Thursday, October 22, 2015


To receive testimony on global challenges,

U.S. national security strategy, and defense organization

(As Prepared for Delivery)

First, I would like to thank Chairman McCain for scheduling this important hearing to discuss the global strategic environment, the challenges facing the United States, and the appropriate role of the Defense Department in addressing those challenges.  The Committee will be conducting a series of similar hearings throughout the fall to gain greater insight and understanding on these important issues.  I believe these are questions that we must ask ourselves periodically, and I look forward to working with the Chairman on this valuable endeavor. 

I would also like to thank our witnesses for their participation in today’s hearing. Given their national security expertise, I welcome their thoughts and suggestions on specific steps they believe the Department could undertake to help us better address the complex national security issues confronting the U.S. today.

Yesterday, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified before this Committee.  As always, his astute assessment of the current state of our Department of Defense was insightful and candid.  His thoughtful observations for how to streamline and reform defense structures and processes have merit, and I know the Committee will give them careful consideration in the months ahead.

As General Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor, testified earlier this year, the international security environment has changed significantly since the end of the Cold War.  The centuries-old nation-state structure, and the international institutional order which the United States helped put in place following World War II, are increasingly challenged by the forces of globalization – the flow of goods, people, and most importantly communications and technology across borders.     

In the last few years, we have seen how the ability of people to connect using social media has empowered individuals on the “street” to express their desire for democratic social change, whether in the Maidan in Ukraine, in Dara’a, Syria, or across the Middle East and North Africa.  Yet, we’ve also seen that, in the absence of capable institutions at the nation-state level, these upheavals have resulted in massive instability and insecurity, as in Libya, Syria and elsewhere. 

We have also seen how these forces of globalization have been harnessed by violent extremist organizations to promote their destructive agendas and carry out attacks against the United States, our allies, and our respective interests.  Non-state actors like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have been able to take advantage of ungoverned or under-governed spaces in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa to seize territory and control the population through brutality and an extreme ideology promoted through the internet.     

In Iraq and Syria, the breakdown of the nation-state system has allowed the re-emergence of centuries-old divisions, creating a vastly complex situation. Syria presents us with a series of intermingled conflicts, including:  the counter-ISIL fight; a Syrian civil war; a regional proxy war between the Gulf states and Iran; a sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict; and with the intervention of Russia, a great powers struggle.  Our top priority must be ensuring that ISIL’s expansion and external plotting is halted.  I would welcome our witnesses’ recommendations in this regard. 

Probably no country has been more destabilizing to the international security environment than Russia, not only in Europe but also in the Middle East, the Arctic, and elsewhere.  Russia continues its provocative behavior in Europe, while at the same time deploying Russian troops and military equipment to Syria to directly support the failing Assad regime.  Putin has shown his willingness to use all tools at his disposal, including economic pressure, an intensive propaganda machine, and military power to achieve his goals.  We would be interested in hearing from our witnesses their assessment of how we approach Russian revanchist activities in both the strategic and operational context.

China presents a number of strategic challenges, but I agree with Harvard Kennedy School Professor Graham Allison that we have not really come to grips with the sheer economic might that China represents and what that strength will mean for the world as a whole over the next generation.  In the near term, China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea region reflects both its desire to assert great power status and a challenge to international norms, including the freedom of navigation.  Instead of resolving its territorial disputes with its neighbors peacefully, it has instead decided to reclaim thousands of acres of land to militarize a body of water that supports 30% of the world's trade and the world's oil transport. 

Furthermore, in the age of nuclear proliferation, regional nuclear arms races in South and East Asia threaten to increase instability globally.  At the same time, North Korea and Iran must also be mentioned in this context.  Both nations are regional actors that can drive strategic impacts as a result of their all-too-often inflammatory actions.

In the area of cyber, our military cyber forces are as good as or better than those of any other country.  But that proficiency is, in my estimation, substantially overshadowed by the sheer size and vulnerability of our wired economy, critical infrastructure, and society at large.  We are the most networked major power on earth, and therefore have the largest vulnerability to cyber attackers across the globe. 

The Department of Defense is facing many complicated challenges that are rapidly evolving.  One of the areas we need to explore is whether the Department’s organization and processes are flexible enough to respond in a timely manner.  I would welcome the witnesses’ thoughts on that issue. 

These are complex, multifaceted issues that do not offer easy or quick solutions.   Again, I look forward to hearing from each of our witnesses their perspectives on these issues and their thoughts on how we can make our national security strategy more effective in addressing these challenges.