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Meeting the Challenge of Global Threats

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Meeting the Challenge
of Global Threats

The decisions we make today regarding military force structures typically influence our ability to respond to threats 20 to 30 years in the future. Similarly, our current decisions regarding the environment and natural resources will affect the magnitude of their security risks over at least a comparable period of time. The measure of our difficulties in the future will be settled by the steps we take in the present.

...Rapid population growth in the developing world and unsustainable consumption patterns in industrialized nations are the root of both present and potentially even greater forms of environmental degradation and resource depletion. A conservative estimate of the globe's population projects 8.5 billion people on the planet by the year 2025. Even when making the most generous allowances for advances in science and technology, one cannot help but conclude that population growht and environmental pressures will feed into immense social unrest and make the world substantially more vulnerable to serious international frictions.

  • A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, 1995

The Problem

The President's 1995 National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement recognizes that a broad class of global threats evident in the post-Cold War world affect our nation's security. The United States is not isolated from the effects of disease, disasters, or misery elsewhere in the world. In the modern world, diseases readily cross borders, and environmental degradation can have global consequences that threaten the populations of all nations. Great human suffering due to natural disasters or to other environmental, economic, or social and political factors may lead not only to large numbers of refugees crossing international borders but also to instability that increases the likelihood of ethnic and regional civil conflict. Understood in these terms, the security of the United States therefore requires engagement with the developing world and with countries in transition to democracy, to take steps to prevent deadly conflict, to encourage economic development that can be sustained for growing populations, and to respond to threats to the environment and human health.

Outbreaks of new or reemerging infectious diseases may endanger the health of U.S. citizens even if the root causes of the problem lie in distant parts of the world. The tragedy of HIV/AIDS has already made this clear. Diseases affecting humans, plants, and animals are spreading rapidly as a result of trade and travel and, especially when combined with malnutrition, threaten public health and productivity on a broad scale. The rapidly growing human population, widespread pollution, and the deterioration of other environmental factors that contribute to the maintenance of good health, as well as the lack of dependable supplies of clean drinking water for fully a fifth of the world's people, contribute to the acceleration and spread of such diseases.

Natural disasters, the burden of which falls disproportionately on the poor, pose an especially dramatic threat to sustainable development. The costs of natural disasters are high and have been escalating. For example, domestic natural disasters (ranging from hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods to wildfires and ice storms) now cost the United States more than $1 billion each week. Internationally, the impacts can be greater still. In addition to causing widespread human tragedy and loss of life, for the poorest nations of the world a single natural disaster can reduce the gross national product for that year by as much as 25 percent. Losses of this magnitude represent enormous setbacks to a nation's or region's economic and human development. And in a number of regions, these events occur frequently.

Whereas natural disasters threaten human life and sustainable development in a catastrophic manner, global threats such as climate change, ozone depletion, and ocean pollution may take years or even decades to become apparent and build toward crisis. Yet each of these poses challenges to the health and long-term well-being of both U.S. citizens and people throughout the world.

The loss of biodiversity is an especially urgent threat, the consequences of which are irreversible. The permanent loss of species means we will no longer have these organisms as sources of medicines, oils, fibers, food, chemicals, and other commodities of importance to both industrial and developing societies.

The explosive growth of the world's population is of primary importance and exacerbates many of the dilemmas already discussed. Recent history has shown that, in some developing countries, even the most impressive gains in total economic output can be offset by rapid population growth. Population pressures already contribute to violent disorder and mass dislocations in poor societies. Internally displaced persons-who might become refugees-pose a long-term threat to the integrity of their own and other nations as well as to global stability.

As the world's population grows to exceed 8 billion people by 2025, most of this increase will occur in the cities of developing countries. Worldwide, urban population is expected to increase from 1 billion people in 1985 to 4 billion in 2025. Increases in income, greater urbanization (which leads to a shift in diet from roots, tubers, and lower quality grains to higher quality cereals, livestock, and vegetables), and overall population growth could mean that the demand for food in 2025 will be more than double that of current levels of production.

Individually or collectively, threats such as these can increase the likelihood of destabilization of countries in the developing world. Regional or civil conflicts, hastened or exacerbated by environmental stress, could involve the United States in costly and hazardous military interventions, peacekeeping, or humanitarian operations. As is the case in Haiti, severe environmental degradation and resource depletion may make economic recovery much more difficult, thereby prolonging dependence on aid and impeding a nation's recovery from social or political chaos and progress toward democracy and prosperity.

The Challenge to Science and Technology

Research in the natural and social sciences helps us to understand the origins, characteristics, and consequences of global problems. Finding solutions to these problems, and elucidating the complex chains of cause and effect through which they may be linked, requires a coordinated effort by natural and social scientists, engineers, and policymakers. U.S leadership in science and technology is therefore an important element of our national security.

In some cases, research and monitoring programs offer the only substantial warning to government officials and to the public of an emerging problem. For example, through remote sensing, we can have warning of famine and continue to accumulate a record of the state and evolution of the basic components of our biosphere. Such observations and measurements, coupled with the development of predictive models, are necessary tools for policymaking in the post-Cold War security environment.

Transforming scientific breakthroughs into new technologies can have a profound impact on development. Wise stewardship of these technologies is essential. One challenge is to use technology in such a way that it achieves advances in productivity without compromising long-term natural resource viability. For example, technology helped bring about the Green Revolution, which resulted in increased agricultural productivity worldwide. But at the same time, poorly designed irrigation systems led to soil degradation in some areas. In the decades ahead, technology will be required to feed and provide energy for a growing world population while minimizing impact on the integrity of soil, water, air, forests, and other natural resources. In addition, insights from the social sciences can provide the basis for redesigning research and resource management institutions to achieve the efficient use of resources with minimal disruption to the environment. A major parallel challenge to science and technology will be to make contraception more affordable and effective.

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National Security Science & Technology Strategy -Table of Contents

President's Letter

Executive Summary

National Security Science & Technology Strategy - Introduction

Maintaining Military Advantage Through Science & Technology Investment

Carrying Out the Defense S&T Mission

New Ways of Doing Business

Controlling Arms & Stemming the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Role of S&T

Meeting the Challenge of Global Threats

Policy Response

Strengthening Economic Security