In an online talk scheduled for next Wednesday evening, nationally known defense expert John Arquilla will discuss the rise of pandemics and climate change among issues that now must be considered in a rapidly evolving U.S. national security picture.
Arquilla, a distinguished professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, will give his talk against a backdrop of increasing military challenges to the U.S. from China and Russia. The event was originally scheduled to take place before a live audience in March as part of the Rae Dorough Speaker Series at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater.
For years, he argued that the American military should move away from large, expensive defense platforms, like aircraft carriers, to focus on smaller, more nimble forces.
That is one of the themes he will pursue in his talk next week, he said in an interview last week. He also believes “we have to take a broader view of national security” given the current impact of the coronavirus pandemic and long-term changes generated by a warming climate.
Today’s pandemic is only one of several to occur in recent decades as “major diseases moved from the animal world to human beings,” he said.
As examples, he cited AIDS and two other coronavirus epidemics, MERS (middle eastern respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acquired respiratory syndrome.)
“Securing the country against pandemic spread needs to be taken far more seriously,” he said.
As for climate change, he indicated the warming of the earth is having a significant impact on international rivalries. Above the Arctic Circle, for example, oceans whose ice cover has melted are now navigable, “creating a new competition for sovereignty and resources. That has strategic implications as well.”
At the same time, his talk will also consider “traditional issues” of national security.
“We are spending $2 billion every day on American defense,” Arquilla said. “How do we know we are spending it well?”
He questions the value of investing $1 trillion on development and operation of a new, piloted fighter plane at a time when it can be outperformed by robotic and remotely piloted aircraft.
Similarly, he has been critical of spending tens of billions of dollars on new aircraft carriers when “hypersonic missiles are holding aircraft carriers at tremendous risk.”
He notes Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 caution about a “military-industrial complex,” an informal alliance between the military and its industrial suppliers that Eisenhower foresaw as a vested interest influencing public policy.
Arquilla worries that military spending today may be directed toward “a small number of defense contractors who are highly dependent on these old systems that they want to keep making … fighter aircraft for pilots and aircraft carriers (and) main battle tanks at a time when these systems may be becoming obsolete.”
At the strategic level, he questions some of the U.S. decisions to intervene in other countries.
“That has proved over the past two decades to be exceptionally costly and largely ruinous for the countries in which we have intervened,” he continued.
He cites Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen as examples.
In Yemen, he said, “We supported Saudi intervention … which has turned that very sad land into the world’s charnel house.”
He further stated that the U.S. needs to exercise “much greater prudence” in overseas commitments.
“We need to take a strategic appetite suppressant when it comes to interventions,” Arquilla said.
Arquilla is the author of several books including “From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient and Modern Times”; “Worst Enemy”; and “Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits.” His latest book is “Why the Axis Lost; An Analysis of Strategic Errors.
He was a consultant to senior military commanders during Operation Desert Storm and the Kosovo War. In 2011, he served on a small team working directly for President Obama whose task was to find “new directions for American defense.”
He is the author of more than 100 articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs, appearing in academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Foreign Policy Magazine and Atlantic Monthly.
His talk is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22. It is sponsored by Quest Science Center 2.0, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, Towne Center Books and other local organizations.
The Rae Dorough Speaker Series is requesting a $10 donation from participants. Sign up at https://livermorearts.org/events/list/ or call the Bankhead Theater box office at 925-373-6800.