Mullen links fragile states to national security, war on terror

Michelle Stein Contributor
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Fragile or failing states are a threat that will require more than military assistance, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said Wednesday, citing Yemen as “the potential next place for al-Qaida central.”

“I think we’re all focused on failed states,” Mullen said at the launch of the Fund for Peace’s 2011 Failed States Index. The index ranks 177 countries on their stability, including a state’s ability to provide goods and services to its people. Somalia topped the list of failed states for the fourth year in a row, while Finland was ranked as the most sustainable country.

Mullen focused on Yemen, where he said the threat from al-Qaida was growing as the organization had “taken full advantage of the chaos that has been in country.”

“For several years I have worried a great deal about Yemen really as the potential next place for al-Qaida central, and it is becoming that very rapidly,” he said.

Although the leadership of the group is not in Yemen, Mullen said, the group has taken root in the country. Mullen said he has talked with President Barack Obama about the nonmilitary investments in Yemen and how to “make a difference” in the country.

The admiral emphasized the uncertainty surrounding fragile states and disasters that can put pressure on them, using Libya and Japan as examples. (Obama unveils new counterterrorism strategy)

“We cannot control outcomes anymore,” Mullen said. “We’re not living in a world where that would be the case.”

The U.S. role in finding solutions will have to come from non-government organizations working with government agencies, he said.

“We are still the Pentagon, and we are still bureaucratic … We are not easy to work with, I understand that,” Mullen said. “But work with others we must.”

During the National Press Club event, Mullen was questions on how to protect NGO staffers if it looks like there are cooperating with the U.S. military.

Mullen responded that aggressive leadership within the military should begin discussing these types of problems with nongovernmental organizations before any mission begins.

Retired Col. John Agoglia, who headed counterinsurgency training in Afghanistan for several years and now is a senior executive at a defense consulting firm, praised Mullen’s ideas for military recognition of nongovernmental organizations. (North Korea assumes presidency of U.N. arms control conference)

“The idea of the military working with nongovernmental organizations is a daily fact. It occurs,” Agoglia said. “Both sides need to take their blinders off.”

Mullen ended with a word of caution against growing isolationism, urging continuing investment in fragile states despite the mounting debt.

“History is replete with examples of when we isolate ourselves,” Mullen said, “It just generates another big war which is what we don’t need.”