By THOM SHANKER
New York Times, 30 May 2013
WASHINGTON — Adm. James G. Stavridis, who stepped down this month as NATO’s supreme commander, has been at war in two wars — overseeing the alliance’s role in the enduring mission in Afghanistan as well as the shorter combat air campaign over Libya.
Combined with his tenure before NATO — he was the top officer at the military’s Southern Command, for a total of seven years in a senior four-star billet — Admiral Stavridis had been the longest-serving global combatant commander in the American military.
As he rose through the ranks of command over a 37-year career in uniform, Admiral Stavridis also came to be recognized as one of the military’s most prolific authors on strategy, operations and tactics. Today, though, ask what worries him most, and he answers in a single word: convergence.
That is the new term of choice in national security circles for the coming together of previously unrelated adversaries, who not only might combine in operations, but also share resources, know-how, weapons and technology and personnel.
“This is really the dark end of the spectrum of globalization as you assess rising national security risks,” Admiral Stavridis said in an interview. “It is something I worry about enormously.”
What might convergence look like?
Drug cartels along America’s southern border, whose smuggling operations move contraband and people into the United States, might come to make common cause with terrorist or militant organizations to bring in weapons or bomber makers.
“I think that’s a very possible and very dangerous business model, and you have to prevent narco-businessmen crossing those streams with the terrorists,” Admiral Stavridis said.
“What the narco-confederacies offer are routes, the trafficking capabilities — moving matériel and people,” he added. “If you can move 10 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in a small, semi-submersible vessel, how hard do you think it would be to move a weapon of mass destruction?”
Although it had long been assumed that drug traffickers would not want to adopt political or militant activities for fear of bringing down even harsher American might to suppress their for-profit operations, Admiral Stavridis said that “for the right level of inducement — for the right amount of money — it could happen.”
He said there were signs already of operatives “with a foot in both camps, including Hezbollah.”
For example, American law enforcement officials have said they thwarted an Iranian-backed plot in 2011 to co-opt members of a Mexican drug gang to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington. And the Taliban underwrite their operations in Afghanistan via the poppy trade.
Admiral Stavridis also sketched a scenario in which a country like North Korea, seeking to attack the United States or its allies without the clear and obvious attribution of a missile launch, might contract with a smuggling ring to move a weapon into a major port somewhere in the world.
Those assessments on future national security risks will be carried by Admiral Stavridis to his next job, in academia, as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Assessing other significant transformations to the modern way of war, Admiral Stavridis underscored the sea change in the amount and movement of information on the battlefield.
“My smartphone has more communications capability, and can manage more information than the $500 million destroyer I first sailed in 1977,” he said. “And that’s by orders of magnitude.”
He gave the military only a “B+” grade for its abilities to leverage the revolution of information, including the emergence of social networks, in reshaping the ways local populations interact among themselves and with their governments.
Also worrisome, he said, is how adversaries show great agility in using information against the United States and its allies. The future of security for the United States is to build up its own physical networks of alliances, coalitions and partnerships, he said.
“The 20th century was all about building walls: The Maginot Line, the Siegfried Line, the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain and the Berlin Wall — we built walls everywhere,” Admiral Stavridis said. “How did that work for us? Sixty million dead in two world wars, a continent destroyed in Europe and much of Asia destroyed, as well.”
For the 21st century, he said, “We cannot create security with walls. You have to build bridges. It will be all about alliances and coalitions. And the military has to build bridges to the civilian sectors to create security.