General Cartwright Q&A: Cyber, Middle East, and Nuclear

We were honored to receive General James Cartwright at DCFR this month. Recently, appointed a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, he will divide his time on cybersecurity issues and the rivalry between the United States and China. General Cartwright is known to be one of the most tech-savvy leaders to have served at the Pentagon. He is widely respected as one of the boldest and most creative thinkers of his generation of American military leaders. The following brief dialogue occurred October 10th: 

Jennifer Warren: Regarding cyber security, what is the threat that we need to be planning for?

James Cartwright:  First the threat we face today falls into two classes.  The first is characterized as mischief and criminal.  Passive defenses, such as firewalls and virus protection, are used to defend our personal and commercial interests.  When that is insufficient, law enforcement is the appropriate authority to pursue violators.  The second threat set is characterized as acts of aggression and/or war.  The Department of Defense is generally used to address these threats.

Today there is no bright line defining when mischief and criminal acts rise to the level of aggression.  As a nation, in other venues we try to clearly separate those acts that are criminal from those that are aggression.  We should continue to layer our defenses so that the skills and resources necessary to attack our critical national interests cannot be obtained by less than a nation state.

JW:  What would some of the components of a grand China strategy be?

JC:  Historically, when a rising power and an established power collide the rising power eventually defeats the established power in battle.  The question for any grand strategy the U.S. may pursue, can it change the historical precedent.  Some of the elements a U.S. grand strategy should consider:

  • Avoidance of a containment strategy;
  • Avoidance of allowing treaties with third parties to drag the U.S. into conflict for the wrong reasons;
  • Avoidance of demonizing China for competition that is better handled by soft power tools;
  • Increasing economic interactions;
  • Increasing cultural interactions;
  • Increasing education interactions; and
  • Increasing partnered, global, humanitarian assistance operations.

JW:  In the Middle East, and given the unconventional warfare tactics inherent there, what concerns you most?

JC:  The underlying problems of male-distribution of resources, governments not addressing the needs of their people, ungoverned spaces and governments not accountable to their people, continue to drive conflict and breed extremist ideologies.  Solutions to these conflicts and extremist groups are likely to persist for several years into the foreseeable future.  Of these conflicts and threats, the one that is most dangerous is the possible nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

JW:  How long do you think it will take to make real progress on nuclear threats and proliferation?

JC:  To make progress in reducing the role of nuclear weapons we should move to change our cold war deterrence constructs of mutual assured destruction to strategic stability. The following three actions are recommended:

  • The U.S. and Russia should reduce their nuclear weapon inventories below 1,000 total weapons each.
  • Arms control should be approached on a multilateral basis versus a bilateral basis.
  • Increase soft power deterrence tools, and move defensive capabilities to alert with offensive capabilities requiring specific generation times.

General James E. Cartwright is the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Cartwright served as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, before being nominated and appointed the eighth vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s second-highest military officer.




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