Those were the thoughts of retired four-star Gen. B.B. Bell. Bell spoke Tuesday to Berry College students and staff about elements of America’s defense strategy in the modern era.
He drew from a report published by the Stimson Center — a think-tank devoted to global peace and security — that argues the first question is, what is worth fighting for?
According to the report, the first criteria should be to protect the U.S. homeland from foreign enemies. A nuclear missile attack from North Korea or Iran was at the top of the report’s list of potential threats. In second place: Terrorists armed with unconventional weapons.
“That’s al-Qaida,” Bell said. “That’s the radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist problem that America faces in the world.”
That issue becomes intertwined in politics very quickly, he said.
“The facts are, there is a movement in the world that doesn’t like you and almost exclusively that movement includes radical Islamic terrorist who want to do you harm,” Bell said.
The third major threat involves the threat of cyber attacks against government or civilian targets.
“You know the economic systems that we have in the world all run on the power of cyberspace,” Bell said. “But what about your bank? I don’t protect your bank in the military.”
A major attack on the banking system could cause an immediate collapse of the American economy, he said.
Another issue that involves U.S. forces is the protection of U.S. allies. Bell cited treaties with NATO nations around the globe and individual treaties with Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the Philippines.
“If North Korea attacks South Korea, we’re going to war,” Bell said.
He also said the U.S. has an obligation to protect Israel and Saudi Arabia, even though there are not specific treaties with those nations.
The third criteria for American military action overseas would be to ensure freedom of the seas, free exploration and exploitation of the seabed resources, outer space and cyberspace.
“If you wanted to interrupt cyberspace in the cloud, the cloud is no longer just the computer in America,” he said. “It’s computers all over the world.”
Bell also listed a couple of items that he said might not be worth fighting for — including intervening in intra-state conflicts to protect that nation’s citizens or trying to stabilize governance in a nation to pre-empt the emergence of new threats to U.S. interests.
“We went into Afghanistan for all the right reasons, big time,” Bell said. “The next thing you know, we were into counter-insurgency fighting. The Taliban, as nasty as they are, have never hurt a single American on our turf so it doesn’t equate to vital national interest. When the mission begins to change, we have to be smart enough to say we’re not doing it.”
Asked by a student if the U.S. could win the war in Afghanistan, Bell said yes — if the mission is defined as a counter-terrorist strategy to defeat the enemies before they attack America,
“The answer is, we’ll not only win in Afghanistan, we’ll win the war against terrorism,” Bell said. “Your nation has to go where terrorists are plotting against us and kill them, wherever they are, I don’t care. We can actually do that.”