Attempting to understand the outlay of contemporary international relations is perhaps one of the most maddening tasks a political analyst could undertake today, save perhaps illegal immigration in the US. Terrorism stemming from religous fundamentalism is the most obvious “new” threat, but a number of major power shifts have taken place in the preceding years that have contributed to today’s murky picture of the world. One would be correct in pointing out the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in nations such as India and North Korea, and the emergence of an economic monolith in China as further examples of these global shifts of power structures.
It is important to look at these developments of the past decade and half in light of the previous half decade. That, as we know, was the period in which existed the Cold War. That era was wholly defined by the specter of mutually-assured destruction by nuclear missiles. The US and USSR were the undisputed superpowers of the world. Aside from fighting each other vicariously through various Third World countries, no material conflict ever erupted between the two. The relations between the two were, in that time, the only international relations that really mattered. In its own very peculiar and twisted way, it was a time of relative world stability, because the world knew where everyone stood, even if the stakes were the obliteration of the planet by nuclear weapons.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, a definite power vacuum developed in Eastern Europe, and really in all the Soviet client states internationally. The US stood then as the only superpower as the world tried to reshuffle inself into the new world order as it were. It would seem logical to accept that we are still in the midst of this reshuffling period. No sustainable blocs of allies have developed; alignments are still very much in flux. The US itself has relatively few dedicated allies. Worse yet, the nuclear weapons of yore have not disappeared from the equation; instead they have proliferated in countries outside the two old Cold War powers. These new memebers of the nuclear club, like North Korea, can not generally be counted on to remember the rules held to by the US and USSR during the Cold War. They seem apt to forget the fact that while they now have a deterrent, they are also threated in a highly disproportionate way by the military might of the United States.
The changing landscape in not just in terms of military might; in fact the more relevant part of the change is economic. In those terms superpower status is held not only by the US but China as well. Furthermore, as the US relies increasingly on imports of goods and labor, its places its own economic future in the hands of many other countries, giving them considerable influence in the international level. Of course as in any era since the dawn of the industrial revolution, energy is of utmost importance, particularly in the form of fossil fuels. The reliance of both the US and China–the largest consumers of fossil fuels–on foreign nations for that fuel certainly lends much influence to those source nations.
The imminent threats most prominent in the news of late are belligerence on the part of the Iranians and North Koreans, two nations with designs on nuclear proliferation. The threat of terrorism is accepted more as a when, not if, phenomenon. But it is extremely short-sighted to stop short with these. In light of this, I would suggest this editorial by Neil Cavuto outlining another major threat to the US–one much closer to home.