Issue Briefs

Three Huge Defense Threats For Which Washington Is Woefully Under-Prepared

Three Huge Defense Threats For Which Washington Is Woefully Under-Prepared

By Loren Thompson 

February 3rd, 2020

The United States outspends every other nation on defense, and as a result has the best trained, best equipped military in the world. The joint force regularly undertakes missions that no other country’s military would be capable of executing.

However, there are existential defense threats for which the nation is not prepared—existential in the sense that they could make the continued functioning of democratic government within U.S. borders nearly impossible.

These threats get short shrift in national strategy, either because they have never occurred before or because there are no easy remedies. Unfortunately, the vulnerability of the U.S. to the threats could make them attractive options for America’s enemies in the future.

Here are three such threats.

Artificially engineered pandemics. Pandemics are epidemics that spread across vast areas, including potentially the whole world. There have been several in recent centuries that killed many millions of people. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which originated in Kansas, eventually spread throughout the world and killed 50-100 million. Life expectancy in the U.S. declined by ten years. Smallpox killed more human beings than all the wars of the 20th century combined.

These contagions, like the current coronavirus outbreak, were naturally occurring events that resulted from spontaneously occurring mutations—often allowing the disease to jump from animals to humans. Today, for the first time in history, it is possible to engineer such mutations in a laboratory, spawning microbes that combine the virulence of seasonal influenza with the lethality of smallpox.

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The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.

Loren B. Thompson is a Senior Adviser at GPI, Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University.