By Jim McFarlin
The world as we once knew it, one of post-Cold War order with the U.S. as a primary world power, is disappearing before our eyes. In its place, we are left with a world now defined by mounting global disorder – and cyber threats only add to the chaos.
An expansionist Russia and increasingly aggressive China seek to establish new spheres of influence; meanwhile, the cauldron of war and unrest engulf the Middle East and North Africa. At the same time, the U.S. sits on the brink of a nuclear-armed Iran, which surely has its own ambitions for global power.
As Senator John McCain puts it, “We’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation.”
Layered on top of this turbulent geopolitical landscape is a new type of warfare: cyberattacks. These cyber threats are occurring with increasing frequency and potency, threatening critical U.S. infrastructures such as finance, power, and communications.
The threats are not only from other world powers like Russia or China, though the latter has been proven itself to be the source of major cyberespionage attacks against the U.S. Recently, the Justice Department levied charges against five Chinese military officers for theft of our military weapons plans and secrets.
But Iran and North Korea pose similar threats. The recent cyberattacks against Sony Entertainment represent “a level of maliciousness that is unprecedented,” according to Jim Penrose, a former National Security Agency cybersecurity expert. Some place the source of the attacks squarely on North Korea’s shoulders, although such allegations have not been proven.
From another front, the Institute for Counter-Terrorism reports that Islamic extremists such as ISIS and al Qaeda are increasingly venturing into cyberspace, engaging in what the militants call “electronic jihad” against the West. Staffed with many young men in their twenties who grew up as “Internet natives,” ISIS is already an advanced user of social media for recruitment, radicalization, training, and fundraising. Wielding such capabilities serves to magnify both the voice and the presence of their radical ideology.
The severity of the threats posed by such innovative and motivated extremist groups will keep America distracted from what should be our primary concern: keeping major adversaries under control and our allies on our side.
All the while, cuts in U.S. military forces have brought us to pre-WW II levels, and this will only further reduce America’s presence and influence in the world, perhaps causing our allies to further question our reliability as a force of order.
Such circumstances place a premium on the U.S. maintaining and exercising dominance in cyberspace against multiple assailants with many faces.
America’s issues at home over the next two years will also dilute our focus on national security. We will be facing a world of ambitious geopolitical adversaries from Moscow to Bejing to Tehran, all of whom may seize on the belief that the current administration’s final 24 months in office offer a unique opportunity to exploit weaknesses in the White House that just cannot be passed up.
America will thus have increasing difficulty in reassuring its allies that U.S. power remains credible in this era of U.S. retrenchment.
The current global turbulence is unlikely to fade away or resolve itself. Under any foreseeable circumstances, America will continue to be in the crosshairs from many threats that are reshaping the new world order. The question may not be whether or not the U.S. will lose its world dominance – rather, it may be a matter of how quickly will we succumb to this global disorder?