Former NATO Admiral Warns of Cyber Threats

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James Stavridis

James Stavridis, a four-star admiral with 37 years of military service under his belt, wants people to be better listeners and learn about other cultures, not to build walls and live in isolation.

Stavridis is a retired Navy Admiral and the current dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. From 2009 to 2013 he was the NATO Supreme Allied Commander with responsibility of Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, piracy, and cyber security. Stavridis has been awarded more than 50 medals, 28 of them from foreign nations. He spoke Wednesday night in Fulton 511.

The lecture focused on national security in the 21st century, but before touching on the present, Stavridis talked about the national security crises and strategies of the 20th century. After the world wars, the strategies that many countries adopted were centered around isolationism and building walls to protect themselves.

“Sixty million dead, two world wars, how did we fail so badly?” he said. “I would argue that we failed because we tried to create walls. We thought they would divide us and protect us, and that approach, in my view, is not the path to 21st-century security.”

After discussing the failings of the 20th century, Stavridis moved on to discuss the current problems that threaten national security. He first talked about the Islamic State and the type of terrorism that they implement, which he called “terrorism 3.0.” The advanced advertising, marketing, and branding of ISIS combined with its global reach and expert use of technology makes it a terrorist force unlike one the United States has ever dealt with.

Stavridis singled out a few countries that he considers dangers to global security. He named four countries that he saw as the biggest threats: Iran, Syria, Russia, and North Korea. Headed by an unstable leader, Kim Jong Un, who Stavridis described as “unpredictable, unstable, morbidly obese, addicted to opioids, unproven, and worst of all, he already has nuclear weapons,” North Korea is the most threatening country.

Along with dangers posed by individual nations, there are other types of threats that can compromise global security. The epidemic of opioids, heroin, and cocaine poses a sizable threat, he said. These drugs are a two-fold type of threat. First, they harm the population that chooses to use them. Second, the profit made from the drug trade goes to underground criminals, often in countries with fragile democracies, which undermines the authorities of the already unstable governments.

Stavridis finished describing the different security threats with what he worries about most—cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are the only type of attack that threatens everything from our international security concerns, through our economy and personal finances, to the most intimate details of our lives, he said. Cyber attacks often target the infrastructure of countries and companies and can cause millions of dollars in damage.  

The steps that Stavridis described as the most important to take in order to strengthen global security are not rooted in military force, what Stavridis called “hard power,” but in building understanding and intellectual capital.

He stressed the importance of listening to not only allies, but also enemies. Learning about other cultures and learning their languages can help in this understanding. Reading both fiction and nonfiction from around the world helps people to understand other cultures, he said.

Stavridis explained that listening, learning, and in-person diplomatic work is integral to successful security, and sometimes hard military force also needs to be used. A careful balance among hard power and soft power, humanitarian aid, and literacy programs need to be utilized to achieve global security, he said.

“By collaboration, by building bridges, by mixing hard and soft power, we can create the sum of all security in the 21st century,” he said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

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