When the Cold War ended and the Iron Curtain was torn down, we thought the world was moving toward a more peaceful existence.
Nations could focus more on improving the living conditions for their citizens and technological advances would help us realize that with a world economy, war was something the world could do without. We envisioned the spread of democracy and capitalism throughout the world. Other nations were hungry for the lifestyle we enjoyed in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the world has now become more dangerous than before. The events of 9/11 in 2001 and 2012 have proven that even with all our military might, technological weaponry and vast intelligence networks we can easily be attacked without much threat of recourse. Instead of being grateful for the outreach our country has provided around the world, we are more despised both by countries who feel entitled to our continued financial and military support and by revolutionaries who see our vulnerabilities as grand opportunities to humble the last great superpower.
In today’s world, it’s no longer just nation against nation. We now face various factions, radical jihadists, unstable regimes and traditional countries with an ever-growing appetite to increase their military might and influence around the globe. As a nation that grows tired of war, serving as the world’s policing agency and facing severe financial limitations, we lack the political motivation and sense of national unity when it comes to providing the world with leadership it so desperately needs. If the U.S. doesn’t take the lead, some other nation will, most likely China.
Fifty years ago, the world stood at the brink of Armageddon for 13 days in Oct. 1962 when President John F. Kennedy drew a symbolic line in the Atlantic and warned of dire consequences if Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev dared to cross it. An American U-2 spy plane flying high over Cuba had snapped aerial photographs of Soviet ballistic missile sites that could launch nuclear warheads with little warning at the U.S., just 90 miles away. It was the height of the Cold War, and many people feared nuclear war would annihilate human civilization.
Today we face a similar threat from Iran, but instead of playing out on the world stage in a short 13 days, it plays out in slow motion over years as they continue to work on nuclear weapons and threaten the region. Combine that with a current day threat of cyber-attacks, and it compounds the many new ways in which nations are vulnerable. A well-placed virus can spread through networked computers and ultimately wipe out files by overwriting them.
Last week a former U.S. government official said American authorities believe that Iranian hackers, likely supported by their government, were responsible for the recent cyber-attacks. U.S. agencies have been assisting in an investigation and concluded that the level of resources needed to conduct this type of attack showed there was some degree of involvement by the Iranian government.
Conventional warfare, counter-terrorism, cyber-attacks and a volatile world economy are threats on the horizon. As a nation, we must prepare to defend against them. At a time when the national psyche is weary of strife and longs for a calmer and more prosperous time, we cannot allow ourselves to let down our guard. We must be vigilant and active on the world stage, for those who wish us harm will prey on weakness and lack of visible resolve.
Gen. George Marshall said it best after the end of World War II: “The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.”
The U.S. must find new ways to demonstrate leadership and sufficient strength to keep the lid on a very tumultuous world. Failure to lead decisively is not an option, but it becomes a very real possibility if we don’t pursue the role we’ve held for the last 60 years as the leader of the free world.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.