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Lauded admiral says U.S. needs a military cyber force to fight espionage

Frances Hohl / Steamboat Pilot & Today
Admiral Jim Stavridis
Courtesy Photo

One of America’s greatest modern military minds told an online Steamboat Springs audience Monday that the U.S. needs to develop a cyber force as another military branch.

The heavily decorated, retired 4-star Admiral Jim Stavridis served as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first — and led the Navy’s premier operational think tank, Deep Blue, immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

“I assure you Russia has a cyber force — and China, Iran and North Korea … it’s time for us to create a cyber force,” Stavridis said.

He actually made the suggestion in an aside after questioned about the Trump administration’s creation of a Space Force. He also said the Space Force was a natural and necessary progression of American military innovation.

Stavridis, a prolific military writer as well, was the third speaker at this year’s Seminars at Steamboat, a non-partisan nonprofit that hosts some of America’s greatest public policy experts for lively discussions that are normally held at the Strings Music Pavilion. Due to COVID-19, this year’s speakers series is virtual.

His talk was entitled “Leadership and Geopolitics in the Time of Coronavirus.”

Stavridis said China has used the Trump administration’s bungling of the novel coronavirus pandemic to amp up its cyber activity to “conduct the theft of intellectual property and to find secrets our nation holds most dear.”

“They conquered COVID rapidly, and their geopolitical stock and aggressive behavior is rising,” Stavridis said.

His comment came just days after the U.S. demanded China close its consulate in Houston after accusing China of major espionage at the Texas location.

Stavridis warned that isolating America by breaking treaties and trade agreements is giving China the upper hand in countries that should be America’s natural trade allies.

“I worry about repeating the history of the 1920s and ’30s,” said the admiral, when the U.S. isolated and created trade tariffs. “We cracked the global economy, which led to the rise of fascism.”

However, he did say a recent speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shows that the current administration is well aware of the danger imposed by China’s overall economic and military strategy. He cited China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

“Here’s why they want it,” Stavridis said. “It’s full of billions of barrels of oil on the sea bed as well as natural gas, and 40% of the world’s shipping passes through these waters. That’s why they want to claim it in its entirety.”

Stavridis told the audience not to worry too much about entities like NATO and the European Union, which have been marginalized by Trump’s rhetoric. He said the EU is coming back stronger after Great Britain’s exit and that NATO is still a key part of keeping the world safe.

He said future diplomacy should have the Europeans working specifically on integrating Russia into the West while the United States should be dealing with China. He added that both the EU and the U.S. need to work on pulling India toward Western ideas.

Stavridis admits Russia is a difficult entity, calling leadership there a roll of the “cosmic dice” whether it’s Peter the Great, Stalin or Gorbachev.

“Those dice have landed on Putin, a KGB operative who truly, deeply, madly hates the USA — that’s not going to change,” Stavridis said. “Putin is no friend to the U.S., and I do not understand why Trump talks about Putin in positive ways but speaks negatively about Angela Merkel (the German chancellor).”

As the speaker’s topic covered leadership and geopolitics, Stavridis went through a list of world leaders, both political and philanthropic, and cited Merkel as the leader who embodies the best leadership skills. He called her the FDR of Germany, referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who dealt with the aftermath of a pandemic, a depression and a world war.

Stavridis’ latest book on great admirals throughout the ages, “Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character,” can be found in bookstores and online.

Visit seminarsatsteamboat.org for more information on Seminars at Steamboat and upcoming speakers.


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