InfrastructureU.S. aging infrastructure a national security concern

Published 18 January 2010

There many immediate and long-term economic benefits to investing in shoring up the U.S. crumbling infrastructure – but investing in creating a robust and resilient infrastructure is essential for national security as well: because the United States is the world’s dominant military power, the only real way for enemies to attack the country is through its infrastructure, including cyberspace, making infrastructure resilience critical

The Northeast Blackout of 2003; the breached levees of New Orleans in 2005; and the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse of 2007 are all worrisome signals that U.S. infrastructure is crumbling and jeopardizing our national security, a prominent homeland security expert warned Thursday.

Yet, despite these warning signs, Americans do not want to invest in infrastructure maintenance, let alone spend money to upgrade it, said Dr. Stephen Flynn, the new president of the Center for National Policy (CNP), a bipartisan national security think tank that hosted the discussion about U.S. crumbling infrastructure. “We are a generation that is arguably like grandkids who have inherited a mansion and most of us decide we’re not going to do the upkeep,” he said. “People drive by and say ‘nice house,’ but the plumbing’s gone to hell, the wiring’s shot.”

Matthew Harwood writes that Flynn was joined by writer James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, whose January cover article for the magazine explores how to keep the United States the envy of the world after the financial crisis. National Public Radio’s national security correspondent Tom Gjelten moderated the event.

The discussion was made timelier by the devastation wrought by a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on Tuesday, a society whose infrastructure is “broken,” according to Flynn. While no one tried to compare U.S. infrastructure to Haiti’s, the message was clear: no part of America ever wants to approximate that level of helplessness if disaster strikes.

The discussion centered around how to convince the American public, representatives in Congress, and the national security community that investing and upgrading the U.S. infrastructure is not only good national security policy, it is also good economic and social policy.

There is a prevailing pessimism infrastructure advocates must overcome if the argument is going to gain traction with the American public, Flynn said. The first perception is that United States cannot afford it. Second, Americans do not believe in the political process to complete massive projects. Rather they note “bridges to nowhere,” emblematic of Congress’s corruption. Finally, Flynn said, Americans no longer have the faith in themselves to build an infrastructure necessary for twenty-first century America to retain its economic power.

Even if proponents can get over those hurdles, they still have to sell why the United States should spend scarce resources on infrastructure and not other things. Fortunately there is a national security argument from the