US National Security: New Threats, Old Realities

  • Published

US National Security: New Threats, Old Realities by Paul Viotti. Cambria Press, 2016, 293 pp.

National security is an important concept for anyone concerned with the safety of the United States. It is especially relevant to individuals whose professional careers are affected by it, such as those in the military or intelligence services. Hence, the knowledge presented in this work will bring us up to date about past, present, and—most of all—future developments regarding national security that we will face in the twenty-first century. It is thus appropriate that the title of the book is US National Security: New Threats, Old Realities since it is a reflection on the past with a look toward the future.

Viotti examines several key concepts associated with national security and shows how they have been viewed in the past and may be viewed in the future. Some of the concepts discussed in detail include war, intelligence, the military, insurgencies, terrorism, and civil and military relations. Many of these have a chapter devoted to them describing past as well as projected future interpretations. The author emphasizes that concepts associated with national security often have a subjective interpretation. For example, the concept of a threat as discussed in chapter one can result in a subjective interpretation of its meaning involving defining just what is a threat. In addition, the seriousness of a threat to national security can also result in divergent views. Finally, how a country should react to a threat can generate differences of opinion. A good example given in the book is the Cuban missile crisis that emerged in the Kennedy administration.

One of the author's major points is that the world we live in today in terms of national security is quite different from the past because new challenges affecting our national security are now present, including cyber warfare, terrorism, global climate change, threats in outer space, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (xv). Having them called to our attention shows just how much the world has changed in the past 40 years in the context of national security because of their potential effects. These challenges will not go away. They will become more serious, dangerous, important, and in need of a proper response by US policy makers. For example, today cyber warfare in one form or another is a major concern of the United States electoral process. Hence, the more we know about it, the safer we will be if proper action is taken against it.

Although much of the book’s value is found in the author’s suggested future changes in these concepts, there is additional worth in the informative historical background. A fine example of this is in chapter two dealing with the concept of war. It is here that he devotes considerable reference to the classic book On War by Carl von Clausewitz and notes that military action is not an end in itself but a means to an end specified by political leadership. War is an instrument of policy (40). Considering the role of the United States in fighting various types of wars in the past 60 years, it is not surprising that many would agree with this view.

While all of the chapters are quite interesting, chapter six concerning intelligence could be one of the more pertinent ones considering how our president today is reacting to the intelligence establishment. Perhaps this is also so because, as the author indicates, the intelligence factor in national security has become much more critical to American security since World War II. Viotti does a commendable job in explaining why this is and identifies the increased activity of this factor by noting the covert actions of the intelligence services. He points out that a problem for intelligence is the sheer amount of information accumulated by its efforts (163).

Of course, wars are fought in various ways. Today, we are more likely to experience a limited war such as the ones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere without the probability of using a nuclear weapon. The author also observes that these types of military endeavors may also require a different approach on our part. Specifically, he suggests that when combatting an enemy insurgency movement, it is extremely important not to alienate the local population for fear that doing so would hamper our success. In addition, it is critical not to lose the support of the American people in countering an insurgency. This precept is evident when the author explains the American defeat in the Vietnam. It is thus obvious from reading this book that future wars and military conflicts will be fought differently with newer, more sophisticated weapons and a different type of military personnel composed of individuals reflecting various backgrounds in terms of gender and sexual orientation. Space and cybersecurity concerns are brought to our attention as key considerations in national security matters. Yet these concerns are to be expected due to the many changes in American society and in the world at large.

This book does a commendable job in identifying challenges to national security, making it a significant work for anyone concerned about the topic. Perhaps one of its better characteristics is a calling for a more realistic future consideration of the central concepts associated with national security. This emphasis is understandable considering the many changes coming about in the area of international relations as we use the instruments of national power.

William E. Kelly
Auburn University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."