A significant and increasing threat to U.S. security comes from a wide range of transnational problems, including those caused by malefactors (drug traffickers, nuclear smugglers, and terrorists), impersonal forces (pollution, resource shortages, population growth), and humanitarian disasters. The unifying element in the broad range of issues covered in this chapter is that none are due primarily to the actions of governments.
In some form, transnational threats have been around for as long as there have been nations. From its very inception, the United States has had to deal with issues such as piracy on the high seas, epidemics transmitted from abroad, and unwanted immigration. However, in recent years, the acceleration of technological advances and the diffusion of liberal values have created some urgent new transnational threats, as well as exacerbating some longstanding threats--or at least making them appear more pressing.
During the Cold War, the notion that the military might have a role in addressing transnational threats rarely surfaced. Since the demise of the Soviet threat, however, the U.S. armed forces have become free to address other tasks, such as disaster relief and quasi-police functions. The question of whether the military is the appropriate agency to handle such tasks, however, remains open.