Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper laid out a laundry list of threats to the United States, including China’s growing military ambition, the growing risks from cyber-attacks, and Russia’s continued rise -- all very serious, but all very well known.
Buried deep in Clapper’s Worldwide Threat Assessment were other, less known threats to American interests that could be just as dangerous as China’s military expansion or Russia’s ambition. And many of them have nothing to do with guns, bullets or bombs.
If Clapper’s assessment is accurate, everything from the weather to the rush to secure Arctic resources puts American lives at risk. And while many know that violence in Mexico contributes to violence here, there are other countries in Central America that also have a hand in drugs and the violence that goes with it on this side of the border.
Here are four threats to the United States that no one talks about:
Health Risks: Biological weapons have largely been forgotten after Saddam Hussein came up empty, undercutting the justification for the Iraq war. According to Clapper, it’s naturally occurring biologics, not those manufactured in a lab, that pose a true threat to American interests.
He also warned that many of the antibiotics used to treat common diseases like the flu are not as effective as they once were. And globalization is complicating the problem.
“Infectious diseases, whether naturally caused, intentionally produced, or accidentally released, are still among the foremost health security threats,” Clapper wrote. “A more crowded and interconnected world is increasing the opportunities for human, animal, or zoonotic diseases to emerge and spread globally. Antibiotic drug resistance is an increasing threat to global health security. Seventy percent of known bacteria have now acquired resistance to at least one antibiotic, threatening a return to the pre-antibiotic era.”
He also warned that diseases like the H7N9 flu that emerged from birds in China could easily spread around the world. In China, the virus killed 20 percent of the people it infected.
“Uncontrolled, such an outbreak would result in a global pandemic with suffering and death spreading globally in fewer than six months and would persist for approximately two years,” he wrote.
Extreme Weather Events: Most Americans assume that extreme weather events overseas have little impact on their own security. But Clapper warned that’s not the case.
“Natural food-supply disruptions, due to weather, disease, and government policies, will stress the global food system and exacerbate price volatility,” he wrote, meaning Americans are likely to pay more for food if these events become more common.
Clapper warned that these kinds of events often occur in countries with weak political and economic infrastructures. Extreme weather weakens these institutions further, making them potential breeding ground for groups opposed to American interests.
“Lack of adequate food will be a destabilizing factor in countries important to U.S. national security that do not have the financial or technical abilities to solve their internal food security problems,” he wrote.
The Arctic: Changing weather patterns that are warming the air over the Arctic also affect U.S. national security. Right now, there’s a race between American, Canadian, Nordic and Russia companies to secure oil and natural gas drilling rights in areas where ice has receded. And Russia is not afraid to use its military to advance its interests there. Russian President Vladimir Putin has just ordered an increase in Russian troops there this year.
“Some states see the Arctic as a strategic security issue that has the potential to give other countries an advantage in positioning in their military forces,” Clapper warned.
Lawlessness in Central America: Most Americans are well aware of the threat that drug cartels in Mexico pose to U.S. security. But Clapper warns a new zone of instability is being created in Central America -- Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala -- could spread north to the United States, just as violence from Mexican cartels has spread north of the border.
“All three countries are facing debt crises and falling government revenues because of slow economic growth, widespread tax evasion, and large informal economies. Entrenched political, economic, and public-sector interests resist reforms,” Clapper wrote. “Domestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups, as well as Central America’s status as a major transit area for cocaine from source countries in South America, are fueling record levels of violence.”
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