The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Student Summary: Michael Cohen's Lecture, "Clear and Present Safety"

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We encourage students to submit summaries of Rockefeller Center sponsored and co-sponsored programs.  Read a student's account of a recent campus lecture by Michael Cohen of The Century Foundation.  The Dartmouth also published an article about this talk.

Many Americans have a sense that the world we live in today is a dangerous one. Every day the newspaper informs us of the present dangers of our world: a new civil war, another lethal terrorist bombing, or a recent outbreak of disease. In fact 70% of political elites believe the world is on track for becoming more violent in the near future, and 69% feel the world today is more dangerous now than it was during the Cold War, a time when global nuclear warfare was on the brink of becoming reality. Michael Cohen, a Fellow at The Century Foundation, however, begs to differ…

In his presentation “Clear and Present Safety: America Has Never Been Safer,” Cohen argues that the world today is in fact safer and more secure than ever before. Today we live in a world with unprecedented levels of peace, democracy, prosperity, health, and economic integration. Yet despite the empirical evidence for a virtually “safe America,” most U.S. policymakers, media, and academics falsely inflate perceived issues of national security including terrorism, the possibility of nuclear warfare, the China threat, and cyber warfare.

Instead of pouring literally trillions of dollars into trying to prevent a highly unlikely terrorist attack, Cohen argues that funds and attention should go towards the existing prevalent challenges the U.S. faces like climate change, health care reform, a dysfunctional government, and improving infrastructure. These issues are real and are much greater threats to Americans than an improbable attack or cyber break-in. Cohen suggests that the United States should “take a bow” and admit that we “don’t have a problem.” America is a remarkably safe and secure place, and we should readjust our foreign policy to reflect this reality.

I was both comforted and angered by Cohen’s talk: I was reassured to hear that I am in fact living in the safest America in history (in fact death by furniture malfunction is more likely than death by terrorism), but incensed that policymakers and the media are falsely inflating the threats to national security.

- By Savannah Grice ‘15

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