In the shadowy halls where national security elites walk, it’s alluded to as “threat inflation.” Unfortunately, in addition to recent monetary inflation, global threat inflation is also a product of this crazy and dangerous world. It has been persistently on the rise, perilous, unstable and unpredictable.
It wasn’t long ago that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I will personally attest to the fact that [the world is] more dangerous than it has ever been.”
To the same committee, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno added to Dempsey’s warning saying, “The global environment is the most uncertain I’ve seen in my 36 years of service.”
More recently, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, told the House Armed Services Committee that the world is getting more unstable, “and the potential for significant international conflict between great powers is increasing, not decreasing.”
It’s easy to dismiss the current threat level in the world when we reflect on individual events or momentary revelations, but bundle these worldwide troubles into an unstable compound and it turns into a frighteningly explosive scenario.
It’s an easy scenario to paint. Arguably, the focal point is Putin’s war on Ukraine with all its downstream effects: energy skirmishes, crippling sanctions, Russo-NATO tensions, war crimes with retributions, and nuclear saber rattling. But there are other destabilizing consequences like the disruption of global food supplies. Ukraine and Russia have been one of the biggest suppliers of wheat in the world and because of the war, devastating starvation is currently underway in the Horn of Africa. Starvation not only leads to death but also mass migrations of people that destabilize surrounding nations.
The Middle East is in transition and is a hotbed of volatility. Iran not only has ratcheted up its enrichment of uranium since the dissolution of the nuclear deal with the U.S., but it has become a major arms supplier to Russia. Tensions between Israel and Iran are again on the rise.
The never-ending Muslim schism between the Sunni and Shia sects with their battles for regional influence in the Middle East are manifest in a dogged proxy war in Yemen. Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon heighten security concerns for Israel. More importantly, the festering, destabilizing and escalating effects of these various tensions among Middle Eastern players is a petri dish for extremists. Saudi Arabia, one of the powerhouses of influence in the Middle East, used to consult and collaborate with the U.S. Now it listens to us less, and charts its own path of uncertain independence.
The Russian war against Ukraine has heightened concerns that China’s Xi Jinping is calculating his own “special military operation” against Taiwan which would cause catastrophic security problems in Asia and the Pacific.
North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscles, launching multiple ballistic missiles around South Korea. Japan recently named China to be its biggest national security threat and has boosted its defense budget to its highest levels since the end of World War II, sensing threats not only to its various islands from a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan but of potential military exchanges between North and South Korea. The U.S. Congress just passed new legislation to finance weapons sales to Taiwan, including direct transfers from American arms stockpiles. And regionally, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the U.S. that North Korea now has missiles that can target most of the United States.
While these national security issues continue to simmer, the COVID virus in its various nefarious mutations has not gone quietly into hibernation. Refugees and migrants from around the world are on the move, as we know from the escalating influx of migrants from failing Central American nations at our southern border.
These proxy wars, special military operations, and national security threats have been a financial boon to destabilizing arms dealers around the world. And the rotting effects of drug dealers, amidst all these troubles, are more insidiously pervasive than ever before.
As if all these issues weren’t enough, the elephant in the room writ large is, of course, climate change. It’s affecting weather patterns, sea levels, food supplies and world demographics.
I would be remiss not to mention the toxic effect of digital mass media on societies around the world. Misinformation and disinformation have perniciously affected our politics, our democracy and the civility of healthy societies everywhere. Disinformation has been weaponized by autocrats set on damaging our democratic institutions, and used by terrorists to organize on a global scale in ways never before possible.
The compilation of these numerous and assorted threats offers an important perspective as to what our national security focus needs to be. The collective effect also provides the political focus of what’s needed in leadership to begin to mitigate this expansive front of troubles threatening our nation and the globe.
The world is undeniably a more dangerous place than it’s been in decades, if not ever. Any one of the several existing fuses could ignite a spontaneous global conflagration. Suffice it to say that our polarized politics do nothing to mitigate these global “threat-inflation” issues; in fact, they could further facilitate a slippery slide into a deepening crater of decline. Continuing schoolyard political antics in the face of all these intensive-care security issues should be beyond disheartening to anyone who cares deeply about our nation and its heritage.
We live in a crazy and dangerous world that demands a rise to unprecedented levels of savvy leadership and political cooperation. Who among us will set aside partisan politics to meet these epic challenges as we pass through the portal into a new year?
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.