By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
National security experts often refer to the core of al Qaeda as a “spent force.” Its leaders are mostly wiped out even if al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen continue their fight against the West. But if al Qaeda is a spent force will the U.S. military go back to the old paradigm of preparing for conflict with nation states?
That’s one of the underlying themes of the Aspen Security Forum. I spoke with author and academic Paula Broadwell, a veteran of 15 years in intelligence, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.
The U.S. must be prepared for “full spectrum warfare,” she says. That's everything from a full-on war to smaller conflicts.
“Nobody thinks these small wars or these insurgencies are going away,” Broadwell tells me. “The way we’ll fight them is changing, and instead of sending a large army to fight an insurgency I think we’ll see more precision strikes, more special forces response, more drone operations, and more cooperation with our allies."
That, Broadwell tells me, is the "big shift" in the U.S. military at the moment which is looking to conduct "more security force assistance to empower the local country to fight their own war. So that’s the bread and butter of the special forces. It’s nothing new, and so it shifts back to their previous paradigm, but I think we’re taking it a larger scale.”
The U.S., Broadwell says, must be prepared for a war with North Korea or conflict with China. But more likely, she suggests, is a cyber war.
“You don’t need boots on the ground for that but you need a lot of intellectual capacity and I hope that we address that at this conference ," she says. "We are under attack right now by China, by states, right? But it’s a different type of warfare. It’s not tanks and artillery and so forth. It’s cyber warfare against our energy grid, against our banks, against our private sector and public sector.”
The State Department’s role, she tells me, is critical.
“I think what we need to think about is are we doing enough with State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to prevent these conflicts from erupting, to prevent the causes of Jihad and joining terrorism and state conflict.”