OP ED: America’s National Security System: The Failure to Protect May 22, 2020

Lloyd J. Dumas*, University of Texas at Dallas


If there is one thing that both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats agree on, it is that one of the most critical responsibilities of the federal government is to provide for the nation’s security — to protect the people of the country from the ravages of foreign invasion or attack. In honor of this responsibility, the U.S. government has spent many trillions of dollars since WWII on its military forces to try to insure they were big enough, and well enough equipped with the world’s best weapons (conventional and nuclear) to hold off or defeat any attack by those who would do us harm and compromise the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to which we believe our people had an unalienable right.

But while we were spending those many trillions of dollars on weapons, military-oriented R&D, attack warning systems, and training and maintenance of millions of troops, we failed to understand or even name, let alone to work to effectively counter some of our most dangerous, existential national security threats. For years, many analysts of and experts on national and international security have been raising the possibility of our people being swept up in a rapidly spreading lethal pandemic triggered by a novel emerging virus.

The pandemic from which we are now suffering is not a surprise. And the decision to try to deal with it by putting everyone in the country under what amounts to a form of “house arrest” for an indefinite period is the kind of frantic and desperate measure that is seized upon by governments who face an imminent deadly threat for which they are woefully unprepared. The pandemic is sickening and killing us, and the “shutdown” and “social distancing” are trampling on our civil liberties, and stressing our social relationships.

At this point, hundreds of thousands of our people have been sickened and tens of thousands have died. Our desperate reaction to the pandemic has savaged our “unplugged” economy, throwing millions out of work and threatening to take us down into the depths of another Great Depression. If all of this had been the result of an enemy military attack and invasion, we would all consider it a major failure of our national security system. But that is exactly what it is. It is a failure to recognize that a big and powerful military force should not be the beginning and end of our national security strategy.

We must take a broader and more realistic view of our national security needs. Invasion by deadly microscopic viruses like corona and ecological disasters like global warming and the climate change it produces are real threats to our national security. And they cannot be successfully countered, let alone defeated by military force. If we really want the nation to be as secure as it can be, we must redirect a substantial portion of the huge amount of the resources we continue to pour into our gargantuan military budget to programs of biomedical research and preparedness, large scale economically sensible and environmentally effective efforts to counter global warming, and other nonmilitary programs that address the full range of challenges to our nation’s security.

*Professor Dumas latest book is, Building the Good Society: The Power and Limits of Markets, Democracy and Freedom (Emerald Publishers, 2020).

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