“We need to look forward in a very pragmatic, clear-eyed way and develop the capabilities we need to respond across the spectrum to make sure the United States is well positioned to maintain its security and advance security in a changing world,” she told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here.
Flournoy added that the United States is facing “one of the most daunting inheritances in generations,” and must address difficult questions about balancing present needs with preparing for an uncertain and complex future.
Outlining her views on U.S. defense strategy, Flournoy said pragmatism, engagement in critical parts of the globe, a more balanced use of the government’s tools, revitalizing relations with allies and a “whole-of-government” posture should underpin the approach.
But before highlighting the principles that likely will inform the department’s congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, Flournoy described current and emerging challenges, and the broad trends that “fuel and complicate” them.
Providing a thumbnail sketch of the present security landscape, she cited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nearly 200,000 U.S. troops deployed in harm’s way fighting a broad war against extremism, and the planned military drawdown in Iraq and increased presence in Afghanistan.
While the two wars constitute elements of the security picture, they are not the “sum total,” Flournoy said. “We are going to seek to better address both the needs of today’s conflicts but also tomorrow’s threats,” she added.
Other key security challenges include violent extremist movements, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, rising powers with sophisticated weapons and increasing encroachment across the so-called global commons, which include air, sea, space, cyberspace, she said.
Additionally, in contrast to the international dynamics of the past, in which strong countries were likely to pose security challenges, weak or failed states now represent significant cause for concern, she said.
“Historically, most security challenges have come from aggressive, powerful states overstepping the bounds of international norms and international law,” she said. “We are now in a world where many of the threats we face will come from state weakness and the inability states to meet the basic needs of their population.”
Flournoy said a number of factors are affecting the security challenges, including the global economic downturn, climate change, cultural and demographic shifts, increasing scarcity of resources and the spread of destabilizing technologies.
“These challenges are fueled and complicated by a number of powerful trends that are reshaping the international landscape,” she said.
While there is no easy solution for challenges this vast and complex, Flournoy said, the example of America’s ability to emerge from post-World War II challenges demonstrates the United States’ resilience.
“We’ve faced a whole magnitude of challenges, and we have both survived and thrived,” she said.
The Defense Department will submit to Congress its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that assesses department strategy and priorities early next year, according to a department news release.