By Rylee Seavers | Broadcast Reporter
As intimidation from abroad clutters the news, many Americans are increasingly fearful of foreign threats to the United States.
According to a recent NBC News and SurveyMonkey poll, North Korea is the most feared threat to national security among Americans, followed by ISIS and Russia, respectively.
The survey, which comprises responses from 5,047 adults across the nation with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent, reveals that 54 percent of respondents said North Korea poses the “greatest immediate threat to the United States.”
Nineteen percent of respondents said ISIS poses the greatest threat and 14 percent said Russia.
Experts at Baylor weighed in on each of these threats, providing information on how the country got to where we are and what Americans should be thinking about each of these potential threats to U.S. national security.
Dr. Peter Campbell, assistant professor of political science at Baylor, said there has been a long-term dispute between the United States and North Korea relating to nuclear proliferation and North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Campbell said this was an issue before Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s current leader who succeeded his father, came to power in 2012.
“[Kim Jong Un] seems, even more than his father, to be very committed to developing nuclear weapons, but most worrying, committed to developing the ability to deliver nuclear weapons intercontinentally,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the United States has long been opposed to North Korea having a nuclear arsenal. This is due to the United States’ commitment to provide protection to allies in the region, such as Japan, South Korea and the Philippines and economic interests of the United States.
The United States cannot sit back and do nothing in response to North Korea, Campbell said, because a major source of U.S. power lies in economics. Some of the most important sea lines of communication run through the South China Sea, as well as 30 percent of all maritime trade, he said. Security and Chinese artificial islands are a threat to freedom of navigation in this region, which is essential to U.S. power. Campbell said if the United States were to step back, China’s actions would be contrary to the interests of the United States.
“So the bad news is that there don’t seem to be a lot of good options and crisis is all about options,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently said the only way to verify that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was destroyed would be through a full-scale land invasion.
The good news, Campbell said, is that the Chinese government will hopefully put pressure on the North Koreans to tone down their rhetoric and reduce missile tests because they do not want the United States to have a larger military presence in the region.
And as for North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, Campbell is doubtful that they actually possess the capabilities they claim to.
“It’s all well and good for Kim Jong Un to stand next to a warhead that he says can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so,” he said.
That being considered, Campbell said the threat North Korea poses is greater for countries in the region, like South Korea. Pyongyang, the capitol of South Korea, is located very close to the border of North Korea and, Campbell said, could feasibly be invaded by North Korean forces.
Campbell added that during President Donald Trump’s recent visit to South Korea, Trump seems to have softened his rhetoric towards the issue. He said the pressure on North Korea, from the United States and China may have had positive effects on the situation.
“The ISIS caliphate is no more,” Dr. Mark Long, associate professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, Director of Middle East Studies and former Soviet analyst and Middle East area specialist in the Air Force, wrote in an email to the Lariat.
Long said this is because its key cities, Mosul and Raqqa, were retaken as a part of the strategy put in place under the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration. This strategy relied on “the combination of allied air power, U.S. special forces and indigenous ground troops,” Long said.
Long said ISIS’s ability to recruit, travel, raise funds and prepare complex operations has been impaired.
“In no sense does ISIS pose an existential threat to the United States,” Long said.
There is still a threat of smaller attacks, Long said, similar to the attack in Manhattan on Oct. 31 that killed eight people.
“The attacks will continue for several reasons. The key reason is that the jihadist narrative continues to ‘live’ online, and self-radicalizing individuals can access it. Moreover, al-Qaida, ISIS’s parent organization, has noted the ease with which lone wolves can obtain automatic weapons in the United States,” Long said.
Dr. Sergiy Kudelia, assistant professor of political science, said the United States’ relationship with Russia began to deteriorate in 2012, when Vladimir Putin was re-elected as president of the Russian Federation.
Kudelia said the Obama administration was expecting then president Dmitry Medvedev to serve another term, so Putin’s election came as a surprise.
During Medvedev’s presidency, the United States and Russia cooperated on arms control and anti-terrorism efforts. But Putin was not satisfied with how Russian leaders were promoting, or rather not promoting, Russian nationalism, Kudelia said.
“Putin’s vision of the world is more assertive, more continuous attempts to reassert Russian global power and national power, and it really is focused on standing up to the United States. For him, the measure of Russian greatness is the extent to which it can actually successfully compete with America in different parts of the world,” Kudelia said.
U.S.-Russian relations began to deteriorate after this point and were further eroded by Russia extending asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden, sanctions against Russia and the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, which resulted in the United States forming a coalition to punish Russia and Russia being excluded from the G8 summit, Kudelia said.
Fast forward to the election of President Trump, who, Kudelia said, had a vision of improved relations with Russia. The Russian efforts to aid President Trump’s election was a clear sign from Russia that Putin was also looking forward to improved relations with the United States, Kudelia said.
“The fact that Putin actually had a clear preference in the election campaign, in favor of Trump against Hillary Clinton, shows that he actually is more pragmatic, and much more pragmatic than his Soviet predecessors, and he actually is willing to make business with the United States as long as they are ignoring or overlooking some of the other things that he is doing, internally and externally,” Kudelia said.
On a personal level, Kudelia said relations between President Trump and Putin have improved and the two leaders have an admiration for each other. But on the state level, relations between the United States and Russia have continued to deteriorate because President Trump is not the only person setting U.S. policy, Kudelia said.
“There are a number of important actors in U.S. Congress who push for harder line, in the Republican and Democratic party, because there is a bilateral consensus on Russia in U.S. Congress and also in the national security apparatus of the White House,” Kudelia said.
In terms of Russia being a physical threat to the United States, Kudelia said this will always be a reality because Russia’s nuclear arsenal is comparable to that of the United States. He also said for reasons relating to geopolitics and military capacity, the United States and Russia will always be competitors and there will always be a national security threat related to that competition.
“The question is whether that national security threat is immediate. Whether it’s an immediate danger to the United States or it’s something that can only materialize under a very unusual set of circumstances,” Kudelia said.
At present, there is nothing pointing to a change in U.S.-Russian relations and Kudelia said each country’s ability to fight the other into nonexistence with nuclear weapons will prevent them from doing so.
The danger lies in the United States’ tendency to be drawn into international conflict and the potential that Russia could already be present in a region where the United States chose to get involved, he said.
“As far as Trump is concerned, and his advisers, at this point it is not clear whether or not they are willing to abstain from escalating their military presence in these regions where they have conflicting interests with Russia,” Kudelia said.