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War expert says U.S. needs new strategy to fight al-Qaeda

4:36 p.m., April 22, 2005--U.S. military might and intelligence agencies, which were designed to deal with known threats from other countries, now must change in order to also confront threats from elusive--often invisible--terrorists, such as al-Qaeda, William Martel, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, said at UD on Wednesday, April 20.

During his lecture, “Tomorrow’s Enemy: al-Qaeda and Beyond,” Martel said U.S. military might, which was developed mostly during the Cold War, proved useful and formidable against other countries, but has not been very effective in the war against terrorism.

“This set of activities that we have built and developed over the last 30 or 40 years is perfectly developed and appropriate, in fact optimized, for dealing with the state,” Martel said. “But, people fighting in caves in Afghanistan or hiding under the outcrops of rocks are not as amenable to these kinds of systems and approaches, and it has significant implications for where we are going in the future.”

Using a Powerpoint presentation to show hundreds of satellites above the Earth, Martel said the technology has been very effective in watching out for activities and threats at the state level, but there is “an extraordinary disconnect” between that capability and the effectiveness of the same technology in keeping track of individual terrorists.

“Despite the technology, despite the resources, despite the emphasis in [the] campaign in Afghanistan, we had Osama bin Laden escape,” Martel said.

The U.S. now must quickly retool its capabilities to confront the new threat and the growing risk of attack on U.S. territory, evidenced decades ago by the attack on Pearl Harbor and emphasized most recently by the devastating attacks on 9/11, he said.

Both attacks, Martel said, “were considered strategic surprise and yet one was inflicted by a state and the other was inflicted by a terrorist organization. The consensus among most observers is that the U.S. and the policy-making community, the technological community, were stunned by the events of 9/11.”

Martel said any new approach to dealing with the new threat would have to address numerous complex global issues, including the development of independent spy and navigation satellite systems by the European Union, Russia and China.

Worse, Martel said, the increasing commercialization of what were previously state-controlled satellites limits U.S. influence and makes it possible for anybody with a credit card to go online and request and pay for satellite images of a specific location anywhere in the world and have the images delivered via e-mail.

Martel suggested that any useful change must begin with a long-term “generational shift” of U.S. defense policy to retool strategies and reshape capabilities to fight and win nonstate wars. “Government and military users must become much better consumers of information, systems, programs and capabilities that move beyond state-level emphasis,” he said.

The government should be experimenting with new ways of doing things before making costly mistakes and, at the same time, must balance the military’s ability to deal with new enemies with its capability to confront old challenges, Martel said.

“We’ve lived in a world in which we are highly successful in dealing with a certain kind of enemy and now we see the shift occurring and the question is how radically should we transform defense strategy?” Martel said. “The point is [for] a society--involving the people, government, industry and a range of organizations--to begin a debate. How do we shift our thinking away from the classic approach of the Cold War, indeed World war I and World War II, to an era in which we confront adversaries that are radically different from what we’ve experienced as a state for the last two centuries or more?”

Martel’s lecture was part of “Prescription for the President: Policy Medicine for Global Challenges,” a series of Global Agenda lectures that are free and open to the public.

The lectures by diplomats, journalists and other foreign affairs practitioners focus on the international problems facing President George W. Bush in his second term. Such concerns include the occupation and war in Iraq, as well as nuclear threats in North Korea, Iran and Russia. Other issues addressed by the series include terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict and political and economic challenges in Europe and Asia.

Martel is director of the defense analysis course and Alan Shepherd Chair of Space Technology and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College.
The author of many scholarly books, articles, and book chapters, Martel wrote Strategic Nuclear War (Greenwood Press, 1986) and How to Stop a War (Doubleday, 1987), has published scholarly articles in The Washington Quarterly, Orbis, Defense Analysis, Strategic Review, and the Fletcher Forum, and has written articles for the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor. His most recent book was on defense technologies, The Technological Arsenal (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), and he is now completing a book on victory in American foreign policy.

Organized by Ralph Begleiter, UD’s Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence, the Global Agenda series is designed to survey potential threats to the United States and explore the complex framework of international relations. The series is cosponsored by the University of Delaware and the World Affairs Council of Wilmington.

The next lecture in the series, slated for 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, in Pearson Hall auditorium, features Zainab Salbi, the Iraqi-American founder and president of Women for Women International.

For more information on the speakers and their subjects, visit [www.udel.edu/global/agenda/2005]. For general information on the series, call the Department of Communication at (302) 831-8041.

Article by Martin Mbugua

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