By Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 28, 2007 - The National Guard is making a vital contribution to current wars and will continue to be integral as the U.S. military enter a period of persistent conflict, the Army chief of staff said here Aug. 26. With the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks fast approaching, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. counseled citizen-soldiers and -airmen to reflect on the future.
"We are at war. We are facing a period of protracted conflict. ... Stop for a minute and think about what's at stake here," he urged those attending the National Guard Association of the United States' 129th General Conference. "What's at stake here in this war is the power and the values of our civilization.
"What's at stake here is whether terrorism or freedom charts the future.
"What's at stake here is nothing less than our way of life."
As they have been since the First Muster of 1636, the nation's Minutemen are on the front lines. "The men and women of the Army and Air Guard are out there every day ... fighting to ensure that the values and ideals upon which this country is based aren't forgotten," Casey said.
The comments came during an hour-long speech and question-and-answer session that included a sobering global geopolitical assessment.
"There (is) near unanimity among people who think about the future -- intelligence officials, academics, think tanks, people within the Department of Defense -- that the next decades will be ones of persistent conflict," Casey said. "We're in for a protracted period of confrontation that is fueled by state and non-state individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their political and ideological bents.
"We're seeing that now, and there is no reason to believe that that is not going to continue."
Several trends are fueling conflict, he said. These include:
-- Globalization. "Globalization has had unquestionable positive impacts on prosperity around the world," Casey said. "Unfortunately, most of that has been north of the equator. The people that are not beneficiaries of the increased prosperity can become recruits for some of these ideological groups or terrorist networks."
-- Improved communications. "The same connectivity and technological advances that are boosting prosperity also now are being used by terrorist organizations to export terror around the world," Casey said.
-- Increased energy demand. "The competition for energy is going to become more intense," Casey said. "Because of rising middle classes in China and India, for example, the demand for oil is going to outstrip the supply and the resources that are currently being dedicated to look for new (deposits) and to look for alternatives aren't going to be able to bridge the gap. We're going to see increased competition for these different resources and probably also a switch to cleaner fuels like a move to natural gas. Almost 60 percent of natural gas reserves happen to be in three places: Russia, Iran and Qatar. ... What we're going to see is probably more dependence on the Middle East."
-- Disasters. "Climate problems and natural disasters are going to create more difficult problems for the less-developed countries," Casey said.
-- Population growth. "Analysts are predicting that some of these less-developed countries -- primarily South America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia -- are going to almost double in population in the next 25 years," he said. "That's going to create a young population that, again, is more vulnerable to ideological terrorists."
-- Weapons proliferation. "The increased proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their likely use by terrorist organizations" are looming threats, Casey said. "Recent intelligence estimates conclude that al Qaeda is looking for weapons of mass destruction, and there is no question that they will use them, most likely against a developed country, if they find them."
"What I see in the coming decades: You have a propensity for conflict that will be fueled by these local trends, and they'll likely be taken advantage of by these global terrorist organizations," Casey said.
Previously commander of Multinational Force Iraq, Casey has been the Army chief of staff since April 10. "How proud I am of the contribution of the National Guard to this war on terror over the past almost six years," he said, repeatedly emphasizing his gratitude to both the Army and the Air National Guard.
"I've seen firsthand the contributions. ... (The National Guard) performed extremely well. ... Half of the Guard and Reserve are combat veterans. ... You continue to fill the role of citizen, soldier and patriot: citizens most of the time, soldiers some of the time, and patriots all the time," he added.
"What will victory look like?" an audience member asked.
"Unfortunately, there is not going to be a D-Day invasion," Casey replied. "This is an ideological confrontation. Frankly, it's not going to be won until Muslim moderates achieve success over Muslim extremists. Our job is to keep Muslim extremist groups from prevailing in the Middle East as well as from attacking our country.
"It's not going to be a big battle; it's going to be an ideological struggle that's going to play out over the next several decades, not unlike the Cold War. It'll be something that'll gradually, over time, get better. But I can't see that you're going to wake up one morning and say, 'Boy, I'm glad that's over.' That's not going to be the case at all."
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)