Mitt Romney’s recent revelation that a nuclear Iran — not Russia — is the United States’ “number one national security threat,” got me thinking…first of all, if the former governor makes it all the way to the Oval Office, his stacking chart of security priorities is in desperate need of a revamp. And secondly, why do we cling, endlessly, to the antiquated notion of threats, as posed by states?
Ages ago, I compiled a list of the top ten state threats to American interests, both at home and abroad. In hindsight, it was a silly, pedantic exercise that ignored a simple reality: states, themselves, no longer pose the primary security threat to this country. Foreign governments will sponsor terror organizations, mobilize militant clients, or project their power through proxies. But focusing our attention squarely on state actors flouts those forces most willing and able to do us harm.
It’s no secret why Romney said what he did. The tough-talking campaign tour hit the road fueled on political diatribe to win Jewish voters in swing states like Florida and secure a Christian evangelical base that remains cool to his candidacy. To his campaign’s credit, once he quit London, Romney said all the right things for all the right people.
As I’ve written before, if we’re being honest, there isn’t much separating Romney’s foreign policy platform from President Obama’s plan-in-action — invectives aimed at Russia and Iran, aside. Over at Real Clear Politics, Calvin Woodward does a nice job breaking down the relevant differences, minute as they may be. But his list speaks to the question I posed from the jump…why stick to states when we’ve got all sorts of new threats to respond to?
For the record, I think we can safely agree that the principal danger facing the United States is radicalized, or militant, Islamic terrorism. Recognizing that’s a terrifically imprecise heading for a vastly divergent security menace, I do digress…
Moving forward in this campaign — in an election year that won’t emphasize foreign policy — I think it’s important that both candidates remember that states’ monopoly on the use of force has been reduced to a well-worn archaism. If I were to re-compile a list of actual security threats to American interests, I’d make a couple adjustments.
Our economic security is constantly threatened by foreign governments and multinationals which infiltrate America’s tech networks to steal trade secrets and erode homegrown comparative advantage. Organizations such as Anonymous and Wikileaks have published vast troves of U.S. diplomatic papers that exposed America’s complicity with corrupt regimes and troubling information about the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. These exposures helped stir the false dawn of Arab Spring that toppled tyrants and fell pharaohs.
But not all threats are quite so ethereal.
Shortly after publication of the 2010 National Security Strategy, President Obama rebuked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her suggestion that the narco-violence had reached a level of “insurgency.” His unwillingness to accept the physical proximity of this increasingly ominous security crisis on our border suggests an inability to compose an immediate, comprehensive plan to avoid the failure of our neighbor and ally to the south. The discussion of Mexico’s security should leave all options on the table lest we wind up with a failed state parading as a narco-republic on our southern border.
Moreover, if the strength of our Union depends upon economic institutions as the “bedrock of sustainable national growth, prosperity and influence,” it seems odd that neither the president nor Romney has seriously emphasized the national security implications of a debt that tops out at $15 trillion.
More to follow on this topic of multivariate security threats that don’t come in “state” shapes and sizes…