We are not only safer than we think, we are safer than we have ever been, say Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen.
The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.
This reality is barely reflected in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates.
By exaggerating threats, we overemphasize the need for defense spending. It’s a dynamic we saw during the Cold War though there, Zenko and Cohen say, the threat was genuine if overhyped. Here, they argue, it’s nearly nonexistent.
Zenko and Cohen also say, “Such hair-trigger responsiveness is rarely replicated outside the realm of national security, even when the government confronts problems that cause Americans far more harm than any foreign threat.” I don’t know about this. What about inflation- and deficit-hawkery?
Anyway, the takeaway is not only that we are a nation of cowards, but that we are a nation of cowards shooting ourselves in the feet.
Indeed, the most lamentable cost of unceasing threat exaggeration and a focus on military force is that the main global challenges facing the United States today are poorly resourced and given far less atten- tion than “sexier” problems, such as war and terrorism. These include climate change, pandemic diseases, global economic instability, and transnational criminal networks—all of which could serve as catalysts to severe and direct challenges to U.S. security interests. But these concerns are less visceral than alleged threats from terrorism and rogue nuclear states. They require long-term planning and occasionally painful solutions, and they are not constantly hyped by well-financed interest groups. As a result, they are given short shrift in national security discourse and policymaking.
Which is to say, Zenko and Cohen write, we should stop going nuts over the one percent (or less) threats and concentrate on the 99 percent. Which is a nice translation of the Occupy rhetoric to foreign policy.