The Four Biggest Threats of 2013

The unstable economy, the possibility of a Middle Eastern war, and the continued activity of al-Qaeda will all be threats to the United States in 2013.

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Rebels or terrorists? Fighters clean their weapons and check ammunition on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 14, 2012.
Syrian Rebels clean their weapons and check ammunition on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria.

Michael P. Noonan is the director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As we approach the end of the year, I offer up the four biggest threats for the United States internationally in 2013. The four biggest opportunities will follow in a separate blog post.

[Check out 2012: The Year in Cartoons.]

Here are the biggest threats the United States face:

  1. The economy. While America's international power is fungible it requires a strong domestic economy to generate capabilities. American power grew and expanded with its economy. While hydraulic fracking may redefine U.S. energy needs and its economy there still needs to be some form of grand bargain on a budget deal to ensure that the economy does not slide back into a recession from domestic (in)action, while still being susceptible to foreign shocks.
  2. A Middle Eastern war. Here any number of (mis)calculations could cause a war between Israel and Iran—and potentially other states. The United States would surely be dragged into any such conflict.  To be sure, Israel is an ally and a friend of the United States and we should back her up responsibly, but we should also work to the best of our abilities across all of the elements of national power—and not just militarily—to work toward averting a wider conflict and in trying to blunt Iranian influence and troublemaking.
  3. Instability. From northern Mexico to northern Mali there is endemic instability that individually can cause enormous headaches for American policymakers in 2013. Creative, indigenous, solutions—either in full or in part—need to be nurtured. There are too many zones of un(der)governance for the United States to deal with effectively. Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan reinforce this point.
  4. Al Qaeda 3.0. Al Qaeda is still around and still wishes us harm. The tumult of the Arab Spring still remains far from settled. The foreign veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq likely will bring their battles to new environs just as their predecessors did after the Soviet-Afghan war and others have done over the past decade.
    • Read Daniel J. Gallington: Fracking, OPEC, and Violence in the Middle East
    • Read Laurel Miller: Egypt's Constitutional Referendum Was an Opportunity Lost
    • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.