and uncontrolled refugee migration – have increasingly important implications for American security. Our workers and businesses will suffer if the global economy is unstable or foreign markets collapse or lock us out, and the highest domestic environmental standards will not protect us adequately if we cannot get others to achieve similar standards. In short, our citizens have a direct and increasing stake in the prosperity and stability of other nations, in their support for international norms and human rights, in their ability to combat international crime, in their open markets, and in their efforts to protect the environment.
Since there are always many demands for U.S. action, our national interests must be clear. These interests fall into three categories. The first includes vital interests—those of broad, overriding importance to the survival, safety and vitality of our nation. Among these are the physical security of our territory and that of our allies, the safety of our citizens, the economic well-being of our society, and the protection of our critical infrastructures – including energy, banking and finance, telecommunications, transportation, water systems and emergency services – from paralyzing attack. We will do what we must to defend these interests, including, when necessary and appropriate, using our military might unilaterally and decisively.
The second category is important national interests. These interests do not affect our national survival, but they do affect our national well-being and the character of the world in which we live. Important national interests include, for example, regions in which we have a sizable economic stake or commitments to allies, protecting the global environment from severe harm, and crises with a potential to generate substantial and highly destabilizing refugee flows. Our efforts to halt the flow of refugees from Haiti and restore democracy in that country, our participation in NATO operations to end the brutal conflicts and restore peace in Bosnia and Kosovo, and our assistance to Asian allies and friends supporting the transition in East Timor are examples.
The third category is humanitarian and other interests. In some circumstances our nation may act because our values demand it. Examples include responding to natural and manmade disasters; promoting human rights and seeking to halt gross violations of those rights; supporting democratization, adherence to the rule of law and civilian control of the military; assisting humanitarian demining; and promoting sustainable development and environmental protection. The spread of democracy and respect for the rule of law helps to create a world community that is more hospitable to U.S. values and interests. Whenever possible, we seek to avert humanitarian disasters and conflict through diplomacy and cooperation with a wide range of partners, including other governments, international institutions and non-governmental organizations. This may not only save lives, but also prevent crises from getting worse and becoming a greater drain on resources.
Threats to U.S. Interests
The security environment in which we live is dynamic and uncertain, replete with a host of threats and challenges that have the potential to grow more deadly.
Regional or State-Centered Threats: A number of states have the capabilities and the desire to threaten our national interests through coercion or aggression. They continue to threaten the sovereignty of their neighbors, economic stability, and international access to resources. In many cases, these states are also actively improving their offensive capabilities, including efforts to obtain or retain nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and the capabilities to deliver these weapons over long distances.
Transnational threats: These are threats that do not respect national borders and which often arise from non-state actors, such as terrorists and criminal organizations. They threaten U.S. interests, values and citizens – in the United States and abroad. Examples include terrorism, drug trafficking and other international crime, illicit arms trafficking, uncontrolled refugee migration, and trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children. We also face threats to critical national infrastructures, which increasingly could take the form of a cyber-attack in addition to physical attack or sabotage, and could originate from terrorist or criminal groups as well as hostile states.
Spread of dangerous technologies: Weapons of mass destruction pose the greatest potential threat to global stability and security. Proliferation of advanced weapons and technologies threatens to provide rogue states, terrorists and international crime organizations with the means to inflict terrible damage on the United States, our allies and U.S. citizens and troops abroad.
Failed states: At times in the new century, we can expect that, despite international prevention efforts, some states will be unable to provide basic governance, safety and security, and opportunities for their populations, potentially generating internal conflict, mass migration, famine, epidemic diseases, environmental disasters, mass killings and aggression against neighboring states or ethnic groups – events which can threaten regional security and U.S. interests.
Other states – though possessing the capacity to govern – may succumb to the inflammatory rhetoric of demagogues who blame their nation’s ills on and persecute specific religious, cultural, racial or tribal groups. States that fail to respect the rights of their own citizens and tolerate or actively engage in human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing or acts of genocide not only harm their own people, but can spark civil wars and refugee crises and spill across national boundaries to destabilize a region.
Foreign intelligence collection: The threat from foreign intelligence services is more diverse, complex and difficult to counter than ever before. This threat is a mix of traditional and non-traditional intelligence adversaries that have targeted American military, diplomatic, technological, economic and commercial secrets. Some foreign intelligence services are rapidly adopting new technologies and innovative methods to obtain such secrets, including attempts to use the global information infrastructure to gain access to sensitive information via penetration of computer systems and networks. We must be concerned about efforts by non-state actors, including legitimate organizations, both quasi-governmental and private, and illicit international criminal organizations, to penetrate and subvert government institutions or critical sectors of our economy.
Environmental and health threats: Environmental and health problems can undermine the welfare of U.S. citizens, and compromise our national security, economic and humanitarian interests abroad for generations. These threats respect no national boundary. History has shown that international epidemics, such as polio, tuberculosis and AIDS, can destroy human life on a scale as great as any war or terrorist act we have seen, and the resulting burden on health systems can undermine hard-won advances in economic and social development and contribute to the failure of fledgling democracies. In the future, we face potentially even more devastating threats if we fail to avert irreparable damage to regional ecosystems and the global environment. Other environmental issues, such as competition over scarce fresh water resources, are a potential threat to stability in several regions.