The Strategic Environment—The World as It Is
In the two decades since the end of the Cold War, the free flow of information, people, goods and services has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. This interconnection has empowered individuals for good and ill, and challenged state based international institutions that were largely designed in the wake of World War II by policymakers who had different challenges in mind. Nonstate actors can have a dramatic influence on the world around them. Economic growth has alleviated poverty and led to new centers of influence. More nations are asserting themselves regionally and globally. The lives of our citizens—their safety and prosperity—are more bound than ever to events beyond our borders.
Within this environment, the attacks of September 11, 2001, were a transformative event for the United States, demonstrating just how much trends far beyond our shores could directly endanger the personal safety of the American people. The attacks put into sharp focus America’s position as the sole global superpower, the dangers of violent extremism, and the simmering conflicts that followed the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War. And they drew a swift and forceful response from the United States and our allies and partners in Afghanistan. This response was followed by our decision to go to war in Iraq, and the ensuing years have seen America’s forces, resources, and national security strategy focused on these conflicts.
The United States is now fighting two wars with many thousands of our men and women deployed in harm’s way, and hundreds of billions of dollars dedicated to funding these conflicts. In Iraq, we are supporting a transition of responsibility to the sovereign Iraqi Government. We are supporting the security and prosperity of our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of a broader campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida and its violent extremist affiliates.
Yet these wars—and our global efforts to successfully counter violent extremism—are only one element of our strategic environment and cannot define America’s engagement with the world. Terrorism is one of many threats that are more consequential in a global age. The gravest danger to the American people and global security continues to come from weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. The space and cyberspace capabilities that power our daily lives and military operations are vulnerable to disruption and attack. Dependence upon fossil fuels constrains our options and pollutes our environment. Climate change and pandemic disease threaten the security of regions and the health and safety of the American people. Failing states breed conflict and endanger regional and global security. Global criminal networks foment insecurity abroad and bring people and goods across our own borders that threaten our people.