Security is a critical issue on many levels: personal, financial, organizational, business, political and national security are just some of the types of security we need. In our ever-changing world and growing global environment, threats to security are becoming more prevalent and severe. The following is a discussion of 30 of the Biggest International Security Threats. While these are not in a strict order, the list reflects current trends in our world today.
1. Weaponized Drones
Military drones have been effective as “anti-personnel instruments” in the Middle East; technology allows these weapons to become smaller (and harder to defend against), as evidenced by attacks in Afghanistan being carried out by a drone no bigger than a model airplane. As more and more civilian drones are manufactured and sold (especially recreational drones in the western world), the opportunity for modification grows. Despite efforts to regulate the use of recreational drones, it won’t be too long before a remote-control tragedy strikes a civilian target. The US military is purchasing drone-jamming hardware, but the half-life of technology makes that an uphill battle.
Unemployment may be a boring government statistic, but even as the US comes out of a recession, many parts of the world still have economic challenges. The combination of weak economic conditions and fast technological change provides an atmosphere conducive to drastic measures taken by desperate people. Unemployment and underemployment are primary factors in social instability and internal conflict (as explained later).
3. Corruption / Graft
While the US enjoys the ‘Rule of Law,’ such is not the case around the world. Political corruption, unethical business practices and military corruption can destabilize an economy and country. One only needs to consider parts of Latin American or Spain to see the impact of economic and political uncertainty and the difficulty of maintaining order in difficult circumstances. Corruption can be linked to many other security threats around the globe – it undermines the public trust and is a catalyst for violence in many cultures (both revolutionary and oppressive).
China has become an economic superpower and will continue to grow in global influence in other realms as well. The ongoing dispute over Taiwan – with the small country maintaining its independence and Beijing taking the contrary view, the rapidly growing military and the amount of US debt the nation holds make it a threat to the delicate balance of power in Asia. US commitment to defend allies in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan may be tested if China attempts to flex its muscle in the vast continent of Asia.
5. Political Upheaval
Current events reveal dramatic political shifts in traditionally stable and predictable arenas: the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States surprised the global community. Add to this the controversy of the refugee crises across Europe and America and other geopolitical tensions in Asia and it is easy to understand that political upheaval is a significant threat to global security.
6. Weapons of Mass Destruction
The threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction didn’t disappear with Saddam Hussein; the threat was addressed in Syria and continues to drive the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East. The use of WMDs on a given population is a real threat to international security and continues to rear its head from time to time.
The European continent not seen as a specific threat in and of itself, however, that doesn’t mean that there are no concerns. As in the United States, there is a wide gap in perspective about threats to European countries – specifically, middle-eastern refugees. The differences between conservative and liberal viewpoints about this issue alone are stark: in Germany, the difference of priority is 51%/14% (people who see refugees as a threat v people who do not); in France, the ratio is 65%/32%; similar results are found in Sweden and the Netherlands. When this difference of perspective is combined with the decision of the UK to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’), a picture of a divided European culture is very clear. This represents a global threat due to potential instability.
8. Internal Conflict / Civil War
On the heels of the possible culture divide described above comes the risk of internal conflict or civil war. The destabilization of a culture can lead to political upheaval that topples the current regime. In recent history, political unrest in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have had global impact, adding a threat to the international community. Millions of displaced people are but one of the great impacts of civil war – according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 210,000 citizens of that country have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict. Casualties are typically higher in civil conflicts due to the general condition that they tend to last longer than inter-state war. The status of an individual country can cause an international threat to the global community.
9. Latin America
The risk of violent internal conflict is growing in South America – in particular, economic and social unrest in Venezuela could lead to political destabilization. Venezuelans view the global economy as a primary threat to their country; a view common across the continent’s other countries. To the north, Mexico is concerned with US influence and power – particularly with the prospect of a border wall. However, Mexico’s internal problems, including the illicit activity of various drug cartels, represent a global threat that is increasing year by year. Exacerbating this risk is the decreasing favorability for the US as well as their own administration.
Russia’s recent aggression in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine flouted international law as well as the west’s promises of security included with the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. This puts NATO on notice as the response did little to effect punitive damage against the superpower. Russia’s actions led to increased concern among eastern European countries militarily; Russia’s alleged involvement in United States politics (particularly during the 2016 presidential election campaign) demonstrates their willingness and ability to exercise undue influence on the world.
11. Middle East Politics
The threat of global terrorism (discussed later on this list) has a stronghold in the middle east, but another major threat to global security arises from the political climate in the region. Recent administrative changes in Saudi Arabia add to the atmosphere of regional instability as no one is 100% certain of a) when the changes will end, and b) what the attitude of the new administration will be. Add this to the existing tensions within Israel’s borders, Syrian civil war and international involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is easy to see why this geographic area is a threat to international security. International tensions involving the west and Iran merely add to a lengthy list of risk factors, justifying the description of the region as a ‘powder keg’ – with many lit matches nearby!
12. Global Economy
International economics poses a threat to international security and it is highly cited as a top concern in countries such as Greece, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and other countries within the Middle East and Latin America. The delicate balance of internal economics and the global economic environment is at constant risk. The looming threat of a domino effect causes anxiety within many governments (consider the impact of the economic bailout of Greece); indicating the validity of the global economy as a threat to international security.
13. Environmental Issues / Pollution
Global deaths caused by air pollution are more common than many other infectious diseases; the critical need for clean water is well established across the third world – but the increase in filtered and bottled water sales in the west belies the threat of contamination in the western world as well. Different from climate change, air and water pollution as the result of industrialization is an ever-increasing threat to international security. International agreements and accords do not necessarily prevent future pollution (especially if the agreement is not universally accepted); the desire for economic growth and status drives production and resultant pollution that knows no borders. Open fires in an African village impact the air quality in Norway; illegal chemical dumping in rural America impacts the water table and/or global waterways. Environmental issues pose an international threat to security.
14. United States
The widening gap between conservative and liberal bases in the United States has an impact on the world. This has never been more pronounced than after the 2016 presidential campaign and election. The volume level of pundits on both sides has increased over the first year of the new presidential term, leading to a decline in confidence that the United States can successfully wield the global power and authority it once held. Even while an investigation into foreign intervention in the campaign and election continues, the resulting civil unrest gets louder, more frequent and expansive. All of this leads to an increased threat to international security due to the potential for cultural instability within US borders.
15. Organized Crime
While not in the daily news as much since the last century, organized crime is still a great threat to international security. Gangs, drug cartels and illegal businesses have only gotten more sophisticated since the gangster days of 1930’s and 1940’s America. Latin America has seen dramatic growth in cartel and gang activity, adding to the threat of security in that region; Mexico, Brazil and Honduras have the unhappy distinction of having the highest homicide rates in the world. Africa has seen Boko Haram among other groups attempt to seize power or engage in socially disruptive activities.
16. Climate Change
The debate to its cause may not be settled, but the perception that climate change is a genuine threat is common to nearly all countries around the globe. The severity and frequency of dangerous weather events is high on the list of international security threats. Natural disasters as well as man-influenced environmental occurrences impact a countries infrastructure, power grid and other lines of materials distribution leaving the citizenry vulnerable. Early warning systems may not be sufficient to allow for adequate preparation for a severe storm.
17. Energy Cost
This threat or risk may be primarily a concern of business and industry, but the impact of volatile energy prices (and the subsequent availability of energy) is widespread. Whether a nation is a producer or consumer of energy, the instability of cost/price is a risk that can lead to a significant threat to national security. In the late 1970’s, the United States experienced a gasoline shortage that impacted all levels of the culture: individuals, business, government and military. In some parts of the world, there is no 24-hour access to electricity. As more regions become industrialized, the demand for power increases and a greater strain is placed on existing energy production lines. The many strings attached to reliable, price-stable energy combine to make global energy a risk to international security.
More than just China, North Korea and Russia, the general region of Asia presents a concern to the global community due to instability in the region at large. From the recent political turmoil in North Korea to Russian aggression to China flexing its economic muscle, there are disturbances in Vietnam and Burma as well as India and Indonesia to add to the general instability. All of this adds a level of threat to international security largely due to it large geography and umpredictability.
19. Nuclear Proliferation
As more countries “get the bomb,” the risk of international nuclear war rises. As nuclear capability spreads (not just for the manufacture of electricity, but for weapons), the likelihood of such technology being available to despot and rogue nations increases. This presents a massive threat to international security as, by definition, rogue states are not part of the global non-proliferation agreements (or would not honor them if they were included). As weapons systems grow in effectiveness, defense systems to perceive, prevent and/or reduce their impact are forced to keep pace. Overall, this presents a grave threat to international security.
20. Refugee Crises
One result of several other threats (primarily internal conflict / civil war) is the ongoing refugee crisis. Large numbers of displaced people have been relocated around the world in the past decade. This has led to a drain on social services and an increase in crime where refugees are housed but have little to do. The crisis has led to many violent clashes in western Europe and is a current hot topic in several European countries such as Hungary, Germany, France and the United Kingdom as well as the United States and Australia. As it takes much time for refugees to assimilate – and there is always the hope of returning to their homeland – these displaced groups of people exist in a cultural limbo, presenting an international threat to security.
21. North Korea
Of all the recent events in the news, the escalation of North Korea’s weapons systems are paramount. The country has demonstrated a tenacity under the current regime to develop nuclear warheads and the capability of delivering them to United States soil. Tensions between the US and North Korea were so high that the world was expecting all-out war to commence at any moment. The country has all the ingredients of a global threat: horrible human rights record, possibly deranged leader with absolute power, weakened economy and a “nothing to lose” attitude. The verbal sparring between the US President and North Korean Dictator seems likely to continue to escalate until one of them is removed from power.
22. Fiscal Crises
Across the globe, there seems to be a growing disparity between the wealthy and poor. Not long ago, a movement called “Occupy Wall Street” made news in the US (and was spread around the world) calling out the disproportionate wealth held by ‘the one percent’ of the world population. As seen long ago in Europe, economic imbalance can lead to strife; with the current global economy, an internal struggle can have a large ripple effect when economic problems come to a head.
23. Social / Cultural Instability
The current wave of so-called “Social Justice Warriors” is revealing the impact of cultural and social instability. Social media is the pulpit of choice, as pundits can broadcast their messages with minimal overhead and a single video commentary can “go viral” and cause a national and international sensation. The recent wave of protests across the United States over its own history and legacy (centered around the Civil War era) will not remain in America – it is sure to spread across the globe and presents an international threat to security.
24. Small Arms
Americans love their guns, as evidenced by current statistics. However, the United States is not the exclusive region where gun violence is a significant threat. Africa is another region where gun violence is has been traditionally found. Europe, which had led the world in gun control legislation, suffered many attacks using small arms. The subject of small arms has also opened the dialog about individual rights, mental illness and government oversight of both. The bottom line is that individually-owned small arms represent a threat around the world.
25. Encryption Debate
After an attack in San Bernadino, California, the United States FBI demanded that Apple create software to breach its own security system – hack itself, so to speak. The popularity of iPhones specifically set the stage for an ethics debate that involves threats to international security: when should a company be forced to reveal its proprietary code or assist a governmental agency in crime investigation? Is it ever permissible? Is it never permissible? The San Bernadino case was resolved without Apple’s help; it is impossible to say when the next public debate will occur.
While not responsible for all terrorist attacks, ISIS has become a major international security threat in recent years. ISIS has become the primary “brand” of terrorism and has followers (genuine and otherwise) around the world. Radical Islam – that which brutally enforces its ‘holy war’ or jihad in foreign countries provides a genuine threat to international security by killing citizens and destroying property.
27. State Sponsored Cyber Attacks
The new location of international conflict is in cyberspace. Rogue states sponsor cyber attacks to disrupt economies, businesses, administrations and security systems in order to bring chaos and vulnerability to bear. The fact that this type of hacking is not the work of individuals but is sponsored by governments underscores the broad scope of such a threat. State sponsored cyber attacks are not limited to super powers or large countries; anyone with internet access can launch an attack from virtually anywhere in the world. The potential impact of cyber attacks is total devastation.
Ransomware has become a billion-dollar business; it has caught the attention of nearly every user of a computer network. Even the nature of the demand has changed over time – from simply demanding payment to release encrypted files to offering a horrible choice: pay or approve the infection of other computers! To date, ransomware demands have struck government agencies, hospitals and financial organizations; no network is immune! This growing threat knows no boundaries and the perpetrators are very difficult to identify and track down.
29. DDoS Attacks
Unlike ransomware, distributed denial of service attacks seek to overload a website by artificially increasing internet traffic through hijacked computers until the overloaded server crashes and disrupts the business operations. Unfortunately, because of the rapid expansion and growth of hacking programming capabilities, DDoS attacks are becoming more precise in their targeting and more effective in their impact. Not satisfied with the disruption of a single business, entire networks (up to and including significant portions of the internet itself) are at risk of this insidious attack.
Global terrorism is the single biggest threat to international security. Beyond the publicized attacks claimed by ISIS, there are literally dozens of organized groups who seek nothing more than destruction of nations, economies and societies. Between 1978 and 2013, acts of terrorism that claimed more than one hundred lives averaged just over 4 per year. There were 26 such attacks in 2014. In 2015, over 29,000 people lost their lived due to terrorist attacks and the number was over 25,000 in 2016. There was no border that was safe: Tunisia, France, Belgium, Yemen, Egypt, Nigeria, United Kingdom and the United States have all had terrorist attacks on their soil.
International security is a fragile commodity. The first step in providing security for any region, country, organization, business or individual is recognizing the relevant threats that exist for each realm of operation.