10 National Security Threats in 2013

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

The New Year brings reflection and prediction—hope for the future tethered to the problems of the past. 2013 ushers in a host of national security and foreign policy threats that may boil over during the coming year. In a two volume book on national security doctrines I analyzed these threats through the lens going back three centuries. Our republic faces a myriad of threats, but 10 threats stand out as both immediate and long term. In this column I will focus on the problem, and next week the solutions.

1. Al Qaeda and terrorism. The first realization is that a new terrorism emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s, primarily one of Islamic extremism focused on apocalyptical designs to bring about a new Islamic era. These groups, both Sunni and Shiite, are willing to use any means, especially the use of weapons of mass destruction. The groups are divided into core leaders and organizations, franchises, lone wolves, and aspirational individuals who seek maximum destruction. There are about 44 transnational foreign terrorist organizations that seek the destruction of the United States, the American people, and Western civilization in general. The debate over law enforcement versus counterterrorism versus war should long be over. It is a war where all national resources need to be used. The rise of Wahabism, Salafism, and extreme Shiism poses the greatest long-term ideological threat to the United States and its Western allies, especially as it transcends geography, race, and group. The ability of the movement to mutate and multiply will continue to spawn terrorist and insurgent movements until, and unless, a strategic formula is found to defeat them. The long-term strategic threat to the United States by the toxic nexus of transnational terrorism, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction is primarily driven by Sunni extremism (with the notable exception of Shiite terrorism, which is primarily state sponsored by Iran).

2. Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans have a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The debate over whether the United States should have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan is long over, and the focus should be on how to achieve victory. Iraq has stabilized and is at a fork in the road on whether it succeeds or fails, whether it progresses or descends into violence, whether it allies with the United States or Iran, and whether American sacrifices were for triumph or tragedy. Iraq has already given a template to the Arabs that an Arab Muslim democracy can be created; for the United States to back away now would be tantamount to betrayal of them and U.S. values.

3. The Arab Spring. Unclear is the depth or sweep of the Arab spring or whether it will reignite the Green Revolution in Iran and topple the Alawite regime in Syria. However, it is clear that at the very time that the Bush Doctrine had promoted Arab democracy in the beginning of the 21st century, the Obama administration has failed to lead. Should this continue, the ramifications will be calamitous: Any hope of democracy, human rights, and civil society could fail; the old or new dictators could take power; the revolutions could be overtaken by Islamic extremists; the region could descend into factionalism and chaos; and other great powers could gain influence to threaten American interests.

4. Energy security. It is, after decades, in vogue to discuss national security and energy policy. The energy policy of the United States must reflect its grand strategy and be based on some fundamental and permanent declarations and actions.

5. Threat to primacy. The United States took a long road to military primacy, which has ensured world order, world commerce, and world peace. It has achieved all three more than any territorial empire in the past and any international treaty or organization of the present or future.

6. Rogue regimes. In 2002, President Bush identified the “axis of evil.” Two of those nations continue to spread evil and malevolence abroad and to their own people. Iran, seeking a Persian-Shiite empire in the Persian Gulf, has engaged in a laundry list of policies and behaviors designed to kill Americans and hurt American interests since 1979. Iran is engaged in a massive campaign to produce its own nuclear weapons; it is engaged in building, modernizing, and developing long-range ballistic missile capability; it is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; it is the No. 1 partner or sponsor of other rogue regimes like Syria and Venezuela; it is the No. 1 conduit for the training and arming of Shiite militias in Iran to kill U.S. troops and Iraqis; it has assisted, when it deems its own interests are at stake, both al Qaeda and the Taliban (regardless of theological differences, just as in the case of Hamas); and it continues to be one of the worst human rights violators of its own people. North Korea is a more difficult problem, as it already has an advanced nuclear and missile program, proving the need to have acted in Iraq and the need to take action immediately on Iran. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has developed nuclear weapons and is a massive arms proliferator, counterfeiter of U.S. dollars, drug seller, and, worst of all, the worst violator of human rights on the planet. North Korea operates a vast empire of concentration camps where people are treated worse than animals and punishes any type of dissent with torture and execution.

7. Destabilization of Japan and Mexico. Two U.S. allies, for very different reasons and under very different circumstances, face destabilization: Japan and Mexico. Japan has been in economic and societal turmoil since the mid-1990s and fears abandonment by the United States either in favor of China or for withdrawal and retreat. Japan is a classic example of what happens when a U.S. president fails to operate with muscular, forceful, worldwide leadership. The entire Pacific realizes that the only creator of order and stability in Asia is the United States, just as it realizes that the only sense of order for that ocean is the United States Navy. In a much different setting is the potential for a failed state on the United States’s southern border. The results of a failed state in Mexico are beyond calculation.

8. Israel and Palestine. The United States has been a partner with the state of Israel from the beginning. President Bush turned away from the policy of accommodating Palestinian terrorists in an effort to promote democratic Palestinian forces. There is no other way of dealing with the crisis. The ambiguous signals to both the Israelis and the Palestinians has encouraged the crisis to swell and spread.

9. Crisis of confidence in Europe, and feelings of betrayal in Eastern Europe. The United States has gone to war two times to save Europe. The landscape of Europe is occupied by many American graves. The special relationships with the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, to name a few, are critical to American values and American interests. The term Atlanticist, once a badge of honor, is being relegated to history. NATO, even with some success in Afghanistan and Libya, is on a precipice of an identity crisis.

10. Resurgent Russia and the rise of China. The last great challenge is the same one a young George Washington faced in the French and Indian War—that of great powers. There is no need for bellicose statements of war or aggression, but the simple realization that the interests of a resurgent Russia and a rising China are often going to be at odds with American interests, both in values and in material ways. China also poses a different kind of problem. It is a power that inherently believes in a destiny of greatness with imperial designs. It is focused on the future of dominance, in particular, of Asia.