EgyptAir Flight 804 went down this week, and experts immediately suspected an act of terrorism. Downed flights and TSA airport checks are high-visibility, regular reminders that we live in a dangerous world.
Amid the daily media noise and political hype surrounding war and terror, Americans understandably ask: “How safe are we?”
In a world of woes, it should be comforting to know we are pretty darn safe.
Perspective matters. In the United States, cars kill more people than terrorists. Bathrooms are more dangerous than airports or rock concerts. Opioids will claim more Vermonters than IEDs do U.S. troops. President Barack Obama reminds his staff that accidents off more Americans than homegrown terrorists or foreign-born jihadis.
It is easy to lose perspective. Lethally mundane acts do not grab headlines or promote panic the way random dramatic violence does. Everyone knows, however, that safety and security are not strictly personal concerns. Much of the world is unsafe, and disquiet in one place can trigger problems and insecurity elsewhere.
American safety relies heavily on its formidable military might. What helps keep America strong is not only its security apparatus, but also a healthy, productive and open economy able to manage globalization, capital flows, trade and currency manipulations. America’s vitality and security relies on vigorously growing jobs and investing people in their communities and country.
It is right to keep the homeland safe by keeping the homeland socially and economically strong. Politicians who manipulate a disgruntled electorate by selling a story of fear and demise are selling America short by failing to recognize this nation’s relative strength and global standing.
America, for all her privilege and potential, is neither perfect nor perfectly safe. Like all nations, she is vulnerable to external threats, adversaries and competitors. Places like Iran, North Korea and Russia see relations with the U.S. as a zero-sum game. A loss of U.S. prestige or power is perceived as their gain.
Given the means and the opportunity, Iran would actively work to undermine our system and society. For years, Iranians tried to develop nuclear weapons, hoping to counter American power and neutralize her regional friends and allies. The recent multinational deal froze Iran’s nuclear capacities for at least a decade. Tightly enforcing that deal will continue to keep America and the world safer.
The U.S. should continue to nurture Iranian moderation. Improved global security will rely on better relations, something that is hard to imagine as long as an antagonistic supreme leader maintains absolute power.
North Korea still threatens nearly everyone by recklessly using nuclear blackmail to gain leverage. Kim Jong Un’s rockets are not able to lob a nuke at the U.S., but Pyongyang regularly rattles its nuclear saber. Threat to America? Not really. Troublemaker in its neighborhood? Most definitely.
Working with China to manage and moderate Pyongyang requires a strong, secure and stable Beijing that can confidently partner and engage with the U.S. on shared interests.
Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin is an arrogant irritant, playing a real-world game of Risk and asserting Russian hegemony over her regional sphere of influence. Moscow is more likely to make a mistake than to directly confront the United States. Barrel-rolling jet fighters over U.S. Navy ships, for example, is a risky and stupid thing to do. Accidents happen.
Russia constantly needs to be checked. Over time it must be brought back into the fold.
State threats, while real, are mostly manageable. Nonstate threats such as ISIS are more likely to deploy weapons of mass disruption, gumming up travel, increasing inconvenience and giving CNN more viewers. Lone gunmen and tiny terror cells are able to grind commerce to a temporary halt and ground planes, but their lasting effects – while expensive – are limited. Fear not!
In the meantime, have a drink, take a bath and plan a vacation. What have you got to lose?
Markos Kounalakis is a research fellow at Central European University and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KounalakisM.