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Uncertain Times

Army chief of staff says global comms, non-state actors creating 'most uncertain time' in his career

Gen. Raymond Odierno / AP
• May 29, 2013 4:15 pm

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U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said Wednesday that because of warfare’s rapid evolution this is the "most uncertain time" in his 37-year U.S. military career.

The general, who has spoken before about the uncertainty faced by the United States in terms of security, took questions during an event at the Atlantic Council, a national security think tank in Washington, D.C.

Odierno said the reality is that conflicts spread beyond individual nations and the prevalent use of "global communication," such as Twitter, makes it increasingly difficult to predict what problems may arise, and the larger consequences they present.

"This is the most uncertain time in my 37 years of service," Odierno said. "We just don’t know. Everything is related to each other."

"What happens in Syria will not just affect Syria," Odierno went on to say. "There’s so many nations involved in this and so you just never know what the impact will be as this occurs."

He cited Hezbollah’s recent announcement that it would support Syria and the situation in North Korea as examples. The fact that decisions made by individuals in these nations do not affect a single nation is "what makes us so uncertain at this time," he said.

"The impact of instantaneous global communications," Odierno said, "which enable groups to come together very quickly, not necessarily nation states, but non-state actors of all kinds of thoughts, coming together very quickly, and I think that presents some real significant challenges to us."

"How do we allow organizations that now have a public voice, and say ‘we’re supporting a state act,’ when in fact, they are not held to any accountability, in terms of international law, because they’re not a nation state?" Odierno asked.

These non-state actors, like Hezbollah, create problems in determining and understanding where a threat is coming from, Odierno said.

Odierno’s comments come less than a week after President Barack Obama spoke at the National Defense University and called for the war on terror to shift from "a boundless ‘global war on terror’" to "a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America."

Critics have pointed to the speech as an example the president making proposals that are "either infeasible or immaterial." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) called it "tone-deaf," noting, "At a time we need resolve the most, we’re sounding retreat."

Odierno did not specifically mention the president’s speech, but discussed the challenges still facing the U.S. military, including the slowness of international law and governance to address new realities.

"One of the challenges we have today and will continue to have is that the international world, international law, and other international bodies are yet to recognize this evolving conflict," Odierno said. "Where what we call the nature [of] war, now is very different than what it was 30 years ago."

Published under: Army, Middle East