Defense policy: Preparing the nation for heightened threats

by Dr. Howard Pienz

Despite ongoing upheaval in the gulf region, one thing remains certain: the response and protection of American citizens from terrorism will remain a high priority in the upcoming years. The latest flu statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that 21.8 million Americans died of influenza-related causes in 2017. Almost half of those deaths were due to flu-related complications in the months of October and November. The chart below illustrates the severity of the 2017 season with related data.


By the late summer of 2017, surveillance activities of influenza, which is effectively characterized as a disease of people over the age of 5, in United States had already begun to show an increase in disease activity. Given the post-September 11, 2001 heightened vulnerability of American society to terrorism, then-Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price focused on combating influenza as a primary public health threat against the nation, which remains a high priority to this day.

In 2016, the CDC and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began issuing special guidance on how to use antiviral medications in the face of an influenza pandemic. The US FDA approved Tamiflu®, for the treatment of acute influenza infection, last year.

Another concern for national security is that for the foreseeable future, improved auto transportation capabilities may make it much easier for individual countries to spread infectious diseases throughout the globe. For instance, the vehicle usage of the United States has increased by almost 100 percent since 1950. As a result, vehicles are much more mobile than they used to be, making it much easier for a lone actor to transport infectious disease across vast distances.

India also poses an important security challenge to the US. India ranked fifth in the world in terms of its GDP in 2016, ahead of both the United States and China, and its economy is projected to continue growing. India is the world’s second-most populous country and, as a result, the United States is trying to limit its economic impact.

To accommodate growth in India, in 2015, the US Congress was able to relax export restrictions on high-tech Indian telecommunications and medical equipment. However, any actions taken to manage terrorist activity at this time could bring condemnation from India in the future. Today, India is the number three source of imported arms to the United States after Israel and Saudi Arabia.

China and the Philippines also present security threats. China is not a fellow member of the G-20 club, so the US is largely exempt from the negative impacts of a trade war. However, both India and China are significant defense suppliers to the United States.

The Philippines continues to expand its economic activities and is helping to expand human capital, including infrastructure modernization, in the Asia-Pacific region. However, countries across Southeast Asia have increasingly begun to pursue human security issues to both protect their own population and export some of the human capital they acquire to other countries.

Today, the US is examining the security implications of a newly formed BRICS alliance, with a view toward making our nation more secure by expanding infrastructure capability in the world. The Russian entry into the alliance raises greater questions, however, given Russia’s proximity to the Philippines and the US presence in Southeast Asia. As US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said, “Russia has already exploited vulnerabilities of individual countries to achieve its goals in this space.”

From a strategic perspective, the size of and financial support for Russia’s entry into the alliance at this time, and the prospect of Russia deploying its aggressive tactics in the region in response to US/NATO forces, must be evaluated.

In conclusion, as we continue to engage Russia in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and all North Atlantic and northern borders of the United States, we will likely experience increasing security risks, especially the potential for retaliatory use of offensive Russian military weapons.

Countries increasingly are beginning to track the deployment of offensive Russian military capabilities, such as Russia’s recently deployed S-400 missile batteries. These new surveillance tools will provide a plethora of new opportunities for malicious actors to target the United States as this heightened threat environment impacts further military engagement among our allies and partners.

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