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Scholar: Trends, Emerging Powers Bear Watching

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 – The nation must sustain awareness of technological and geopolitical trends in allies and emerging powers, a National Defense University senior research fellow told a House subcommittee today.

In a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities, Frank Hoffman stressed the urgency of staying prepared for an ever-broadening array of actors and challenges, rather than a singular one.

“We have to be ready for a broad spectrum of conflicts that range from purely irregular and terrorists at one end to perhaps rising powers with conventional capability to the other,” he said.

Hoffman also contested what he called a new “peace theory” circulating throughout Washington in which prominent journals and think tanks have opined that war as most know it has all but disappeared. “There’s a pernicious concept … that the tides of war are receding and that the United States can retrench without risks,” he said.

Hoffman acknowledged U.S. successes and the nation’s lack of competition from a major power since 1991, but warned against discounting patterns across centuries.

“Great progress has been made in the last decade, but the notion [that] a dramatic change in human nature [can] outweigh 2,000 years of recorded history is tenuous, at best,” Hoffman said.

The stability and leadership the U.S. provides the world, a consensus on a Western model based upon rule of law, and global partnerships cause positive assessments in reviewing the last 10 years, he explained.

“We’ve had extensive peacekeeping support from the international community, to include the [United Nations],” he said. “There’s a growth and continued contribution from the conflict-resolution community.”

But a number of concerns should give people pause, Hoffman maintained. He described a perceived decline in U.S. capabilities or interest in sustaining its position in the world as emerging powers rise. “History suggests some caution when new, emerging, non-status-quo powers arise,” he said.

He also warned of “peace support fatigue” in the international community. “We’re going to see a … lack of domestic support from many allies and other agencies that have been very useful … in keeping instability down,” Hoffman said.

Proxy wars, Hoffman said, also can be catalytic, producing a major war out of what was intended to be a smaller conflict.

He cited resource contention over energy, food, water and rare materials as a “tinderbox for conflicts.”

“I see actions in the South China Sea … and [China’s] efforts to secure energy resources and raw assets as something to be taken seriously,” he said.

Dwindling incomes and pensions that younger and older demographics will suffer can spur dissent in regions throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and southern Europe, Hoffman noted, adding that higher unemployment and subsequent dissent could become the “new normal” in affected nations.

“That will produce more disillusionment and more angry people than … we’ve seen in the past, [and] will lead to political instability,” he said.

Perhaps one of the more visible and imminent dangers is the divided religions and religious extremism, or “sacred rage,” in Islam, which Hoffman said could spur the emergence of other forms of government. “We’re creating a lot of fertile ground for al-Qaida and its affiliated movements to take root in some places,” he said, “and we’re not going to be happy with the results.”

Still, the defense scholar noted, the subcommittee’s charge is at the cusp of what is emerging in the national security arena and what could generate the greatest risks to the nation’s prosperity and security in the next decade.

“Plato had it right: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war,’” Hoffman said. “We may not face another bloody century like the last, … but the world remains a very dangerous place.”

 

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