What comes to mind when thinking about potential threats the United States faces today? Since 9/11, for many of us it is likely another terrorist attack on American soil. Aside from domestic terrorism, though, some worry about internal threats coming from our current reliance on digital communications and commerce, the sustainability of our way of life, natural disasters, infrastructure breakdown, the economy and national debt, and, of course, the growing power of the federal government.
First off, there is the ongoing threat of domestic terror. Although a majority of terrorist attacks happen outside of the United States, they do also occur within our country's borders. There is continued and growing concern over "lone wolves" as well as Islamist groups intent on causing domestic strife. Some are even concerned that there are Islamic terrorist training camps on U.S. soil. Others, such as the Environmental Liberation Front, are very active and cause millions of dollars of damage each year.
Besides terrorism associated with Islamic groups, some fear the extension of Sharia Law into America. Those concerned believe there is the potential for some localities to operate under Sharia, as various parts of Europe do now. If that happens, they argue, the authority of U.S. constitutional law is undermined, particularly when Americans and their governments are unwilling to preserve it. Furthermore, some worry that over a longer period, if the philosophy of Sharia gains acceptance in American law and courts, there could be another player in the ongoing culture war.
On the topic of war, it's worth pointing out that the Internet itself is now a battleground. On top of international cyber-warfare and its threats to national security, America faces constant internal cyber-threats. Businesses have millions of dollars of intellectual property stolen every year. Countless numbers of individuals have had personal and financial information compromised. Organizations such as Anonymous and Wikileaks have remarkable power and impact. Such is the great paradox of the Information Age: while we have benefited immensely from the Internet, we also face a growing number of potential threats.
Next, the state of the environment has also emerged as a potential threat, especially due to the recent rise in concerns over global climate change. Indeed, it has become a topic permeating the discussion of America’s long-term security and sustainability. Though most individuals believe that environmental stewardship is crucial, the approaches to that stewardship can be quite different, particularly in regard to climate change. Advocates of increasing federal regulation argue that only through national standards will climate change be controlled sufficiently. On the other end of the spectrum, some contend that the attempts to control climate change could have far more dangerous impacts on the economy and the sustainability of the American way of life.
Global climate change has also intensified debate over how to create cheaper, more sustainable energy as well as energy independence. The cost of energy seems likely to keep going up. Gas prices continue to hit record highs. But solutions to the problem are not easy to come by. America continues to have strained relations with some of the world's top oil producers, which presents a security risk. Domestic drilling raises environmental concerns, such as in Alaska, and in the face of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The public's perception of the safety of nuclear power has always been a deterrent to building new power plants. Alternative energy technology is still very young and faces severe criticism, particularly since it has begun to receive more and more federal assistance.
Somewhat related to protecting the environment is the potential for large-scale natural disasters and America's ability to effectively respond to such catastrophes. The most recent controversial case was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which opened the door for political discussion over the role of the federal government in times of crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was created in 1979 in order to help states and local communities recover from such disasters. Yet many believe that FEMA and similar efforts often fall short or even do more harm than good. As the national response to Katrina was largely ineffective and strongly criticized, many speculate how the federal government might manage future and perhaps larger crises. Is America prepared for such an event? What would happen if a tsunami hit the West Coast? Considering Japan's devastating earthquake experience in 2011, what are some of the precautions and protective measures that need to be taken with America’s numerous nuclear power plants? Or, what if the super volcano under Yellowstone National Park erupted?
Concerns over natural disaster preparedness also involve America’s decaying infrastructure. Parts of that infrastructure have been failing even without any serious natural disturbance. A large majority of America’s bridges and roads were built in the 1950s and 60s with an estimated lifespan of around 50 years. Today, these key pieces of infrastructure are in desperate need of improvement or replacement, which requires considerable investment. America’s dams are also a growing concern, as several particularly problematic dams are near large metro areas. A full-scale dam failure could result in massive flooding. Finally, the electrical grid is perhaps the greatest infrastructure worry. An electromagnetic pulse attack or a huge solar storm could potentially cause large-scale and long-term power outages if the grid is not reinforced and updated.
Of course, an issue that never fails to be among the most important in American political discourse is the economy. Presently, America is faced with an unfathomably large national debt, unfunded liabilities such as Social Security, Medicare and public pensions, growing inflation (at certain times even stagflation) and unemployment.
Finally, the expansion of governmental power has led, in the eyes of many, to infringements on basic liberties and freedoms that previously had been taken for granted. There have been numerous court cases and federal laws limiting our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, right to due process of law, right of privacy, even our right to life. Unfortunately, while many want the government to fix things, Washington itself has become part of the problem. Politics has become a profession in which millions of dollars can be made, often at the expense of rather than for the public good.
Clearly, there are legitimate internal threats to American safety and security. Their nature and extent, and how they should be addressed are the subject of this topic.
Cyber Threats Study Guide
Domestic Terrorism Study Guide
Energy Costs Study Guide
Fourth Amendment Study Guide
National Debt Study Guide
Infrastructure Decay Study Guide