Identifying the “Greatest Threat” that the World Faces
When asked last Tuesday what he considered to be the “greatest threat” to U.S. national security, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, replied:
I try not to pin myself or the country down in that regard….We live today under the threat of global terrorism….Cyber is probably the threat least known, most ignored…and eventually…could be the most catastrophic….[Nuclear] is the one capability that could literally alter our way of life and take massive casualties….I avoid oftentimes the words “greatest threat”. It’s kind of a quilt or mosaic of threats that for me adds up to something I call the security paradox: so there hasn’t been a world war in a long time, and so everybody says “whew”…unless you know what’s out there.
A more surprising answer comes from the former commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal: citing low high-school graduation rates as well as the prevalence of obesity among adolescents, he argued that the greatest threat is “in our schools.”
The gap between Dempsey and McChrystal’s responses suggests how little consensus there is among Americans on what constitutes the greatest threat to U.S. national security; last November, in fact, Joshua Keating posted 17 different assessments. I was curious to see how the picture changed when one extended one’s purview from U.S. security to global security. Below are some of the notable assessments that I found, grouped into five rough categories:
The threat that a given phenomenon poses is generally defined as its likelihood times its impact. Here are some questions that might help to get at how individuals gauge those two variables:
To folks who’re reading: what questions would you suggest for explaining why people’s threat assessments differ? What do you think is the greatest threat that the world faces?
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