The world is a dangerous place. Many of us thought that after the Berlin Wall came down and Russia imploded that we could live in peace and security. That lasted less than 10 years, and then the World Trade Center was brought down. We are currently at war with terrorists, but there are greater threats to our way of life looming on the horizon. This month’s column deals with two of them.
The news is replete with stories about hackers, ransomware, cybercrime and government-sponsored cyber espionage on our military and industry. These are troublesome problems that must be dealt with, but they are not existential threats. Cyberwar, on the other hand, is. The book Sandworm by Andy Greenberg gives the world our first insight into the threat that cyberwarfare poses. Sandworm is the name given to a hacking tool developed by the Russian military, used to shut down Ukraine’s electrical grid during Russia’s incursion into the Crimea and subsequent push into Ukraine. In that case, they merely shut down generators. These tools can also be used to destroy generators. A similar attack on the United States could conceivably knock out our electrical system for a year, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people and destroying our country.
No country in the world is safe from this threat, because geography does not insulate anyone from attack. The biggest problem with a cyber tool is that once it is used, others can reverse-engineer it and then adapt it to use it for their own purposes. This means that a terrorist can attack anywhere in the world. Cyber warfare is also an asymmetric weapon, capable of rendering tanks, warships, missiles, etc., useless. A friend of mine, Sir George Buckley, has a favorite saying: “God is generally on the side of the largest army.” That is no longer the case. God may soon be on the side of the country with the best cyber warfare tools. This book is a wake-up call to all of us. Read it and share it with your friends and legislators.
The Hundred-Year Marathon, China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower by Michael Pillsbury reveals another, less immediate threat to our way of life. He writes that since 1949, with the ascension of Mao to control of China, there has been a hidden plan to overtake the United States as the global superpower by 2049. Lee Kuan Yew, one of the wisest leaders of the last century, was asked if he thought China wants to become the world’s only hegemon. Yew was the prime minister and founder of modern Singapore, and lived in China’s neighborhood, so he had a keen interest in China’s intentions. His instant reply was, “Of course, why wouldn’t they?”
Pillsbury outlines China’s strategy to appear as a non-threatening country just trying to improve its citizens’ lives and move toward democracy. He, like most people, once believed this fairy tale. The last decade has revealed a very different reality – China’s determined move toward totalitarianism evidenced by the crackdown on Hong Kong, total censorship of the media and internet and the suppression of any dissent. China has started to flex its muscles and will become more aggressive in the future as its economy continues to grow. Two years ago, I had lunch with a prominent Saudi businessman. He described a number of foreign policy mistakes our country has made in the Middle East, most of which I agreed on. I asked him, “I know America makes many mistakes. Would you rather live in a world with America in it or one without it?” He immediately responded, “With America. I fear what would happen in a world without America in it.” So do I.
We now have a new administration in Washington confronted with many problems; our fear should be that they get so mired down with problems that do not rise to the existential level, that they ignore the ones that do. The threat of cyberwarfare and the rise of China must command the attention of every legislator in Washington. Read these two books so you can discern how well we are being served by the people we elected. Ignore the rhetoric and watch their actions closely to ensure that they are doing what is necessary to preserve our freedom and way of life.
RALPH STAYER, an avid reader and former CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, leads a book club in Naples with about a dozen other high-power friends. The group only reads non-fic- tion as a way to keep learning and sharpening the mind. Every month, Stayer shares the latest page-turners earning a permanent spot on his ever-expanding bookshelves.