Former CIA and NSA Director, General Michael Hayden, Discusses Shifts in Global Security

By: Tiffany Classie L. Williams, Reporter

Photo Credit: Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) kicked-off the first of its Rethinking Seminar Series on Thursday, September 28, 2017 with retired US Air Force General Michael Hayden as the featured speaker. This year’s series, entitled “Rethinking Future Environments and Strategic Challenges,” is sure to provide relevant insights to individuals interested or already working in the intelligence and security communities. Addressing a full audience, General Hayden, who also served as the former director of the National Security Agency and also the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, did exactly that in the first of three seminars that JHU/APL will be hosting this fall.

General Hayden prefaced his remarks with an acknowledgement that the he had “never seen [the world] more complicated.” According to General Hayden, the actions of individuals like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin complicate the world and make it an increasingly uncertain place. He argued that five tectonic shifts in the United States and the world have major implications on America’s future security.

The first tectonic shift that General Hayden identified was “the changing power of states and the nature of power.” The General argued that nation-states and hard power play less of a role on the world stage than in the past. Instead, sub-state actors and even individuals can now have a great impact on what happens in the world and to the United States and its interests. Furthermore, General Hayden described how connectivity has contributed to the changing power of state as actors in the global theater. Now, ideas can be communicated, goods can be bought and sold, and infrastructure can be attacked with just the stroke of a few keys.

Another shift that General Hayden discussed was that certain factors that seemed to be permanent in the past have proven not to be so in the present. For example, the general posited that the post-World War I world order, partially created by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, has “melt[ed] down.” In the wake of various upheavals, countries such as Syria have just become “entities” rather than remaining solid nation-states. He also discussed the collapse of certain principles established by the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), such as the meaning of citizenship, states, and governments—the implications of which are still unfolding.

Later, General Hayden offered his assessment on the challenges the United States faces with countries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea. He argued that Russia is a revanchist rather than a resurgent power. With regards to Iran and the JCPOA, General Hayden stated that he was not in favor of throwing the agreement away. Moreover, he predicted that North Korea would never give up its weapons. After making each of these assessments, the General noted how each development might impact the approach that the United States could take towards each country.

Next, General Hayden addressed the rise of China. In his view, China is not an enemy of the United States. Instead, General Hayden expressed his view of China being a competitor to the United States. Despite the size of its economy and population, China, he noted, has its own challenges, such as an aging population and the maldistribution of wealth.

For the final shift, General Hayden hit close to home. He argued that America, itself, is changing, and some of those changes are affecting the global environment. The current administration, he argued, is a bit unconstrained.

During the question and answer session that immediately followed his speech, however, General Hayden did offer words of wisdom for those who work in advisory intelligence and security positions to presidents. General Hayden stressed the importance of “knowing your client.” For example, he observed that President Trump is a man of action rather than a man of great reflection. Consequently, if he was in an advisory position to the current president, General Hayden would present information in such a way to encourage more reflection before action. He contrasted President Trump with former President Obama who was more reflective in nature. For the latter, General Hayden said that he would provide information to him in a way that conveyed a sense of urgency. Overall, the General’s presentation offered a realistic, yet hopeful look at the current challenges to global security brought about by fundamental shifts in both the national and international environments. The seminar closed with General Hayden greeting guests and signing autographs for his recently published book, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.

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