A Word from the Chairman: Shift to a Global Perspective

By Myers, Richard B. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

A Word from the Chairman: Shift to a Global Perspective


Myers, Richard B., Air & Space Power Journal


In ancient India, six blind men encountered an elephant for the first time and quickly began to squabble about the nature of elephants.

The first blind man bumped into the elephant's side and declared that the beast was like a wall.

The second, discovering the ear, concluded it was like a fan.

The third blind man came across the tail and thought the elephant to be very much like a rope.

The fourth, encountering the elephant's leg, was sure the animal resembled a tree.

Finding the tusk, the fifth blind man proclaimed the elephant to be like a spear.

And the sixth, grasping the elephant's trunk, concluded the giant pachyderm most resembled a snake.

WE ALL KNOW from the ancient Oriental story of the six blind men and the elephant that how we perceive something determines our understanding of it and, by implication, our response to it. With that in mind, the US military must shift from a regional to a global view of our security environment in order to better understand and respond. In the past, America's security needs were served adequately by having its uniformed leaders in Washington maintain the global vision, while the majority of US military organizations maintained a regional or functional focus. However, to provide effectively for the nation's defense in the twenty-first century, we must all come to understand and appreciate the global perspective. Examining trends in the global-security environment and the ways in which the US military has organized to deal with past challenges provides the foundation for understanding the implications for America's armed forces today, as we transform our military into one that is ready to effectively provide missile defense, information operations (IO), space operations, and other capabilities that do not respect our traditional regional boundaries.

Trends in the Global-Security Environment

During the last decade of the twentieth century, we witnessed dramatic shifts in the global-security environment. Revolutionary technological advances and monumental political changes rendered our world safer in some ways, though less predictable and arguably less stable. While students of international affairs debated the broader meaning and impact of globalization, defense professionals worked to understand the security implications of these global trends.

Technological changes since 1990 have occurred at an extraordinary pace. Consider for a moment where you were and what you were doing as the Berlin Wall came down. How many people at that time owned a cellular phone or a personal computer, had logged onto the Internet, or knew what a global positioning satellite system was? Whereas television news coverage of the Vietnam War took 36 to 48 hours to reach American viewers, stories of the Gulf War were broadcast around the world instantaneously. During the Gulf War, Cable News Network was unique in providing continuous coverage of global news. Now, several major networks in the United States cover global events as they happen-24 hours a day, 365 days a year-not to mention the variety of international news programs produced and broadcast by foreign broadcast corporations. Al-Jazeera provides programming that shapes perceptions of the United States in much of the Arabic-speaking world. Imagery satellites capable of better than one-meter resolution were at one time the sole purview of superpowers but are now operated by companies in the United States and Europe for the benefit of whoever is willing to pay for the images. In August 2002, commercial-satellite images of airfields in the Horn of Africa were broadcast around the world, allegedly showing potential staging areas for attacks against Iraq. For those who missed the news, the satellite photographs were available on the Internet.

Political changes in the 1990s were no less staggering. As a fighter pilot, I spent the first 25 years of my Air Force career studying Soviet fighter aircraft that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would have to confront in deadly combat if the Cold War ever heated up. …

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