WASHINGTON D.C. — The “open, free, and rules-based international” order led and created by the United States is “under unprecedented threat” from Iran, Russia, China, and Islamic extremist groups, former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus told House lawmakers during a hearing aimed at assessing the state of the world.
John McLaughlin, a former deputy and acting director of the CIA who testified before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Petraeus on Wednesday, added North Korea to the list of threats facing the United States.
North Korea “probably presents the most pressing near-term concern and this administration and Congress will face a decision predecessors have not had to confront with the same urgency: how to protect against or neutralize its nuclear and missile capability,” testified McLaughlin, now a practitioner-in-residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
McLaughlin said a series of developments in the last few years, including nuclear advances to its missile technology, has moved North Korea to near the top of America’s “nightmare list,” adding that the Communist country is “now clearly within reach” of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) able to reach U.S. soil.
Both Petraeus and McLaughlin prepared a written testimony for the House panel hearing, titled “The State of the World: National Security Threats and Challenges.”
“Compounding the danger posed by revisionist forces are technologies that are eroding America’s conventional military edge,” declared Petraeus.
Among the fast-developing tools in their [Iran,Russia, China] arsenals are anti-access area denial weapons that will complicate our ability to project power into vital regions and uphold our security commitments; increasingly complex cyber-weapons for employment alone in attacks on infrastructure or in influence campaigns, or in supporting conventional and unconventional force operations, including so-called hybrid warfare; a renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons; and threats to U.S. primacy in space—a vital sanctuary for U.S. military power that is increasingly contested.
Petraeus pointed out that revisionist powers, or nations dissatisfied with the status quo, have embarked on an effort to establish a sphere of influence in and around their territory, which includes areas of “vital strategic importance” to the United Staes as well as territory that belongs to allies that America is bound to protect by shared interests and values.
He went on to highlight Islamic extremism as another form of revisionist power threatening the open, free, and rule of law-based U.S.-led international order.
“A very different, far more radical revisionist force threatening the international order is Islamic extremism—the ideology that animates the Islamic State and al Qaeda,” noted Petraeus. “The greatest weakness of Islamic extremism is also its greatest strength—which is its protean ability to exist and indeed thrive without inhabiting a conventional nation-state. What it lacks in traditional power terms, it compensates for in conviction, resilience, resourcefulness, and ferocity.”
Gen. Petraeus referred to the jihadi threat as “unlike any adversary” the U.S. has ever faced.
Despite the challenges, the United States remains in a commanding position to sustain and strengthen the international order it leads, noted the general.
However, he warned, “Americans should not take the current international order for granted. It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse.”
“This is precisely what some of our adversaries,” namely Russian President Vladimir Putin, “seek to encourage,” he added.
McLaughlin predicted the U.S. will no longer be the sole dominant power over the next couple decades, noting that the world is moving towards a multi-nation order.
“We are witnessing a diffusion of power among nations. Over the next couple decades the world will be without a hegemonic power – that is, without a country so powerful as to exert dominant influence and advance policy with little reference to others,” he testified.
“We remain the single most influential country and no major problems will be solved without the US … but the US cannot solve them alone. And others are competing for the preeminence we have long enjoyed,” he added.
Petraeus identified a loss of self-confidence, resolve, and strategic clarity on U.S. national security interests as a “more pernicious” challenge undermining the United States and its allies.