On December 7th 1941, I was sitting in the balcony of a movie house in Brooklyn with my father, watching a film called “One Foot In Heaven”. I was 4 months shy of my 11th birthday. When they stopped the movie to announce, to a stunned audience, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, I panicked that my father would be inducted into the army. He wasn’t, but my uncle was. It wasn’t too long before I saw small gold star banners appearing in windows on my street indicating someone had been lost in the fighting. Years later, on a street in Milan, I learned that Russia—our enemy– launched a man into orbit. Where were we? Today, at every turn, we are faced with an issue that could be easily identified as a “present and real” national security danger. It seems that every time I look there is some event occurring in the world that adversely affects our well-being here at home or our interests abroad. At times I feel overwhelmed, and my relatives and friends seem to be saying too often: “Enough. We don’t want to hear any more”.
There are two national issues, one staring right at us and the other buried overseas. Water and Covid-19 are affecting our national security interest. Coved -19 and Delta are rattling us at home, and lack of water availability in the Middle East and Africa might very well lead to war.
MEMRI, a research institute founded by a close friend and former advisor to several Israeli prime ministers, published an article that clearly sets out the festering water issues in Africa and the Mid-East. Those issues could easily lead to war. It is my opinion if the trajectory continues, it will. When I googled water scarce areas of the world, I was shocked to learn the extent of the dangers we are facing.
I learned terms: “water basins”, “water-sheds” and more. Our resources of fresh water on Earth are finite. Of all the water on the earth, only 3% is fresh water. The balance is found mostly in oceans and seas. Our fresh water collects in water basins which are defined as areas of land that collect fresh water—they could be lakes, streams, rivers that empty out eventually to an ocean, sea or gulf. In the U.S. we have 204 such basins with 96 of them in danger of disappearing. Today we have 40 out of 50 States expecting or experiencing water shortages. While it is obvious that states will not and could not dam their water basins to prevent water flowing to a neighboring sister state, the shortage will create a national security issue in allocating what is a finite supply of fresh water. The Atlantic Ocean is a huge source of water, but the conversion procedure into a useable supply of fresh water is expensive. Desalination plants are springing up across the U.S. in response to our looming water crisis. As a nation, I read that we use enough fresh water each day to sink one of our smaller states, such as Rode Island, under a foot of water.
On the other hand, the Middle East and North Africa are two of the most water-scarce regions in the world. With home to 6 percent of the world’s population they only have 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. For a number of years, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, have resorted to water desalination to ease their water shortage, as most other countries have resorted to their ground water resources, which are becoming depleted. In that part of the world these conditions could easily lead to the danger of regional wars. And where do we sit to protect our interests in those areas of the world? As MEMRI noted “Water shortages.…also generate domestic political violence or even the danger of regional wars. Recent violent demonstrations in the Arab-inhabited Ahwaz region of Iran, due to the shortage of water, is just one example.” MEMRI noted that “the construction of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile by Ethiopia has triggered military threats by Egypt, as the dam could reduce the quantity of water reaching Egypt by as much as 20 percent, or even more in the event of extended drought.” A sharp reduction of water in the Nile could affect not only the livelihood but the very survival of millions of Egyptians. That is a recipe for war!
In Iraq, a severe water crisis is enhanced by the policy of Iraq’s neighbors, which has been exacerbated by a decrease in the flow of water in many of the countries’ rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. Iraq accuses Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser extent Syria, of sharply reducing the Euphrates’ water flow by constructing hydroelectric installations that are affecting their already stressed agricultural zones. It is predicted that Iraq could completely lose the waters of its two major rivers within the next decades. Although Iraq has sent a cease and desist notice to the offending nations, I don’t visualize a change in their attitude, notwithstanding Iraq’s threat to use force to ensure the free flow of water.
Just as technology was and is being developed to search for traces of nuclear material, we presently require the mechanism to scan for health and bio-threats. The spy: biological espionage has been with us for decades. During the Cold War, each side sought to learn the secret biological weapons the “enemy” was developing. In addition, the long-held fears that terrorism, such as the well documented saran attack in Japan, would impact us at home and abroad. As a national security, we need to have enhanced procedures and policies that are necessary for preserving U.S. armed forces’ readiness in the face of disease outbreaks; whether deliberately weaponized by a foreign entity or not.
“Where armies march, plague follows.” Disease outbreaks have long been associated with military campaigns and have often shaped their outcomes — from the plague that wasted Napoleon’s retreat from the Russian campaign to the jungle warfare of World War II. I have just read that during our Revolutionary War with the British, smallpox took a greater toll on Washington’s Army than did the British military forces. The British foot-solder had grown up in crowded, unsanitary slum-like environments, unlike the farmers of Washington’s army. A statistic: the Department of Defense has military deployments in 147 countries, and there are 21 countries where our deployments exceed more than 200 military personnel. Notwithstanding that we have an active program of monitoring the incidence of infectious disease outbreaks around the world, COVID-19 hit and sidelined the aircraft carrier the Theodore Roosevelt. According to the data collected by John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the CIA, “We do know that 80 to 90 percent of U.S. antibiotics either come from or rely on components made in China; with China’s factories cut back severely and its domestic needs growing because of its own battle with COVID-19, we risk suffering from shortages of a range of medicines. Similarly, India, the world’s largest supplier of generic drugs and a major vaccine manufacturer, is cutting exports of 26 drug components to cope with domestic needs; moreover, the systemic nature of the problems is illustrated by India’s reliance on China for 70 percent of its drug components.” For spy agencies like the British MI6 and our CIA, that recruit human sources, it may mean ensuring you have agents—COVID free– in the right place who can report back on what is really happening on the ground. There may also be a need to shift our sights to what agencies that are charged with intercepting foreign communications search for; and in the area of technical intelligence, satellites may be tasked to look at medical waste deposits or even massive new burial sites.
Our military, unlike our civil population, live in a closer one-to-the- other environment, and they become a breeding ground for the spread of any pandemic disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has also greatly impacted the U.S. food supply and consumer behavior. Food production and processing are being disrupted as illnesses, state and local quarantines, and government-mandated movement restrictions cause labor shortages and by their very nature become a national security issue. Today, the NYTimes ran a story of how the pandemic has disrupted the entire restaurant business due to a lack of employees to the cost of food.
When I was a child, the famous Katz’s Delicatessen, a store that had come into existence in the early 1900s, had a sign in their window during WWII, flanked on all sides by American Flags that read: “Send a salami to your boy in the army.” Today it would be to “send” the vaccine. On August 9th the Pentagon announced that it will mandate coronavirus vaccination for all active-duty military personnel by mid-September—a bit late to act after the damage had been and is inflicting our military.
We are in two-pronged national security crises: first, from the effects of COVID-19 and Delta –not merely to the general public but to those who are charged with protecting us internationally and, second, the not public race to divert and hoard fresh water. If we ignore these threats now we do so at our very real peril.