2019’s real global se­cu­rity threats don’t in­clude bor­der cri­sis

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Trudy Ru­bin Trudy Ru­bin (tru­[email protected]) is a colum­nist and ed­i­to­rial-board mem­ber for the Phil­a­del­phia In­quirer. Her com­men­tary was dis­trib­uted by Tribune Con­tent Agency, LLC.

As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ens to de­clare a state of emer­gency to counter a man­u­fac­tured se­cu­rity cri­sis on our south­ern bor­der, it’s worth look­ing at the real se­cu­rity chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try in 2019.

List after pub­lished list of such se­cu­rity threats, as com­piled by think tanks, the de­part­ments of State, Home­land Se­cu­rity, and the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, fail to men­tion the press of im­mi­grants on the south­ern bor­der as one of those dan­gers. That’s be­cause it isn’t.

Yes, bor­der se­cu­rity is an is­sue, but it could be ad­dressed in bi­par­ti­san fash­ion if the pres­i­dent hadn’t made “build the wall” his never-end­ing cam­paign slo­gan. How­ever, the bor­der presents no ur­gent na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis; the White House can’t cite one in­stance of a known ter­ror­ist cross­ing from Mex­ico, and many il­licit drug ship­ments are smug­gled in via sea, air­ports — or by mail from China.

Here are five points that most threat lists see as the top na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges in the new year. And I’ll add a sixth point on what I see pos­ing the gravest dan­ger of all.

1. The risk of a highly dis­rup­tive cy­ber­at­tack on U.S. crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and net­works tops most lists. This was the top-ranked threat for 2019, ac­cord­ing to a mas­sive sur­vey of se­cu­rity ex­perts by the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

It also topped the U.S. in­tel­li­gence agency’s 2018 world­wide threat as­sess­ment, which warned: “The po­ten­tial for sur­prise in the cy­ber realm will in­crease in the next year and be­yond as bil­lions more dig­i­tal de­vices are con­nected — with rel­a­tively lit­tle built-in se­cu­rity — and both na­tion states and ma­lign ac­tors be­come more em­bold­ened.” It said the great­est dan­ger was posed by Rus­sia, China, Iran, and North Ko­rea, whose hack­ers have al­ready threat­ened cru­cial U.S. sys­tems from elec­tions to the Pen­tagon to our elec­tri­cal grid.

2. The chance of a mil­i­tary clash with China over is­lands in the South China Sea is ris­ing. As the White House has fo­cused on a trade war with Bei­jing, the Chi­nese have been il­le­gally for­ti­fy­ing is­lands and atolls in the sea that give it con­trol over one of the world’s most cru­cial in­ter­na­tional wa­ter­ways.

U.S. and Chi­nese ships came close in 2018 to clash­ing in these wa­ters; it may al­ready be too late to com­pel China to ob­serve in­ter­na­tional laws on free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion or keep Xi Jin­ping’s prom­ise not to mil­i­ta­rize the sea.

3. The United States may get drawn into new Mideast con­flicts be­cause of a rash Trump with­drawal from Syria. Trump’s sud­den de­ci­sion to re­treat — which pro­voked Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis to re­sign — will un­leash many new Mideast demons.

ISIS may re­vive in a new form. And the Amer­i­can re­treat will help Iran ex­pand its hold in­side Syria. That, in turn, could in­crease chances of a proxy war be­tween Iran and Is­rael, which fears hav­ing Ira­nian-backed forces on its bor­der. Such a war would likely drag Amer­ica in.

4. We could see an­other Rus­sian land grab in Ukraine, along with fur­ther Rus­sian po­lit­i­cal med­dling in and cy­ber­at­tacks on NATO coun­tries. Vladimir Putin will con­tinue his ef­forts to weaken and di­vide the West and un­der­cut U.S. global in­ter­ests, en­cour­aged by Trump’s re­fusal to re­buff him. Putin’s goal is to splin­ter Amer­ica’s strong­est mil­i­tary al­liance and help bring down the Euro­pean Union. Trump doesn’t seem to mind.

5. The re­turn of hos­til­i­ties with North Ko­rea is grow­ing more plau­si­ble. Trump le­git­imized Kim Jong-un glob­ally at the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit, yet Kim has yet to make any move to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

Now the pres­i­dent is plan­ning a sec­ond sum­mit with Kim, who has made clear he wants ma­jor con­ces­sions up front, while giv­ing lit­tle or noth­ing in re­turn. Trump may be gulled — in which case Kim will keep his nukes. Or the pres­i­dent may be em­bar­rassed by his sum­mitry fail­ures into re­turn­ing to bel­li­cos­ity, tak­ing us back to square one with Py­ongyang.

6. Trump’s style of lead­er­ship ex­ac­er­bates each of these five threats. His be­lief in his ne­go­ti­at­ing bril­liance with au­to­crats has blinded him to the de­gree that Putin, Xi, and Kim have taken ad­van­tage of his naivete.

That gulli­bil­ity was painfully ev­i­dent in the de­ci­sion to quit Syria, where he swal­lowed false pledges by Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan to take over the fight against ISIS. In re­al­ity, the Turks only want to fight our Kur­dish al­lies, who helped de­feat ISIS.

Trump’s mis­takes in deal­ing with China and North Ko­rea will leave him to­ward one of two un­palat­able po­si­tions: Ei­ther pre­tend that he’s “won” and la­bel loser deals with Kim or Xi as a “vic­tory.” Or ad­mit that his ne­go­ti­a­tions have failed, which may l ead to mil­i­tary clashes with Py­ongyang or Bei­jing. Lost as an op­tion is the kind of strong, well-in­formed, strate­gic bar­gain­ing that could pro­duce re­sults.

And, of course, Trump’s bro­mance with Putin seems to fuel the pres­i­dent’s re­fusal to muster a strong, co­or­di­nated White House re­sponse to Rus­sian cy­beres­pi­onage. That re­fusal also hin­ders our re­sponse to cy­ber­at­tacks from else­where.

So while the pres­i­dent threat­ens to use emer­gency pow­ers to fight a fake bor­der cri­sis, he is fa­cil­i­tat­ing the real crises that could whack us in 2019. That is the news that Amer­i­cans need to grasp.

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