Monday, May 13, 2019

Threat Scorecard--Can't Tell Your Threats Without a Program

The desperate effort to make Iran the bogeyman has got me thinking.

What are the threats facing the US?  What are the most worrisome, the ones most likely to do both significant and lasting damage?  Which ones are, dare I say it, existential?  Focusing on international threats (which lets me dodge naming Trump an existential threat to the US and mostly let's me dodge the related threat of white supremacy), here's the list as I see it from my hotel room in Berlin before I give a talk this afternoon on my civ-mil project:
1.  Climate change.  Yeah, I named a dynamic, not a country, as climate change is going to make a big dent on the US in ways that we are only now starting to appreciate.

2.  Russia.  Close call, but a declining and desperate Russia that is willing to subvert US elections (and British and French and etc) is a greater threat than China.  China's damage is potential, Russia's harm is ongoing.  That Russia's future is kind of bleak does not make Russia less threatening--the prospect of loss is far more likely to lead to risk acceptance, gambling, and bad stuff.  Just as Dany.  Ok, ask Daniel and Amos

3.  China has more power, other than numbers of nukes, than Russia, and straddles more important territory--South China Sea.  It has been taking the gloves off of its rise, as seen by its reaction to the Huawei executive being arrested in Canada for extradition to the US.  China has been playing the long game while Russia has been gambling every day.  China is surely going to be more successful and pose risks to the US down the road.  Right now, it is just a trade war and some island disputes.  It will be more than that although I am not so concerned about China in the Arctic.  There are much more immediate problems (Taiwan, Koreas, South China Sea).

4.  Speaking of the Koreas, North Korea is a significant threat.  Unlike Iran, North Korea has nuclear weapons and missiles and is a personalist dictatorship--which means few constraints on the leader.   The frustrating thing about Iran is that Trump seems determined into making Iran like North Korea by dumping the deal.  Of course, North Korea was scarier last year because Trump was amping things up.

5.  ISIS/Al Qaeda/etc.  These organizations can inspire and sometimes organize terrorist attacks.  Uncontested, ISIS did a great deal of damage.

6.  Saudi Arabia.  Yeah, more than Iran.  Why?  Because the Saudis have more influence and allies.  Most folks in the Mideast are worried about Iran and are not its friends, so Iran has to sink resources into Syria.  The Saudis can continue to promote extremism (how many 9/11 attackers were from Iran?  from Saudi Arabia?).  The Saudis have and want to continue to suck the US into wars it should not be fighting.  Yeah, Iran supports terrorism, but so does Saudi Arabia.  I would say that the one way in which Iran is a greater threat is its nuclear weapons program, but the Trump folks seem determined to have the Saudis catch up.

7.  Iran.  Twas a manageable threat with the deal in place.  Yes, Iran supports terrorism, Iran supports Assad, Iran is a pain in the ass.  But not an existential threat to the US.  If the Israelis think Iran is an existential threat, well, that is why they have nuclear weapons.  No country has attacked Israel since 1973--I don't count Hamas or Hezbollah as countries, despite their efforts to become countries.  Note the Israeli Foreign Ministry does list the 1990-91 war as well

8.  Syria.  Mostly by creating waves of refugees that undermine our allies.

What other countries threaten the US?  I am sure some folks would like to list Venezuela, but that is stretching the concept of threat.  What harm can Venezuela do to the US?  Exactly.  Cuba? Same thing.  I am sure other places/movements can be mentioned, but do any outrank any of these?  Let me know if you think I am wrong.  I woke up early here in Berlin so I could watch Game of Thrones unspoiled, so I may not be remembering all of the threats.

To be clear, the US is still the most powerful country on the planet, it is far more resilient than its politicians think (hey, we shake off our kids getting killed by spree shooters all the time), it is still far away from adversaries and most crisis zones.  Immigration is not a threat but an opportunity.  Mostly, the greatest threats to the US are Americans--Trump and his coterie, white supremacists, etc.  In a recent episode of Game of Thrones, after defeating the Night King, Tyrion said something to the effect that now we have to deal with us.  That we are the threat to ourselves, and that would be true even if we didn't take into account climate change.  Yes, the US's position of primacy is ending, but that does not mean the US is really threatened.  It just can't impose its will alone as much as it could for about 20 years.


Researcher said...

Very much agree with your ranking, I'm particularly glad to see China and Russia near the top as I've always felt that the over-emphasis on terrorism detracted from the threat other states pose. China is certainly more potential than actual but only because of the strategy they pursue, their focus on domestic politics, and their complex regional dynamics (disputes with many states, few real allies, several nuclear states on the border, military has to operate in a wide variety of terrain etc.). However through its steady erosion of norms, escalation of territorial disputes (Diaoyutai/Senkaku, SCS, Taiwan etc.), and building up of foreign influence (see New Zealand) it already poses a significant threat unless action is taken to counter it. I think relying on the idea that China will always play the long game is dangerous, as those potentialities could quickly turn into realities (though, as I mentioned, there are a number of restraints).

Also, would Ole Weaver's Securitization and Desecuritization concept be more or less relevant here than Wendt's?

Great post!

Unknown said...

for "new" Trumpian GOP climate change isnt an existential threat, unless Trump say so. And for an existential threat to "exist" you must name it, even you want to proper desecuritize it or not.