November 3, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

What the Winner Faces

Throughout history, nations have yearned tirelessly for enduring peace and stability. Unfortunately, it just doesn't seem to be in the cards yet.

So no matter who is elected this year, national-security issues are sure to give the next president plenty of heartburn and insomnia.

Topping the security challenge list are: stabilizing Iraq, fighting global terrorism, securing Afghanistan, settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and denuclearizing Iran and North Korea.

But other huge, and no less critical, strategic issues will require the next chief executive's unswerving attention. If not addressed skillfully by the next president, these matters will put our national security at severe risk at some point down the road.

* Weapons proliferation. In the wrong hands, nuclear weapons are today's greatest global security threat. On this, both presidential candidates seem to have agreed.

Apparent South Korean experimentation with uranium enrichment and allegations against Brazil (yes, Brazil!) over the same issue only fuel concerns about proliferation. If unchecked, the fear is that nukes - and nuke know-how - will proliferate so freely and widely among states that they'll ultimately seep into terrorists' hands as well.

Putting real teeth in U.N. nonproliferation treaties with enforcement provisions, broadening coalitions to fight the spread of nuclear weapons, punishing proliferators and fielding ballistic missile defenses must be high on any president's agenda.

* Russia. In true Napoleonic fashion, Moscow is beating a hasty retreat from democracy towards czarist authoritarianism under Russian President Vladimir Putin. But, perhaps, more troubling than the rollback on freedom are Russia's nonproliferation practices.

Securing Russian fissile material is critical to preventing it from coming into a terrorist's possession. Worse yet, a loose Russian nuke could lead to a mushroom cloud over an American city and innumerable deaths.

Russia must cooperate more fully with the international community to secure its often poorly guarded weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities and nuclear material stockpiles.

Moscow must also end its nuclear cooperation with Tehran, which is launching the maniacal mullahs toward nuclear-weapons statehood and hegemony in the Middle East.

* China. Beijing is the world's rising superpower. The Chinese economy is the world's third largest (after the American and Japanese). More troubling: Its exploding military budget is the biggest in Asia and the third-largest globally (following the U.S. and Russia).

China is really feeling its oats these days, and dealing with Beijing will only get more difficult. Its cooperation is needed to rein in North Korea's nuclear program (in the Six Party Talks) and Iran's (in the U.N. Security Council). China's lust for Taiwan has not yet been sated either, and a military confrontation there is possible.

Developing a constructive relationship with Beijing is key to peace and stability in Asia in this century. And as Chinese power grows, a failure to discipline the relationship could lead to misperception, miscalculation - and conflict.

* Energy security. Oil is a four-letter word for a lot of people. But whether you like it or not, we're stuck with our oil addiction for the near future at least. Oil and its byproducts fuel our economy and make our quality of life one of the world's highest.

The problem: Oil is already hovering at $50 a barrel and heading skyward. The incredible surge in Chinese and Indian energy consumption will only send the price higher. Our economy will suffer accordingly.

We must find new sources of oil and natural gas outside of the volatile Middle East and the OPEC oil cartel. Additional oil-refining capacity must also be developed if we're not going to feel an energy-supply pinch during moments of instability. (Saudi Arabia currently has the world's only surge oil-production capability.)

The 9/11 Commission was right: We're safer today than we were three years ago on 9/11 - but we're not safe. The commission, of course, was talking about terrorism. From oil to nukes, national security threats go far beyond the specter of terrorism.

The next president will have no grace period for dealing with the broad spectrum of national-security problems that confront our nation - both immediate and long-term. He will have to hit the ground running.

Americans went to the polls in record numbers yesterday to make an incredibly important decision - choosing the next president. Let's hope that collectively we're wise enough to choose the candidate with the vision and policies to keep America - and its interests abroad - safe and secure.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post