Admiral Olson Outlines Future Challenges

| Dec. 02, 2013

In a presentation entitled “The World At Night: Rethinking America’s Military Strategy,” Admiral Eric Olson (Ret.) set out a panoply of foreign policy challenges that will challenge US strategic thinking about security policy in the future. Following a reflection on his career and service, beginning with joining the Navy SEALS after he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1973, through some of the most difficult missions – including in Mogadishu and in Desert Storm - to becoming the eighth Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), he highlighted the evolution of US strategy and the operational lessons gained from a number of these interventions.


“We as a nation didn’t adjust to the fall of the Berlin Wall in a way we should have because our military stayed in a Cold War mentality,” he said describing major shifts in planning and executing military interventions recently. “The world was being reconstructed and we – as the military – didn’t truly realize it until the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.” With successive engagements abroad, US forces are increasingly adept at the integration of capabilities and at better leveraging different force capabilities. He noted “sometimes the shot you don’t take is the most important shot of all,” while illustrating the importance of integrating intelligence with military operations and highlighted the lasting impact the “attachment” of women into the SEALs had for recent operations, including in Afghanistan.


Admiral Olson projected a map of the world at night, noting that during the Cold War the primary strategic focus of US military planning had been on the places that were illuminated at night, namely highly developed urban centers in places like Europe. The end of the Cold War, the advent of non-state actors and terrorist insurgencies along with a rise of new technologies has meant that American strategic planners have had to reorient profoundly: More important than the illuminated parts of the globe were those that remained in darkness. He cited rapid urbanization, rising local and regional conflicts around major resources (water, minerals), state violence and repression, trafficking in humans, global warming, pandemics and consequences of possible biological weaponry, IT criminality (including cyber attacks) and proxy warfare to illustrate the panoply of security challenges that must factor into strategic planning within the Department of Defense and in the individual arms of the US military apparatus. What is needed, he suggested, is a greater emphasis on the prevention of warfare through a more holistic understanding of national security that better integrates military and diplomatic actions and initiatives.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation: Clüver Ashbrook, Cathryn. “Admiral Olson Outlines Future Challenges.” , December 2, 2013.

The Author