The international political dynamic is shifting. Since 9/11 Islamic radicalism has filled the vacuum of power left by the dissolution of the USSR, prompting unprecedented US military and security engagement abroad. This article seeks to address what is likely to become the US greatest national security threat in the next ten years. The US has not witnessed aggressive state retaliation since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The most recent example of this was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Georgia. Furthermore, increased US entanglement in the Middle East has made it the target of terrorism. This instability in the Middle East has led to the migrant crisis, which challenges U.S. policy in many aspects. Furthermore technological advancements have propped up authoritarian regimes that also threaten international security, like North Korea, Syria and Venezuela. But these so-called threats appear to be short-term, since the 9/11 attacks, the most direct attack in US history, was a Saudi doing. Saudi Arabia is one of the US’ closest allies in the region of the Middle East, yet it exhibits brutal dictatorship, theocracy & immense human rights violations. The US’ double standards have made national security initiatives more elusive. So what really is the greatest threat to American security in the long run? The election of Obama I argue recommenced a US path towards dovish foreign policy, military disengagement, and reconciliation. Though there are exceptions like Libya, this created a window of opportunity for the US to distance itself from hawkish foreign policies that worsened the stability in regions like the Middle East, already suffering from authoritarianism, foreign occupation, poverty and religiosity.
The greatest threat comes in two forms: authoritarian government repression fueling extremism and sponsoring terrorism; foreign interventionism fueling anti-Americanism, terrorism and state-retaliation or balancing. My overall argument is that both American democracy and global democracy are compromised by neoconservative politics and that the balance of power has been disrupted mainly by the US in the post-Soviet era. In other words, American foreign policy and the domestic policies that exist within other states in volatile regions like the Middle East as well as the security threats in those respective states are inextricably linked. America has supported insurgents, authoritarians and rebels, all at the same time, reducing sovereignty while boosting presence and political gain. The problem is oversimplified by pointing to one or the other variable, when the reality is that stability is not possible without sovereignty, which is a precondition for political development, democratic or not. If we regard US policy in terms of long-term security threats, authoritarianism and terrorism are together products of neoconservative politics and interventionist US foreign policy. This interventionism is fairly new relative to a US tradition of isolationism, which preceded WWI and WWII. Notice that prior to the twentieth and twenty first century, American security threats were scarce, and mostly domestic. While economic and technological development are both responsible for globalization, it is still important to note that US interventionism is largely a twentieth and twenty first century phenomenon. For this reason, there was less conflict between the US and the Muslim world. Radicalization, underdevelopment and instability can be seen as a result of US interventionism. In turn this has created a serious national security threat for the US.
The emergence of ISIS, al Nusra and other radical Islamist splinter groups, in the post-Arab Spring Middle East highlights the importance of US foreign policy in achieving national security. ISIS is made up largely of foreign fighters, the majority of whom come from Iraq. It can thus be argued that ISIS is the product of a spillover from the War in Iraq launched by the US in 2003, at the dismay of most of the Arab world. The impetus of al Qaeda, the pre-ISIS “menace of the Middle East” was the end of US presence in the “holy land”, despite taking a lending hand from the US against the USSR in the 80s. Hezbollah, a notorious Lebanon paramilitary political party has used violence as a means of “resisting foreign occupation” and protecting Lebanese sovereignty. All these examples demonstrate how US interventionism in the region has manufactured its national security threat—private interests are compromising public interests in both the domestic and foreign spheres of American politics. This has little to do with democracy itself, and more to do with the US’ recent trend towards right-wing authoritarianism, particularly in its foreign policy, but evidently also in domestic politics.
But American interventionism in the Middle East, the crux of the Muslim World, began only after the Suez Crisis in 1952. Western involvement existed before, in European form. When the US became the major arbiter its sympathized with movements for Arab nationalism and sovereignty, only to give in to British paranoia of a “communist take over of the Middle East”. Since then, the US has played the fickle role of police and criminal in the Middle East; the cop and the robber.
It would be easy to point at Daesh or ISIS as the main threat to national security. Al Qaeda was the earlier menace. There always is a scapegoat, but these usually perpetuate a politically beneficial narrative. But the reality is rather different, with ISIS being a much greater threat to the Middle East’s population than any other really. It would be equally simplistic to point at Iran, or North Korea. But history shows that the greater threat lies in interventionism, instead of allowing the natural course of development to take place.
In the case of North Korea, it would be foolish to utilize nukes because this destabilizes the entire region and puts countries like Russia at risk. Russia has warned North Korea therein. The same logic could be applied to the Iranian Nuclear Threat, which has been mitigated by the deal reached with the Obama Administration. The so-called threat is almost an illusion, similarly to the WMDs in Iraq. This does not dismiss the lunacy and brutality of Saddam or Kim Jong Un—rather it underscores it while revealing Western complicity in perpetuating the cycle in its favor. This comes at the expense of the American public, while the minority elite benefits in the short term.
The greatest threat to American national security in the course of the next ten years is simplistically understood as radical Islamist terror. Perhaps next in line would be growing expansionism in the Far East, exhibited mainly by Russia and China. But as explained in the previous sections, these actions are largely natural, and responsive to US assertiveness in other spheres of influence. If this connection can be better understood by US leaders, the distinction between cause and effects will be more lucid, and national security can be reduced through cooperative international efforts at preventing violations of sovereignty.