New security strategy for new threats

This article is an excerpt from 'New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century.' Released Sept. 15, it is the first of three reports by the US Commission on National Security, co-chaired by former US Senators Gary Hart, a Democrat, and Warren Rudman, a Republican. The full text of this report can be found on the commission's Web site,

In many respects, the world ahead seems amenable to basic American interests and values. A world pried open by the information revolution is a world less hospitable to tyranny and more friendly to human liberty. A more prosperous world is, on balance, a world more conducive to democracy and less tolerant of fatalism and the dour dogmas that often attend it. A less socially rigid, freer, and self-regulating world also accords with our deepest political beliefs and our central political metaphors - the checks and balances of our Constitution, the "invisible hand" of the market, our social creed of E Pluribus Unum, and the concept of federalism itself.

Nevertheless, a world amenable to our interests and values will not come into being by itself. Much of the world will resent and oppose us, if not for the simple fact of our preeminence, then for the fact that others often perceive the United States as exercising its power with arrogance and self-absorption. There will also be much apprehension and confusion as the world changes. National leaderships will have their hands full, and some will make mistakes.

As a result, for many years to come Americans will become increasingly less secure, and much less secure than they now believe themselves to be. That is because many of the threats emerging in our future will differ significantly from those of the past, not only in their physical but also in their psychological effects.

While conventional conflicts will still be possible, the most serious threat to our security may consist of unannounced attacks on American cities by sub-national groups [such as drug cartels, cults, or criminal gangs] using genetically engineered pathogens. Another may be a well-planned cyber-attack on the air traffic control system on the East Coast of the US, as some 200 commercial aircraft are trying to land safely in a morning's rain and fog. Other threats may inhere in assaults against an increasingly integrated and complex, but highly vulnerable, international economic infrastructure whose operation lies beyond the control of any single body. Threats may also loom from an unraveling of the fabric of national identity itself, and the consequent failure or collapse of several major countries.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that threats to American security will be more diffuse, harder to anticipate, and more difficult to neutralize than ever before. Deterrence will not work as it once did; in many cases it may not work at all. There will be a blurring of boundaries: between homeland defense and foreign policy; between sovereign states and a plethora of protectorates and autonomous zones; between the pull of national loyalties on individual citizens and the pull of loyalties both more local and more global in nature.

While the likelihood of major conflicts between powerful states will decrease, conflict itself will likely increase.

The world that lies in store for us over the next 25 years will surely challenge our received wisdom about how to protect American interests and advance American values.

In such an environment the US needs a sure understanding of its objectives, and a coherent strategy to deal with both the dangers and the opportunities ahead.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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