The inexhaustibly optimistic and indefatigable head of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe Adm. James G. Stavridis spoke to an enthusiastic audience and national-media at West 2010, a conference co-sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute, in early February. Uppermost on his mind are the dramatic increases in cyber attacks worldwide, the good that social media can accomplish in the global arena, and the power of technology combined with human capital to exponentially create opportunities for education, cooperation and progress in developing countries.
In speaking about cyber threats, Stavridis said they could well prove to be provocation for a future war. Adm. Stavridis said that four Balkan countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Georgia were victims of foreign cyberattacks within the past four years. In the case of Georgia, a debilitating cyberattack on the country’s Web sites occurred simultaneously with a conventional military attack.
While NATO’s Article 5 allows for the common defense of the alliance in the event of an attack on any one NATO member, the admiral said NATO needs to reconsider the definition of an attack because of the increasing number of attacks in cyberspace, which did not exist when NATO was formed 61 years ago. Adm. Stavridis spoke with media representatives Feb. 2.
Q: How would you rate the interoperability of the NATO allies in their ability to work together?
Adm. Stavridis: Interoperability among the NATO allies is good. It is a force that connects us. If I step back and look globally, say in my previous job, where I was commander of U.S. Southern Command and we were trying to interact with nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, I would say that it was less good and therefore becomes something that we have to work hard to correct … to have that interoperability.
The fundamental answer is that it depends on which group of allies. In NATO, I would rate interoperability as strong and as a connective force between the 28 nations of NATO.
Technology is one of the crucial elements in our ability to connect our alliance structure, and it is not just the interoperability piece, it is also the sensor piece, ordnance [and] cyber. In those particular domains, technology is at the top of what I need to focus on in terms of moving the alliance forward.
I think we all appreciate that the most important thing of all is human capital. It is finding interoperability between people that is particularly important in an alliance when we have 28 different cultures and 20 different languages represented.
I would connect those two as follows … I am interested in technologies that help me develop interoperability in the human side — connective mechanisms in the cyber world, linguistics, translation, the ability to take information from different domains, the thin client process, all of that is crucially important.
Anytime you get into coalition warfare, you need that ability to be interoperable in a purely technical sense, but also how you connect with human capital.
Q: Does NATO have a cyber policy for prosecuting network attacks?
Adm. Stavridis: Not yet, we are at the beginning of that conversation, but I think that is important that we have that conversation in NATO. What we have is a Center for Excellence for Cyber Defense that is in [Tallinn] Estonia.
Secondly, we are having the conversation as part of the development of the NATO strategic concept this year. By the end of this year, I think we will see emerging in NATO a real awareness of cyber. Eventually, we will see similar structures emerge in the alliance as we are seeing individually within the nations.
I think cyber is much more than the military component. Today, cyber activity rests on connecting the international world, the interagency [organizations] in each of these individual countries, and indeed the private and public sectors. The term I like to use is 'strategic connections.'
We hear a lot about strategic communication. Strategic connection is bringing together international, interagency, private and public [groups] to address very complex problems, and I will put cyber at the top.
It is important that we get the military structures [for example, U.S. Cyber Command] in the United States. They will eventually be a part of a much larger [national] architecture that deals with cyberspace.
Estonia suffered a series of cyber intrusions at a high level in 2007 … I think in Estonia there is a high degree of appreciation for the importance of understanding the cyber world and [the need for a strong] cyber defense. As we all know, in the cyber world, one of the hardest things to do is to attribute this kind of activity. I think it is very difficult to say, 'This is the result of the activity of a particular nation, or not.'
It could be a hacker; it could be somebody who is affiliated with a nation-state. Estonia definitely felt the effects of significant cyber intrusion that particularly focused on its financial system. As a result, it seemed like a good place for NATO to put the Center of Excellence.
Q: There has been talk among the coalition about reducing or removing troops in Afghanistan due to lack of progress.
Adm. Stavridis: I think there are four crucial things we need to do in Afghanistan, and I think if we do these well over the next 18 to 24 months, we will see a distinct level of progress, and I am optimistic that we will.
The first is putting the Afghan people at the center of gravity; it is protecting them and partnering with them. As my good friend Stanley McChrystal (U.S. Army general and commander, International Security Assistance Force and commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan) says, we are not going to 'kill' our way out of Afghanistan. We have to protect the Afghanistan people so that they will turn away from the insurgents.
Frankly, if you look at the polling data in Afghanistan today, we see this beginning to happen. The Taliban are polling less than a 6 percent approval rating, and the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces are polling over 80 percent. That’s from the BBC/ABC/ARD [news] poll that was conducted a few days ago on 1,500 independent Afghans around the country.
… Secondly, strategic communications, it’s articulating what we, the coalition, need and must do in Afghanistan and back in our (nations’) capitals. If we do a good job of strategic communication, we will be capable of explaining to the populations in all of the capitals why we are there, and continue to see the same sort of spirit we saw in the International London Conference on Afghanistan last week where [more than] 60 countries and 19 international organizations came together to pledge long-term support in Afghanistan.
Let’s face it, in the end, it is not going to be about troop levels in Afghanistan. We will not deliver security in Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun… It has to be a comprehensive approach. That brings me to the third thing we need to do which is to bring together the political, economic, cultural and the linguistic [elements] along with security in order to achieve the effects that we need in Afghanistan.
The fourth, and most important thing, in terms of any date we look forward to in the future [before pulling troops out] is training Afghanistan’s [National] Security Forces. It is the ability to transition security activities that will enable all of us to leave when the time is right.
I am very, very optimistic about our ability to train the Afghan [National] Security Forces. There is risk in it, but we have a new NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan stood up by Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell 60 days ago. We are populating that rapidly. Nations are sending their best people. Job 1 for the alliance is training the Afghan security forces.
The real question is not that this nation may leave or that nation may leave, it is based on those four things. The wild card is reconciliation with the Taliban. That has been a topical discussion over the last couple of weeks — again a bounce out of the London conference.
I believe that there are openings, certainly for re-integration of lower-level Taliban. There could be a political process, and it has to be Afghan-led, that may lead to reconciliation of some of the most senior Taliban. That is a process that is under construction, but has possibilities to fundamentally change the situation.
Q: Do you use social media?
Adm. Stavridis: It’s huge for me. I use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I invite all of you to 'friend' me if you are on Facebook. I will give you an example of how this kind of thing works. I was giving a talk in London to a small group, maybe 100 people, and as part of the talk I said, 'I am on Facebook, friend me.' I got a little chuckle.
An AP reporter wrote a story with the headline, 'NATO Admiral Needs Friends.' It ran in two countries: Finland and Indonesia. The next day I had hundreds of Finns and Indonesians friending me on Facebook and the general tenor was, 'I heard you need a friend. What’s NATO?'
That’s a funny story, but that is exactly why I use social networking because it affords me the opportunity to bring people into the conversation and tell them about something that I think is very important to the security of the 21st century — NATO. [Another example] … STAR-TIDES, a very impressive system, it is a kind of a network in a box that is using social media to connect to Creole speakers. The language of Haiti is not French; it is Creole, which is a difficult language to speak. I speak French and Spanish but I can’t follow Creole, which is an amalgam of those two plus African tribal dialect.
The STAR-TIDES system is using social networking effectively to create translators that tap into this network. It is a perfect match. [In response to the earthquake in Haiti, organizations and individuals collaborated to create a short message system [SMS] code  that allowed the exchange of short text messages between mobile phones and related devices to provide information and bring help more quickly to the Haitian people.]
Back to your question Sharon, about technology and human capital, you are bringing together a technology in a box that allows you to tap into the social network that allows you to create strategic effect with translators, with text messages written in Creole. If the responders can’t translate them, they go back on social media and get the translation, and it comes back to the STAR-TIDES machine in Haiti. It is a wonderful example of how all these elements can fit together [to produce a desired outcome, in this case, disaster relief].
I think social networking is vitally important to security… I am talking about strategic connections, and social media is a powerful form of that.
Q: What are the new military strategies for Afghanistan?
Adm. Stavridis: We, the military, have a program, the Afghan Pakistan Hands (AFPAK Hands). Gen. McChrystal has pioneered this. It is taking superb officers at the 0-3 and 0-4 level, giving them language training in Pashto, Dari or Urdu, and then focusing them throughout the bulk of their mid-career on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They will cycle in, do an operational tour and then come out and do a refresh tour. They will remain hooked to a staff focused on this part of the world, and then they will go back into Afghanistan or Pakistan. I think that is the model for the U.S. military as it looks at a variety of regions in the world.
Secondly, Afghanistan requires an interagency effort, it's our ability in defense to team up with USAID — U.S. Agency for International Development — as they do development, and State as they do diplomacy, the three Ds (defense, development, diplomacy). But it is bigger than that — it is the Department of Justice, it is the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the Department of Treasury. It is all of that interagency effort coming together to accomplish effects.
The third thing is the private sector. In Afghanistan, we are not going to deliver security with the barrel of a gun; we are going to deliver it by educating a generation of young Afghanis. We, and I mean the big we, everybody from Greg Mortenson’s 'Three Cups of Tea' building schools, to USAID building the schoolhouses and bringing in the notebooks and computers, to the private sector, and Nicholas Negroponte’s [program] One Laptop per Child with hand-cranked, ruggedized computers that automatically network and link together with any other One Laptop per Child [user] that they find within the cell phone architecture.
All of those things must come together to create the effects we need in Afghanistan or anywhere else. When I was in U.S. Southern Command, we worked very hard on this approach, for example, in Columbia, which I think is continuing to move in a positive direction. [Columbia] has taken this international, interagency, private/public approach, comprehensively bringing all those things together.
Q: Do you think the people of Afghanistan are ready for these changes?
Adm. Stavridis: I think that every society will have its own way of approaching things, but look at the numbers. In Afghanistan, eight years ago there were effectively zero cell phones, today there are 9 million cell phones in Afghanistan. This country is going to skip brick and mortar banking, it is going to go from paper and coins handed out at the pay line directly to electronic transfer via cell phone.
Right now Iraqi forces are paid through a cell phone. It cuts corruption, it permits instantaneous transfers, and it obviates the need to build brick and mortar banks.
I can give you many more examples of Afghanis who are willing to reach out. There is this mythology that they are people that live in remote villages, and they don’t want to enter the 21st century, but that hasn’t been my experience.
I find the Afghanis to be hungry for education and hungry for technology. They want a better life for their children, the way we all do.
Adm. Stavridis and EUCOM can be found on LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Delicious and www.eucom.mil.