Remarks by Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, Commander, NORAD and USNORTHCOM, World Affairs Council of Northern California

By Marines Memorial Club and Hotel, San Francisco, CA


Thank you very much, Mike (MajGen Myatt).

It’s a pleasure to be here with you…and to be introduced by one of the heroes of the liberation of Kuwait in Operation DESERT STORM. Mike’s 1st Marine Division only had to defeat 7 Iraqi divisions to make it happen . . . but in my experience, those are pretty good odds for Marines.

Admiral Brown, thank you for joining us tonight.

Consul General Doyle, what a pleasure to see you again! I have a very deep and important partnership with Canada, as the Commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, so it’s a delight to have a Canadian in the audience to keep me honest tonight.

It’s also an honor to join the ranks of speakers who have stood before the World Affairs Council of Northern California.

I had the pleasure of being a panelist at the Council-supported North American Forum, held in Mexico last October--and I’m really impressed with the creative and effective work that you do for California and indeed for our great Nation.

It’s also a pleasure to return to the Marines Memorial Club. Thank you, Mike. My family has an extended history of staying in this wonderful place over many, many decades--and it’s great to be here myself. It’s a lovely refuge in the heart of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

I have many fond memories of participating in Fleet Weeks past in San Francisco, and I’m delighted to see that tradition continue. I thank you, and also Admiral Brown, for your support of what I think is a very important institution for our Navy and our Nation. So thank you for that.

You know, the Pikes Peak region of Colorado--in which my headquarters resides--and the great state of California have a little bit in common . . .

. . . including the Colorado River . . . some wild gold rushes . . . famous cowboys of both authentic and Hollywood persuasions . . . beautiful mountains . . . and intrepid explorers such as The Great Pathfinder, John C. Fremont, who passed through my part of Colorado on his way to California--and who, of course, gave his name to Fremont Street just a few blocks away from here.

The U.S. Army’s 8th Infantry Division--of World War II and Gulf War fame--was named the Pathfinder Division . . . after John Fremont.

And Colorado’s biggest military installation is Fort Carson, named in honor of Kit Carson, Fremont’s scout and guide to California--and whose life Fremont saved in a fight with Klamath Indians on his way to many other adventures.

Fremont lived in a world full of change and, having helped annex California to the United States, he had no small part in determining the borders of our country.

Today, we live in a world of changing borders of a different type--and of breathtakingly-fast change that is stretching our ability to comprehend it, much less manage it.

These shifting borders include those between near and far . . . peace and war . . . domestic and foreign . . . state and individual, privacy and surveillance . . . civil and military . . . and the border in my case between homeland security and homeland defense.

It is along these increasingly-murky borders that many of the security challenges we face today ride.

. . . and many come home to roost in our homeland, where I’m privileged to operate as the commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

I’ll try to address a few of these challenges and shifting borders tonight, as well as what it means for military commanders and my role in our homeland . . . where it’s my privilege to work with a talented team of Canadian and American men and women executing a uniquely-diverse set of homeland defense, civil support, and security cooperation missions. So, fasten your seatbelts!

This year will mark 10 years since the horrendous attacks on our nation by violent religious extremists on 9/11.

Because this is the only threat that we know has both the capability and the intent to harm us, it’s at the top of the list of what keeps me awake at night.

This threat is irreconcilable, patient, uses the Internet, and has very little bureaucracy to slow it down. Because our security is fairly good, and his numbers are relatively small, he is looking for leverage anywhere he can find it--and he manipulates disproportionate media attention to shock us.

He also will try to exploit our Western freedoms to attack us . . . and subsequent censure of those freedoms to divide us. He makes no distinction between military and civilian when it comes to casualties. He needs money. He prefers soft targets, and is willing to die for his cause.

And he’s not only overseas, trying to send explosive packages through the mail . . . he is right here in North America.

In what my Canadian hockey fan friends would call shots on goal, the violent extremist knows that he only has to get through once . . . while our goaltending record has to be perfect.

Although our intelligence--and willingness to share that intelligence within the U.S. interagency process--has vastly improved, I would also tell you that our best sensor is often nothing more than the good old American citizen who’s alert and vigilant.

While we work every day to disrupt al Qaeda and its related movements overseas in places like Afghanistan--with the military in a lead role--and here at home--with law enforcement in the lead role--we believe that, like communism, this movement will eventually collapse of its own internal contradictions and failed promises.

Perhaps there are signs that extremism is indeed running out of gas.

Just as the copy machine had so much to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union, social networking and similar phenomena are transforming the Middle East before our eyes.

Just think, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi that lit the spark in Tunisia happened less than 4 months ago, on the 17th of December.

This explosion appears to be driven by a completely different force than extremism. It’s about pent-up disappointments caused by high unemployment, inflation in food prices, corruption, a lack of political freedoms, and poor living conditions.

I hasten to add that there is a great deal of uncertainty over where these movements will end up. We don’t know for sure whether or not extremists are going to hijack these movements.

But this has all happened so fast, and is so complex, and it intersects with our interests in such different ways in different places, that it’s no wonder that it’s so challenging for our government to deal with it.

It is times like these that defy attempts to establish some kind of sweeping doctrine that will exactly govern our decision-making.

Rather, in my view at least, it’s a gray world, where very few decisions are binary . . . a world full of competing challenges and opportunities, capabilities and limitations . . . where our decisions, which are difficult even in the best of times, are guided by noble ideals, pragmatism, and hard realities--and, all too often, a choice among a number of greater and lesser evils.

The only real absolute in this world is that nations, including our own, will tend to act in what they believe is in their own best political, economic, and security interest.

There are, of course, other challenges we face, including the existence of un-governed or under-governed areas, such as Somalia, and what we’re seeing in Cote D’Ivoire right now, and several other places in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of these areas lie within regions that are trapped by history, culture, climate, or resources . . . zones of misery where helping is no longer simply a moral imperative for us, because these areas are both seedbeds for, and victims of, extremism.

We’re also concerned by rising nationalism, particularly among several smaller nations whose unpredictable leaders seek access to deliverable weapons of mass destruction--in the belief that those weapons will give them more freedom of action.

Of course, I’m speaking of self-alienated places like North Korea and Iran. And, as the commander responsible for operation of our nation’s ballistic missile defense system, I pay very close attention to what these people are doing.

Leaders in places like Iran and North Korea, having watched what has occurred in places like Iraq and Libya--where leaders gave up weapons of mass destruction development programs--are probably more determined than ever to hang on to their own developmental programs.

So we need to handle both ends of the deterrence formula . . . not only will you suffer greatly if you attack us; your attack is probably not going to work anyway. The latter end of that formula is particularly important to apply to potentially irrational adversaries who may not understand that they will suffer greatly if they attack us.

We also carefully observe--and we hope to interact positively with--large rising nations such as India, China, Russia and Brazil--each of which is emerging in its own particular political, demographic, social, and economic circumstances, yet who together are demanding a greater voice in a more multi-polar world.

Of course, China--whose authoritarian capitalistic system is trying to govern a population hungry for freedom and prosperity, and is growing in its nationalism--presents its own challenges, which I will not attempt to cover in depth tonight.

Meanwhile, in our own hemisphere, transnational criminal organizations--what we call TCOs--are not only exporting drugs and violent distribution networks to our cities . . .they are negatively impacting the security and prosperity of our number three trading partner and good neighbor, Mexico, and are having even worse impact in other nations in our hemisphere. More on that in a moment.

Riding along with these factors are our planet’s increasing population, changes in urbanization and demographics, concerns over pandemics in our increasingly-interconnected world, and of course competition for resources, such as energy, food, and water.

We also worry about our changing climate and how it will affect prosperity and security from the Arctic to Africa.

And if that is not enough, an explosion of information technology not only carries with it the ability to open new horizons for a globalized, networked population . . . and to create new market and information efficiencies . . . and to lead to incredible advances in my own world . . .but it can also leave us vulnerable to spillage of sensitive information, as we’ve seen with the WikiLeaks episode that’s had such a negative impact on our diplomacy . . .

. . . or, worse, it can open serious vulnerabilities in a host of key functions that we’ve shifted into the cyber world, and on which we have grown to depend literally for our lives.

Indeed, our highly-efficient just-in-time economic systems . . . which are so dependent on containers, rapid multi-modal transportation systems, and the Internet . . . have a built-in vulnerability to disruptions in both physical and virtual flow stability.

Meanwhile, the disasters that we witnessed in Haiti, and more recently in our friend and ally Japan, are only precursors to more of the same . . . and it is only a matter of when, not if, we will have to face one of these again right here at home.

And I won’t even mention our current debt situation, which presents a long-term national security challenge of its own at the very same time that we try in the near term to sustain the current economic recovery.

We will miss the significance of connections among these challenges at our peril, even as we find it impossible to predict where the black swans lie . . .those events with high consequences but low predictability or low probability, but that have a disturbing way of suddenly happening--such as the combination of an earthquake, a tsunami, and nuclear power plants.

This complex, interlinked, and daunting soup of factors simmers along in a world in which many of the traditional borders . . . which lent simplicity to our view of the world . . . now seem to be fading.

To demonstrate these changing borders, we need only look at cyberspace--the only environment I know of that was created by mankind where nothing existed before.

We in the U.S. military have become increasingly dependent on cyber capability . . . it is at once our single greatest competitive advantage over our adversaries, and perhaps our biggest vulnerability.

Our Department of Defense uses seven million computing devices, and some 90,000 people to operate the 15,000 networks on which those devices ride.

And those networks are probed about 250,000 times per hour by scores of foreign intelligence organizations, and individuals trying to hack into our networks.

In this cyber world, in which information moves at the speed of light and which can go viral in no time . . . the physical border between near and far has disappeared.

The border between peace and war in this environment has also deeply faded away. I would ask you to ponder just what constitutes a hostile act in cyberspace?

How do we tell the difference between someone who is exploring our networks for simple espionage . . . and one who is leaving a little present behind for future malevolent use?

As Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn has said, “Missiles come with a return address. Cyber attacks, for the most part, do not.”

Cyber attacks, which I would call the newest weapon of mass destruction . . . have already evolved into a factor in acts of war by one nation against another. And we can be certain that they will be a part of any future conflict, and will not be restricted to military-on-military events alone.

The border between domestic and foreign has certainly faded when a foreign-based extremist can use a server located inside the United States . . . which lends it special legal protections . . . to host a web site intended to recruit home-grown or foreign extremists to violent acts.

You can watch this terrorist activity daily on about 4,000 different web sites.

The border between state and individual has now faded to the point where a nation can easily disguise itself as . . . or in fact use . . . civilian hackers to cause potentially-great harm to some of our key networks.

Or, what Tom Friedman has called the super-empowered individual can do the same thing all on his or her own.

The border between privacy and surveillance . . . particularly sensitive to us freedom-loving people . . . will become increasingly challenged as governments begin to feel the imperative to monitor network traffic for malicious software that could take down our financial, transportation, energy, or communications networks.

After all, almost two-thirds of U.S. firms report that they’ve been the victim of cyber-security incidents, while the volume of malicious software on American networks more than tripled between 2009 and 2010.

Almost half of all U.S. computers have been compromised, according to one industry survey. More importantly, vital services, such as our electrical grid, are managed using Internet services, and a sophisticated adversary could potentially do harm to those networks that would shut down this grid for an extended time.

As a result, the border between what is traditionally civil and what is traditionally military could be increasingly challenged, should there be calls for the military--which has impressive capability resident in the U.S. Cyber Command that our nation stood up last year--to assist other government, non-government, and private sectors in protecting their own domains from cyber attack.

To this end, last October Secretary Napolitano, from the Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Gates from Defense, signed an agreement designed to partner in protecting our nation’s cyber networks and critical infrastructure.

Yet another realm where traditional borders are becoming less clear is the transnational criminal organizations, otherwise known as TCOs, which are having such corrosive effects throughout our hemisphere.

Here, the border between criminal and military activity is fading to the point where we see drug cartels using sophisticated military tools to enable their trade . . . including machine guns, grenades, heavily-armored vehicles, sniper rifles, and even fully-submersible submarines.

In Mexico, we see the border between civil and military fading, in that the Mexican military has been asked by its civilian leadership to join with Mexican law enforcement agencies to support this struggle in the right way, respectful of Mexico’s democratic ideals and the nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

The Mexican government has displayed exemplary moral, physical and political courage in undertaking this important struggle, because they know this is about the future of Mexico, and I take my hat off to them for doing it.

It’s been a difficult struggle . . . since December 2006, 35,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in TCO-related violence. And more civilian lives [in Mexico] have been lost than in Afghanistan during the same time. A dozen mayors were killed in 2010 alone.

The criminality extends far beyond drugs: to extortion, robbery, kidnapping and trafficking in persons.

In many areas, the media are muzzled by the cartels, and businesses are fleeing areas most dominated by the drug trade.

We in the U.S. are suffering as well the corrosive effects of illegal drugs. Almost half of the approximately 30,000 people we lose per year to drug abuse are lost to illicit--as opposed to prescription--drugs. The financial and societal costs to the country are staggering. If this all happened in one day, it would draw much greater attention . . . but it doesn’t . . . it’s spread out over time.

Presidents Obama and Calderon have together underscored our shared responsibilities as nations . . . on the U.S. side of our border to reduce drug consumption and the illicit arms and money flowing south to Mexico . . . and on the Mexican side to interdict drugs going north across our border, and to do the work to strengthen the rule of law, so that criminals are put in jail and kept there.

I salute Mexico’s police and security forces for their courage, skill and determination, and for the progress they’ve made in building institutions like the federal police, and in taking down over two dozen of the most wanted criminals in their country--progress for which they don’t always get the credit that they deserve.

Today, my Mexican military counterparts are confronting concurrent challenges . . . how to counter a sophisticated unconventional threat by integrating intelligence and operations, how to work jointly with each other and with their interagency partners, and how to fully inculcate respect for human rights into every operation they conduct.

We know this is hard work because we’ve been down the same road, and in some ways are still on the same road . . . so I tell my capable Mexican partners that we don’t know it all. We’ve made our own mistakes along the way, and we seek the type of engagement that helps them benefit from our experience--especially over the last ten years.

But while I always want to do more to help . . . and we in USNORTHCOM are just a supporting player in a much larger interagency and international law enforcement effort.

The first and most important principle we observe in this struggle is respect for Mexican sovereignty.

We have much to offer, but Mexico is always in the lead in Mexico.

If together we can maintain our resolve, if we can be responsive to Mexican requests, if we can work effectively together, and if we can continue to make progress on our own side of the border, then together we stand a good chance of carrying the day against the TCOs. If not, the corrosive effects of the TCOs will continue to pose a grave danger to both of our countries.

Returning to fading borders, I do my work every day in our homeland, where the borders between civil and military have faded in other ways, mostly because, in the military, we have certain capabilities and capacities that are often as applicable to civil work as they are to military work--and that would be simply too expensive for both of us to have.

One classic example is my mission to ensure that no hijack along the lines of what happened on 9/11 can ever happen again. It would be simply too expensive for the Department of Homeland Security to go out and buy F-16s, so we in the Department of Defense are charged with that responsibility.

An even better example is in the area of disaster relief.

The tragic events in Japan over the last several weeks highlight the importance of the fact that we have to be prepared to respond to disasters, including those providing no notice, such as earthquakes . . . and those involving accidental or intentional release of harmful substances, such as, in Japan’s case, radionuclides.

We have a major role at USNORTHCOM in supporting our federal partners, namely the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but ultimately in support of the states, with some of the unique capabilities we possess–and indeed, we have dispatched some of these capabilities, in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear disciplines, to help our allies and friends in Japan.

Time is our enemy in these disasters, and we search every day for ways to become more agile in responding to the needs of our partners.

One of my key partners in this area is the National Guard, which is indeed such a capable partner, and on which I rely so much for my mission accomplishment in several areas--not just disaster assistance.

Now, having talked about the fast-changing world around us, and the fading borders, let me offer you a few brief thoughts about how things have changed for the military commander.

For those of you in business or even local government, you may see a few parallels in how your world has changed.

First, we have to be fast. We must be able to make quality decisions faster, at the strategic, operational and tactical levels all at once . . .

. . . not only because we can, due to the enormous competitive advantages we have in the decision-making tools we have available, and in the quality of our people . . .

. . . but because we must, since the pace of events, much more nimble adversaries, and instant communication flows demand it.

We recently crafted a new command motto in my headquarters . . . we never had one before . . . we call it “Velocitas cum Prudentia” . . . which is Latin for speed with wisdom . . . and we have to live this every single day.

Second is the fact that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll act alone--and that’s more important than it’s ever been before. This applies in peacetime missions every bit as much as in war.

For the latter, including recent operations in Libya, examples abound of why such partnering is not always easy when it comes down to the use of force--but it’s essential, because we not only gain credibility by working closely with our partners . . .we’re also better able to use of all the instruments of power, including diplomatic, financial, and informational as well military power.

. . . And we end up sharing many of the same political and military risks when we act in concert with our partners.

For the former, in peacetime, we almost always find ourselves--in my line of work at USNORTHCOM--in a supporting role, checking our egos at the door . . . whether it’s supporting FEMA in a disaster, or law enforcement organizations in countering TCOs--and it’s indispensable for us to forge quality relationships in these areas before they’re needed.

. . . And your military commanders are becoming more and more adept at doing exactly that.

And finally, in a globalized world, we’re in a battle for perceptions, where messages can be ubiquitous within minutes.

So we military commanders are very sensitive to the fact that every action we take sends a message, and probably needs to be accompanied by a contextual message . . . and we must always be ready to immediately step up to the truth and the reasons for it, as well as the mistakes that we will inevitably make.

Moreover, the way we say it really matters . . . cultural awareness can be as important today for us as our warfare skills.

Indeed, I can say exactly the right thing about some aspect of our common struggle with Mexico and other partners against the TCOs, but if I say it the wrong way, I can actually take several steps backward in that very same struggle.

Now, one thought in closing . . . recall that I began these remarks by talking about new security challenges that are riding along shifting and fading borders . . . including the fact that those who would use terror or criminal activity against us have voted not to honor the old borders.

We’re taking-on many of these new challenges with new technical tools . . . but we often find ourselves using old policy tools . . . tools that were designed with our time-tested fundamental principles of freedom and liberty in mind, yet that were also designed for a much simpler world.

I believe that one trick for us in keeping pace with our security needs is not only to invest as required in systems and people to maintain the technical and tactical edges that we’ve always enjoyed . . .but also to find new policy tools that preserve our adherence to the founding principles that we as democratic and free people cherish--and that also recognize where the old borders have faded and new challenges are born.

This is some of the most difficult and creative work before us. I certainly do not have all the answers. We need to do it carefully, but do it we must. Perhaps the bright minds right here in the World Affairs Council of Northern California can make a difference.

So, as the Wicked Witch of the West said “Oh, what a world!”

When all is said and done, it’s my job to defend the homeland, support civil authorities, and support our other partners in North America.

Our missions range from antiterrorism and force protection for our forces here in the continental United States . . . to disaster relief . . . to counter-TCO . . . to being prepared to respond to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident or accident inside our country--we support our federal partners in doing that . . . to ballistic missile defense . . . to defending against a potential air threat to North America.

And we also have a growing interest in the Arctic--which is sure to open up in the coming decades--where there will be more human activity . . . where there could be environmental disasters, search and rescue requirements--and where it’s absolutely essential that we work with our Canadian partners.

It’s an exhilarating responsibility, and I’m proud of the wonderful men and women we have in Colorado Springs at NORAD and USNORTHCOM, leading this rich diversity of mission sets.

There’s one thing from which I draw great confidence in handling my mission and our future, and that’s the remarkable resiliency of the American ideal--and I would add the Canadian ideal--and also the remarkable resilience of the American and Canadian people.

With that, I want again to thank General Myatt and the World Affairs Council for giving me the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you this evening.

It’s been a real treat for me, and I look forward to answering your questions.

Thank you very much.