The war on terror is likely to be an extremely long-term endeavor that will not end with the election of a new president. It requires not only the prevention of acts of violence but the eradication of an ideology that will continue to breed radical terrorists. It is likely that other threats to American security will arise before the war on terror is complete, testing the tenacity of the resources and will of the American people.
1. North Korea
While several small outposts of Communist ideology remain in the twenty-first century, North Korea is by far the most isolated. This, along with its nuclear capabilities, renders it a unique and dangerous threat to American security. Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, has virtually severed ties with most of the established democratic world and is involved in a network of violence and crime that includes international terrorist groups. North Korea's most likely threat to American security comes from Kim Jong Il's apparent willingness to sell weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder. If the United States became aware of such transactions, it would force a confrontation between the two. While North Korea's resources are no match for the United States, Kim is still a rogue leader of a rogue state and not bound by the rules of personal and political behavior that govern most leaders. His response to an American challenge would be unpredictable and potentially extremely dangerous.
Since the nineteenth century, the United States has publicly supported the Monroe Doctrine, or the idea that it would permit no foreign intervention in the Western Hemisphere. It considers North and South America to be areas of particular interest, due to their geographic proximity to the American homeland. Venezuela represents a direct challenge to the Monroe Doctrine. While it is not being controlled by a foreign power, it represents a destabilizing force in South America that could undermine the essential purpose of the Doctrine: the creation and preservation of stable democratic states that will not threaten American security.
Venezuela is currently ruled by President Hugo Chavez. While Chavez has been elected several times in elections certified by international observers, there is ample cause to suspect corruption and coercion in the voting procedures. He has substantially curtailed civil liberties in Venezuela and has developed ties with rogue states throughout the world, including Cuba and Iran. He is virulently anti-American and has repeatedly made personal attacks on President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as well as stating publicly that the United States is attempting to assassinate him. Most ominously, he has indicated a willingness to use Venezuela's vast oil resources as a tool to attempt to influence American policy. The expansion of Chavez' influence throughout South and Central America would represent a direct threat to democracy and stability in the United States' own backyard that would demand an American response. It would also threaten American homeland security as Chavez has supported Islamist terrorist activity in the past and would likely allow the use of an expanded sphere of influence for terrorist activities directed at American interests.
In 1979, Iran became the world's first Islamic republic when Ayatollah Khomeini's forces overthrew the shah and seized power. Since then, Iran has remained a stalwart advocate for fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East. It has a repressive legal code that imposes great restrictions upon individual freedom, although it has never reached the levels of Afghanistan under the Taliban. It also has a unique government structure in which its elected leaders receive their legitimacy from a powerful religious hierarchy. These religious leaders have a great deal of influence over the legislative developments of Iran, as they can determine whether a particular violates the teachings of Islam and is therefore void. While Iran has made some steps toward liberalization in the past 25 years, it remains under a powerful theocratic influence. In recent elections, the people of Iran elected a new conservative president, rather than his opponent who was more receptive to new ideas.
Today, Iran finds itself in conflict with the West over several issues. Primarily, a dispute has arisen over Iran's right to develop nuclear technology. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, claims that the country is only seeking to build nuclear power plants to provide an alternative form of energy to its vast oil resources. However, Western countries, including the United States, fear that the Iranian government would use peaceful nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons that could then threaten the entire region. While the likelihood of Iran attacking any of its neighbors with a nuclear weapon is small, such a weapon would be within easy striking distance of Israel and of certain targets in Europe. It would also destabilize the already precarious balance of power in the Middle East, by giving Iran an ascendancy that could threaten American relationships with other countries. In addition to the potential threat from nuclear weapons, Iran has a history of supporting international terrorism by providing financial resources, manpower, and safe haven to terrorist groups. Iran's long border with Iraq makes it likely that many of the insurgents in Iraq have entered from this direction and many may have received aid or training in Iran. For the United States to help achieve stability in Iraq, the border with Iran must be protected and Iranian support for terrorism effectively reduced.
Of all the United States' potential enemies, China may pose the greatest threat. It possesses an immense population, great resources, and a growing economy. It has a unique, antiquated form of Communist ideology that is directly hostile to American democracy. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it faced a power vacuum in Central and East Asia that all competitors lacked the ability and proximity to fill. It has expanded into that vacuum, using its growing power to expand its interest over neighboring countries. It now believes it has the ability and appears to have the intention of assuming its traditional role as the most powerful state in Asia, seeking not to dominate its neighbors through force but to manipulate their policies through other means. It also is expressing increasingly greater disapproval over external involvement in regional affairs by other countries, such as the United States. For example, while it accepted the decision of several Central Asian states to allow American forces to be stationed on their territory during the war in Afghanistan, its patience on the matter has disappeared and it has begun to call for the removal of all American forces from the region.
The most probable threat to the American-Chinese relationship is the issue of Taiwan. Following the Chinese Civil War and the ascension of Mao Tse-Tung to power, the nationalist party withdrew to the island of Taiwan. Today's government is a remnant of that original party. China believes that Taiwan is rightfully a part of its territory and has demanded all of its friends and allies pledge their support of this "One China" policy. The United States has traditionally supported the democratic aspirations and practices of the Taiwanese government. In 1979, the United States passed the Taiwan Relations Act which authorized a minimal level of diplomatic relations with Taiwan and committed the United States to help defend Taiwan in case of a challenge to its sovereignty. China does not recognize the legitimacy of this act and continues to make efforts to gradually reassert control over Taiwan. Because of the sheer size of both participants, a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan or another issue could be far costlier in lives and resources than a war against any other enemy. The resources and capabilities of China would make it a very serious enemy.