In the new issue of Foreign Affairs, the house organ of establishment foreign policy thinking, Micah Zenko and Michael A. Cohen argue that despite the hype we are constantly subjected to by politicians and the media about foreign threats to the country, the fact is America is incredibly secure. Why all the threat inflation?
Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.
This is a point Tate Watkins and I have made in our cybersecurity work, and Zenko and Cohen bring up cybersecurity here as well:
A more recent bogeyman in national security debates is the threat of so-called cyberwar. Policymakers and pundits have been warning for more than a decade about an imminent “cyber–Pearl Harbor” or “cyber-9/11.” In June 2011, then Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said that “bits and bytes can be as threatening as bullets and bombs.” And in September 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described cyberattacks as an “existential” threat that “actually can bring us to our knees.”
Although the potential vulnerability of private businesses and government agencies to cyberattacks has increased, the alleged threat of cyberwarfare crumbles under scrutiny. No cyberattack has resulted in the loss of a single U.S. citizen’s life. Reports of “kinetic-like” cyber- attacks, such as one on an Illinois water plant and a North Korean attack on U.S. government servers, have proved baseless. Pentagon networks are attacked thousands of times a day by individuals and foreign intelligence agencies; so, too, are servers in the private sector. But the vast majority of these attacks fail wherever adequate safeguards have been put in place. Certainly, none is even vaguely comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11, and most can be offset by commonsense prevention and mitigation efforts.