Welcome 2012: A High Risk World Beckons!

Yes, we are likely to see this year be both a high risk environment on a global scale and a year filled with key events that will shape our international landscape for decades. Thus “rethinking national security” will be more necessary than ever!  Below is a “tour d’horizon” of the international environment that we are likely to encounter and its key risks, opportunities, and uncertainties. Over the coming months we will explore some ideas on how to deal with the coming challenges ahead for our nation and the international community. 

Not least, this year will determine the policies and role of America in world affairs.  This November’s election will decide what direction our nation will take for the next four years and beyond. This will be a key focus of this blog in the coming months, looking at the national security and foreign policy debate and issues raised by the candidates for elective office. Our thesis will be that in this high risk world we need the best minds, most experienced leaders, and a high level of wisdom and perspective for both short-range tactics and long-range strategy. 

The Impact of the Economic and Financial Crisis on Global Security and Stability

There is little doubt that 2012 will be again a very difficult and even unsettling year for the American and especially the global economy. Europe is facing a downward trajectory with its widespread harsh austerity policies, the Euro crisis, and the persistent high unemployment. Growth is predicted to be anemic at best, and the policies put in place in countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Britain, Ireland, and even France are likely to make conditions worse before they get better. Indeed, the policies are likely to result in even higher ratios of debt to GDP for many of these countries.

The question is will the U.S. follow these policies and what are their likely consequences for our employment, growth, and stability? 

The key determinants of the future capacity of America to shape not only its own society but also the role it can play abroad will be the productivity, inventiveness, possibility of creation of sustainable and fair growth for all its citizens, the capacity to advance its educational infrastructure, and, not least, the ability to create new technologies and support key science fields.  

Thus the question is what policies and action are required to create these conditions. Also, what policies are likely to bring our nation down into a prolonged and sad downward spiral?  Stimulus or austerity? Development of useful products and technologies serving the entire nation and producing good jobs or mindless “paper creation” that burdens our economy rather than advances it?

Is bringing back the gold standard, cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, making health care more expensive and open to fewer people, lowering or abolishing the minimum wage laws, abolishing the Education Department, Environmental Protection Agency, USAID, The Fed, and HUD really going to advance us as a modern society and contribute to our stature and voice in the new complex modern world?

Nuclear Weapons, Non-Proliferation, WMDs, and Arms Control:

There are few more serious questions before the electorate than American strategic and nuclear policies. Key to these is our basic “strategic posture”: what wars may we face and how should we prepare for them? What kinds of wars might they be? What will our armed forces require in order to deal with future threats, contingencies, and natural disasters? Nothing in this regard is more important than our “nuclear posture” and our efforts to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destructions (WMDs), not least nuclear weapons.  

Further, the development of new arms control measures is a key component of any comprehensive strategic posture, and should, but is not likely, to be fully debated in the coming months.  Questions that should be asked is whether a presidential candidate will give up or further the New START Treaty, support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), support the Nunn-Lugar effort to decommission or better safeguard old Soviet nuclear weapons and material, and support a robust Non-Proliferation treaty process and negotiation to significantly reduce nuclear weapons in both US and Russian hands? 

We are likely to not get beyond accusations of “not being strong enough” or tough enough or not to be willing to “defend America.”  Related to this issue is the judgment to go to war. Be careful of those that “talk war,” remember that we went into the Iraq war on lies and the cost to us, our allies, and the Iraqi people was grave indeed. We need to hold our candidates to the fire on exactly when and how they are willing to go to war.  Are they willing to be peace makers and peace keepers rather than “war hawks”?

Environmental and Climate Change Risks and Challenges

One of the topics that are NOT likely to be discussed is the relationship of our national security to environmental changes and in particular climate change on a global scale. There are few greater risks to our fragile globe than what we are doing to our climate through the burning of fossil fuels and other impacts. The potential costs are lives, the destruction of our ecosystem, the impairment of global water supplies, the rising of ocean levels, catastrophic weather events, and a host of other changes that will impact billions of people. What would any candidate do to deal with the horrific dangers our poor earth faces if we do not address in a major way this coming catastrophe?  The sad part is that almost all of the remaining GOP candidates and their members in Congress, at this stage, are indifferent to these changes and support dirty fossil fuel projects. And what solutions would Obama now propose?

The Implication of the Elections in Russia for Building a More Secure World

In March Russia will hold an election of its president with the likely outcome of Vladimir Putin returning to the top post in the government. There is a dual question here. The first is what does this mean for Russia and its stance towards the outside world? Second, what can we and our allies do to address the challenges of this transition and to work to ensure that they influence a more responsible and cooperative Russian stance towards the international community and not one that threatens peace and stability?  It would be dangerous to try to “restart” the Cold War again rather than engage the Russian leaders towards solutions that serve the interests of all parties.                   

The Rise of China and American Interests

Like the Russian election, the planned transition of the Chinese leadership in 2012 will signal not only a new generation of leaders but the setting in place of new policies. These policies are still opaque but can either move towards reform, democracy, and social and economic fairness for a large proportion of the population that remains poor or towards a new destructive nationalism and militancy.

The transition in China to a new leadership and generation and the “challenge” of the so-called “Rise of China” has already been a cause of partisan debate here in theU.S. which offers little in the way of enlightenment about the real nature of China’s role in the world and its future direction. President Obama has rightly made Asia and engaging China to be a responsible partner a priority. Some, on the other hand, want to make China into an enemy for ideological and other narrow reasons as is the case with Russia. Yet that approach is a disaster for both nations. The question is whether there will be any discussion of how to approach China’s unquestioned growing role in the world. Engagement remains the best option but some on the Republican right seem to think that militancy on our part is in their interest if not that of America. We may get a glimpse in 2012 of the direction of the new leaders and a view of the inner debate.

Challenges of Security and Conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, and Iran: A Conundrum for America

There is little doubt that this nexus of countries presents major challenges for regional stability with a likelihood of growing conflict and thus danger for U.S. interests and global stability. The region is a tinderbox of national, ethnic, religious, social discord, and hate. All the countries are interconnected. It is a region rife with terrorism and internal disquiet. America has a stake in each county and the region perforce. 

Further, there are few good or clear options. It has been a source of partisan and often outrageous statements. Ron Paul would blindly totally pull out and institute a global policy of isolationism, while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney seem to take American militancy to a new high of blind American continued combat and ludicrous ignorance of the region. You can bet that in each of the countries 2012 will provide its own crisis which will generate likely statements to prove the candidate’s ignorance and muddy the waters for our interests. Obama has made clear that our military combat role in both Iraq and Afghanistan is ended or will end by 2014.  But under Obama our diplomatic and assistance presence will remain. We are fully engaged and focused on the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan, India, and, not least, Iran. Would a GOP president do the same?  Pakistan remains the most dangerous and volatile of all and no leader has easy answers when it comes to this hot spot.  

The Middle East, Arab Spring, and Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The problems of this region are clear but solutions seem harder. The Israeli-Palestinian problem remains the linchpin of much of the other problems of the region. Yet under the right-wing trajectory of the present Israeli government and the weakness of the Palestinian regime the likely outcome is tragedy for all sides. Our candidates need to ask what can change this outcome and then state their policies. We are more likely to just get domestic posturing. What stance will they take on making war on Iran, supporting settlements on the West Bank, or support and resources to help shape a more just and safer Middle East for all?  What solution do we have to the Syria debacle? What about the democratic future for the countries of the Arab Spring, especially Egypt with its July presidential election that will likely be shaped by the events of 2012?   

The Role and Evolution of Developing Countries in Latin American, Africa, and Asia

While we are looking at the “rise of China” the other macro reality is also the rise (and in some cases fall) of the developing world and individual regions and countries.  The “emerging economies,” including the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), were called the “new rising global phenomena.” Other countries have also a claim on this category. Some argued they were immune from the global economic crisis, only to find that indeed they were an integral part of globalization which would impact them. 2012 will prove how they might fare in the event of a continued and prolonged downward trend in trade, investment, and a continued dysfunctional global financial sector. Some of these countries suffer from raw material dependence, huge populations in poverty and backwardness, political unrest, and corruption. Yet they are also among the most dynamic of societies, some with fast growth still, and others with highly skilled workers and rich natural resources. They are all likely to be affected by climate change but seem little inclined to fully do their part. They seek a larger global role but have still a very limited reach. They can’t be neglected, however, and deserve our attention during the election. Not least our relations with Mexico seem likely to be a focus of our 2012 debate to some extent.    

The Role of Emerging Science and Technology and Its Impact on National Security

In so many ways 2012 will likely be a year that will see large advances in technology, science discoveries, and new inventions which will transform our lives and, in some cases, help us live better but perhaps make our environment less safe. Some will mitigate risks and others will make a few richer and many poorer. Some will help the poor if they can gain access to these new technologies and if these technologies are directed to lifting the poor rather than enriching the already rich. Ignorance of science is one great problem in the U.S. and lack of support of education in these fields seems to be, in a larger sense, a national security weakness.   

Defense Spending and Priorities, the Debate on How Much is Too Much and What Is Really Needed in a Fast Evolving World

One of the key decisions in 2012 will be the budget for the military. Already cuts are in the works for DOD, but will they be about $400 billion over ten years or so, which still means some growth, or will it be the 10% mandated by the failure of the Super Committee?  Will the cuts be careful and rational or will they be like a sledge-hammer? Will the Afghanistan war finally wind down and prove a saving in both human and financial terms? 

Will we have a strategy for two or just one major war and two minor ones? Who indeed are our enemies and are they able to be a real challenge to our already unmatched strength? Who will be cut the most, the army, marines, air force, or navy? Will we cut our armed forces combat personnel and their capabilities and safety for unneeded big and expensive weapons systems that serve little role in our new world? What will be our most serious dangers in the decades to come and which will fade from the horizon? Do we need to maintain such a massive nuclear infrastructure?   

Who will determine our choices? Will it be a powerful military-industrial coalition allied with hawks in Congress supported by blind corporate contributions or a rational look at real risks, priorities, and a changing global landscape? Watch what presidential and Congressional candidates say but also how they voted and will vote and where they get their money. 

Thus are the questions about 2012 and “Rethinking National Security.” 

By Harry C. Blaney III.

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