Negroponte: Cyber war biggest security threat
MANILA, Philippines - Career diplomat John Negroponte lives and breathes international politics. The current Yale professor served as ambassador to the Philippines, Iraq and the United Nations.
He first visited China with Henry Kissinger in 1972, the year that marked a new chapter in US and Chinese engagement. He sat beside Colin Powell in 2003, when the secretary of state presented false evidence to support invading Iraq at the UN. And he ended his career in government in 2009 as deputy secretary of state.
In an interview with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for #TalkThursday during his visit to Manila, Negroponte shares his unique perspective on the leading issues around the world. He makes 3 points about shifts in foreign policy today:
1. America is easing out of its role as the world's cop
Asked if the US would pull back from its role as a global cop, Negroponte explained that the US will still act as a responsible global citizen but may try to pass on some of the first responder responsibilities to other countries. "Maybe we can make it a bit more balanced approached. But not some kind of an abandonment or an ostrich act. This is not putting our head in the sand. This is saying let's go do this together," said Negroponte.
He pointed out that the transition was necessary as the US fixes its its financial problems. The blood and treasure lost waging the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been immense. The Iraq war alone cost tens of billions of dollars, averaging $11.1 billion a month at its fiscal peak in 2008, according to the Congressional Research Service.
"We have racked up tremendous costs. And I think what you're going to see is that we're going to spend quite a bit of time recovering from that. And you're not going to see large American expeditions going abroad. You're not going to see us sending 60,000 (to) 80,000 troops around the world," said Negroponte.
Instead he said the US would transition into a "supporting role," supplying intelligence and transport to friendly countries. As an example of that new direction, he pointed to US military aircraft flying French troops to Mali to battle Islamist militants.
As America turns inward, Negroponte said China needs to take a more active role in the international community. "I think the challenge for our diplomacy, I'm thinking of the United States now, has been to try to encourage [China] to want to become a full-fledged, if you will, player on the international scene," he said.
Whereas America has often relied on military muscle in international relations, China has frequently turned to soft power, such as international trade and investment, to spread its influence.
Negroponte admitted China is not eager to change its approach. "There is some reluctance. Because first of all they used to give the argument that… they don't aspire to play a global role, they have no hegemonic intentions," he said. "But that's not really the point. The point is they've reached the level of strength and significance in terms of their economic weight and their military weight that they need to engage with others," he added.
"The global system is not on automatic pilot. It needs... responsible nation states to make it work," said the career diplomat.
2. Real possibility of complete pullout from Afghanistan
"We are slated to withdraw all combat troops, complete the withdrawal of all combat troops by the end of 2014, but frankly I would be surprised if any troops remained beyond that time," said Negroponte, adding weight to a recent statement by the Obama administration that a complete pullout is on the table.
The majority of the United States 66,000 troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014 but how big a residual force should stay behind is a point of contention.
Critics in the Republican party and the military have warned against a complete troop withdrawal, saying this could lead to instability. Reuters reported that General John Allen, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, had recommended keeping at least 6,000 troops and up to 15,000 after 2014. International terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna even said at June 2012 security conference that as soon as US forces leave, Al-Qaeda's main forces will return.
But Negroponte pointed out it is more likely the US will remove all troops, like it did in Iraq in 2011, since the Obama administration is keen to focus on domestic concerns.
"We're caught in this dilemma. People say when are you leaving you've been here too long. The minute the other side of the coin is raised, why-are-you-leaving-so-fast questions kind of come up. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. But I think most Americans and certainly our political leadership feels like more than 10 years in a place like Afghanistan is enough already," said Negroponte.
The former deputy secretary of state seems to be reading the writing on the wall. In a weekly address this month, Obama cited the high 2,000 plus American deaths in Afghanistan. "After more than a decade of war, the nation we need to rebuild is our own," he said.
3. Cyber war is the biggest global security threat
Asked to choose the "single biggest security threat in the world today," Negroponte said cyber attacks.
"If those become frequent enough and, heaven forbid, too successful you could at the very least create some real drag on various economies, but you could also visualize, at least the possibility some day of, attacks that succeed at crippling critical infrastructure," he said.
He cited the August 2012 cyber attack on the world's most valuable company, Saudi Aramco. Data on 3/4ths of Aramco's corporate computers were erased and replaced with the picture of an American flag burning.
He found the attacks on Western financial institutions especially worrying. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks have caused connection problems at well-defended banks like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Forbes reported that some experts believe Iran is behind the attacks and that they are being waged as retaliation for economic sanctions in the United Nations.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta even said the Defense Department had developed capabilities to "counter threats to our national interests in cyberspace."
"I think it's a defensive problem in the first instance. How do you defend yourselves against these attacks," said Negroponte.
Ultimately, the former ambassador sees the problem in diplomatic terms. "We come back to our famous problems of diplomacy, (how do you reach understandings) with countries like China, Russia or ourselves about what are the international rules going to be so we're not all worrying about DDS attacks," asked Negroponte.
"Do we need to think of some rules of the game here that prevent this from getting out of hand," he asked, ending the interview with a question and, as ever, a focus on the importance of international diplomacy. - Rappler.com