel may be facing a new situation: “terrorist” groups (Hezbollah and Hamas) armed with surprisingly capable missiles and rockets: weapons heretofore only available to heavily financed military groups like the Soviet Army or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Israel is not the only nation facing this new reality. All over the world, terrorists have or seek more sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons: the “weapons of mass destruction” or WMDs.

North Korea and Iran bluster about their nuclear ambitions and developments. Pakistan and India are already nuclear capable, and armed with an array of long-range missiles to deliver their own forms of holocaust. This means proliferation is a real enemy: Almost anyone could gain access to WMD.

All over the world those who seek a new voice in the world’s future are not just taking to the streets: They are taking to making bombs. They are learning how to use cell phones to detonate improvised explosive devices (IED) on commuter trains and in other public places.

And what next? Chemical weapons planted by a “terrorist” group in a nation’s sports stadium? An unannounced nuclear blast in a populated area? Perhaps.

For more than a decade, Pentagon planners and visionaries have written and spoken about “asymmetric warfare.” The Dictionary of Military Terms defines “asymmetric warfare” as “threats outside the range of conventional warfare and difficult to respond to in kind (e.g., a suicide bomber).”

Victory over the people who created this new, more toxic, strategic brew — what some have called “asymmetric warfare” — will require renewed understanding, resolve and dedication of freedom and peace-loving nations everywhere. And the grit of the American people.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously said about troop numbers, “The idea that more is better is not easy to contradict, but it is not clear that it has solved the problems of asymmetric warfare.”

Maybe the term “asymmetric warfare” is now de rigueur; but it is real. Ask the Israelis. Ask U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ask the Chinese.

China made the anti-ship cruise missile, the C-802, that slammed into an Israeli warship this last week in the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli ship didn’t even have its anti-missile systems turned on. The intelligence estimate didn’t credit the terrorists with having anti-ship cruise missiles. That is “asymmetric warfare.”

With Hezbollah rockets crashing into Israeli cities, Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of Israel’s general staff said, “This is asymmetric war in its purest form. And the outcome of the conflict will project a lot about terror activity, not only throughout the Middle East but the rest of the world.”

China is watching: That Chinese missile, and others like it but vastly improved, plus “asymmetric warfare,” are being taught, planned, war-gammed and practiced in China. The future enemy is undoubtedly the U.S. Navy.

Just this week, middle class suburbanites in Charleston, S.C., asked me: “What does the future hold for our children? Given the determination of the terrorists and the prospect of weapons of mass destruction, what should the U.S. and other ‘freedom loving’ people do?”

We offer four general but immutable and interrelated beliefs:

• The “good guys” can’t give in.

• We may have to sacrifice more before we “win.”

• The terrorist won’t give up easily, if at all.

• The cost of acting tentatively or too late could be catastrophic.

A protracted conflict, like the “long war” discussed by President Bush, may well require new thinking, new weapons and renewed dedication before we have the confidence to say we are on the right track.

As last week ended, CNN reported, “Though Israel has struck what it calls strategic points throughout Lebanon — including airports, docks, roads, bridges and Hezbollah political offices — [Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan] Nasrallah said Thursday that his group is still operating calmly and methodically.”

If true: That’s also asymmetric warfare. Israel is bombing buildings and Hezbollah has already slipped away. This is not Stalingrad.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in the Middle East on Monday, she directly spoke directly to Lebanon’s prime minister in saying any cease-fire agreement would have to be between the governments of Israel and Lebanon; not Hezbollah, which is not a nation. “Let’s treat the government of Lebanon as the sovereign government that it is,” said Miss Rice.

But we are in a new strategic environment we do not completely understand. In asymmetric warfare, the enemy may not be a state but may be armed with longer-range missiles and WMD. That’s a conundrum.

President Bush, Mr. Rumsfeld and CIA Director Michael Hayden have set in motion a total rethinking and modernization of our U.S. national defense and intelligence systems and capabilities. We need to continue evolving to understand and meet the new strategic threats we face.

And the American people and their elected representatives in Congress need to more aggressively strive to grasp the new strategic threat posed by terrorists armed with missiles, rockets, IEDs and, potentially, weapons of mass destruction.

John Carey is a retired U.S. military officer and former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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