Tomorrow is the first of the presidential debates for this election cycle. If tradition holds, one of the major topics that will be addressed over all these events is the concept of “national security”. And most, if not all, the questions related to that phrase will center around the military, Russia, terrorism, and other topics that involve ships, bombs, and the other stuff of war.
However, that thinking is far too narrow for the world in which we currently live. We need to expand the definition of “national security”.
If we learn anything from the current pandemic, it should be that a robust public health system is essential to everyone’s security. When the virus arrived in the country at the start of this year, we lacked the necessary structures to deal with a major health-related crisis. Not to mention, having few leaders with the ability to use the resources if they existed.
How about including climate change? Even military analysts at the Pentagon have said that a warming Earth, with the resulting droughts, more frequent major storms, rising seas, and more, will be a threat to national and international stability. In dealing with those threats, building more and better destructive equipment than other countries will be worth exactly diddly squat.
One of the few issues most of our politicians seem to agree on is the need to improve our national infrastructure. Not just crumbling roads and bridges. Outdated air traffic control systems, inefficient ports, and inadequate public transportation all contribute to weaken the nation. Plus, as should be obvious by now, many of our digital networks are critically insecure and in need of serious attention.
Finally, I would argue that a strong public education system, one that works for all children everywhere, is also an essential part of securing the nation. Without a knowledgeable, well-educated population it will be impossible to move this country forward, much less staff the jobs in the military that pundits and politicians believe is so vital to “national security”.
We could probably add a few more non-military items to that list. But, even if the discussion around “national security” can be changed to these more immediate threats, the question that will inevitably arise is, how do we pay for all that stuff?
A good first step would be to slice 10% from the $700+ billion budget allocated to the Pentagon. Maybe also take some money from Homeland Security, where too much time and effort is devoted to creating the illusion of protection.
The bottom line is that we need to change our approach to protecting the country by acknowledging the many challenges to our national security that don’t involve people who wear uniforms and expensive weapons.
Maybe ask the candidates about their proposals to address that aspect of “national security”.
The image is, of course, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. With Graham Chapman as Arthur, King of the Britons, and John Cleese as Sir Lancelot (also Tim the Enchanter) providing a little “national security”.