The New Security Reality: Not Business as Usual
The past several years have marked the beginning of a different security era than that to which we are accustomed. Accordingly, it requires a new orientation. Whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, and whether we are prepared for it or not, the United States and the West are engaged in a number of unconventional, undeclared, and undefined asymmetric wars. In addition to wars initiated by traditional nation-state aggressors, in 1996, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations, highlighted two new sources of conflict that are becoming more prevalent in the global security arena: 1) belligerent and politicized nonstate actors (e.g., proxies for hegemonic nation-states, insurgents, transnational criminal organizations, terrorists, private armies, popular militias, and gangs) that are taking on roles that were once reserved exclusively for the sovereign nation-state; and, 2) indirect, implicit, and violent challenges to stability and human well-being that are exploited almost exclusively by hegemonic and violent nonstate actors (root causes: e.g., poverty, social exclusion, environmental degradation, and political economic-social expectations). If left ignored and unchecked, these wars compel radical, unwanted, and epochal political-economic-social change.1 Even if that compulsion is generally indirect, ambiguous, conducted over long periods of time, and not perceived to be as lethal as conventional maneuver war between traditional nation-states, it does not alter the cruel reality of compulsion.
In that context, it must be remembered that the 60,000 deaths attributed to Mexico’s unconventional war with criminal organizations, private armies, and gangs have now exceeded U.S. combat casualties in the Vietnam War. At the same time, murder rates in three Central American countries are the highest in the world, and gangs control more than half the national territory in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Also, the insurgency in Colombia is moving away from direct confrontation with the armed forces to a more subtle continuation of the revolutionary struggle through political-psychological coercion. Additionally, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has not been subtle regarding his use of an undeclared asymmetric war paradigm to put an end to U.S. political and economic influence in the Western Hemisphere, and to transform the whole of Latin America into a single Bolivarian (Socialist) state. Given the pressures of international law and the requirements of U.S. trade and security accords with Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, it is appropriate for strategic leaders — and anyone else who has the responsibility for analyzing, planning, implementing, and/or reporting on these kinds of conflicts — to: 1) take the enemy into consideration; 2) start thinking about the kind of conflict in which they are engaged; and, 3) start thinking about what must be understood to successfully conduct contemporary unconventional asymmetric warfare.