April 3, 2019 at 3:52 pm

Stavridis Discusses National Security Risks, Opportunities at Baker Peace Conference

Adm. (ret.) James Stavridis opened the 2019 Baker Peace Conference with the keynote address “21st Century: Risk and Opportunities.” Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe from 2009 to 2013, Stavridis discussed the security challenges facing the United States and highlighted what opportunities exist for the nation to create security.

In the category of international actors, Stavridis identified the first threat to American security as dangerous extremism, principally the Islamic State but also Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. He warned that the Islamic State is the best financed terror organization to ever exist. Even as it loses geographic control in the Middle East, it will remain resilient and continue to operate, recruit and use creative methods to raise funds in order to reemerge eventually.

Nation states, specifically those that live outside the norms of international law, also create security concerns for the United States. With Iran’s neo-imperial ambitions, its wars are religious conflicts with a geopolitical overlay. Syria’s civil war continues to create instability, as hundreds of thousands have died and millions of refugees have fled. Stavridis describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as a wily tactician and opportunist who has used Middle East instability to invade and occupy Ukraine. Stavridis warns that Venezuela is a combustible situation, as millions have fled and the country’s infrastructure continues to break down. China’s strategy to carve out a vast mercantile zone of influence has made the South China Sea ground zero in a competition with the United States, and its attempts to control the virtual seas through 5G poses additional security concerns. North Korea’s unpredictable leader, Kim Jong-un, and his nation’s nuclear weapons are further cause for concern in Asia.

Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis delivering the 2019 Baker Peace Conference keynote address.

Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis delivering the 2019 Baker Peace Conference keynote address. Photo by Madeleine Hordinski

In transnational issues, Stavridis identifies narcotics as an enduring problem, since profits from its trade finance the destabilization of fragile societies. Mother nature, especially diseases, also worries the admiral. Despite medical advancements, the propensity for pandemics only increases in today’s highly globalized society. Climate change is the biggest long-term challenge, according to Stavridis. He claims, however, that the principal threat for the United States in this century is cyber. Ukraine and Georgia have already suffered Russian cyber attacks, and any future war will feature more of the same. He identifies the aging U.S. power grid as most vulnerable to cyber attacks, as these strikes can be an equalizer for weaker powers.

Foundations to Create Security

Stavridis also proposed methods that will build foundations to create security. First, he believes Americans need to listen better as a society and a superpower, remaining open to hearing the thinking of friends and opponents alike. Second, he suggests taking a break from routines and building intellectual capital through classroom learning. Third, he recommends that after graduating, citizens should continue building upon their education through additional coursework, online learning, and varied reading.

Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis at the Baker Peace Conference

Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis at the Baker Peace Conference. Photo by Madeleine Hordinski

Looking ahead to security in the 21st century, Stavridis believes the United States must hold onto its values, including democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of education, and equality. NATO will remain a partner and ally, but there will be less structured arrangements. India stands as the greatest emerging power with increasing significance to the United States as a security partner. The nation’s military will also look quite different in the future, with conventional weapon platforms augmented by unmanned systems and cyber. The U.S. military has an unparalleled ability to use hard power but should use it infrequently, choosing instead to rely more upon soft power approaches such as humanitarian missions. Above all, capable young men and women in the military will remain critical. In closing, Stavridis predicted that social networks will gain in importance as a marketplace of ideas that the United States must utilize to project its values. In the end, however, meeting one-on-one with opponents still matters for guaranteeing national security.

The 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, Stavridis oversaw operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Balkans, and against piracy off the coast of Africa. For nearly three years he led U.S. Southern Command in Miami. The longest serving Combatant Commander in recent U.S. history, he also acted as senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defense. He led the Navy’s premier operational think tank for innovation, Deep Blue, immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Stavridis recently retired as Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and now serves as Operating Executive with the Carlyle Group. Some of his recent books include Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans (2017), The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO (2014), and Command at Sea (2010). Stavridis is a frequent contributor to news programs on television and radio and his commentary appears in Foreign Policy and major newspapers.

The 2019 Baker Peace Conference’s theme was “Temple of Peace? International Cooperation and World Order since 1945.” It took up a pressing issue: What happens when (or if) the postwar liberal world order becomes less sturdy? And what is it that has evolved since 1945 in the first place? In three discussion panels, leading scholars of the United Nations, transatlantic relations, the Cold War, and the changing nature of warfare, as well as students and practitioners of peace-building in our time, offered international perspectives in an attempt to answer these questions.

Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis and CHI Director Dr. Ingo Trauschweizer. Photo by Madeleine Hordinski.

The Baker Peace Conference is just one component of the OHIO legacy left by Dr. John Calhoun Baker, Ohio University’s 14th president, and Elizabeth Baker, whose generosity established the John and Elizabeth Baker Peace Studies Program in 1982. The program was created to encourage the education of students, as well as the general public, in the means by which peace can be established and maintained throughout the world. The first Baker Peace Conference was held in 1988, and for more than three decades, the conference has drawn together a diverse group of leading experts to discuss a significant national or international issue related to peace.

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