What is the biggest threat to national security in the United States? Many people’s minds would probably turn to the two Cs – China and climate change. 

But as the World Press Institute fellows sat down with The Wall Street Journal’s Associate Editor John Bussey, he proposed an entirely different and more unexpected danger – debt. 

He quoted former U.S Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen who warned in 2010 the “most significant” threat to U.S. national security was debt, with other countries, including China, owning much of America’s loans.

Back then, the nation’s debt was about $13 trillion. It’s now more than $30 trillion or 97 percent of the country’s economy.  

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, U.S debt is nearing record levels, with loans expected to double over the next decade.

The non-profit think tank says the biggest consequences of rising debt and deficits are slower income growth, missed opportunities to invest in areas that can improve living standards, high inflation and increased geopolitical risk, with more than half the country’s debt financed by foreigners. 

The center has recommended federal tax increases and spending cuts to reign in the debt, with the cost of the interest to pay back the loans expected to be more than the country’s entire spending on defense in five years.

While America is one of the most heavily indebted nations in the world, it’s not alone. Australia’s debt of more than $1 trillion is unprecedented outside of wars, as it recovers from being hit hard by the COVID pandemic, while Japan has recently experienced a debt crisis.

While there is no doubt fiscal reform is a massive challenge with rapid spending showing no signs of slowing in the United States, the Cato Institute suggests a different kind of security threat that could be more perilous.

Senior Fellow Eric Gomez warned it wasn’t the “enemies outside the U.S.” that are the biggest threat to national safety, but “those within.”

“I am most worried about internal political polarization,” he said. 

“I think the rhetoric around the Donald Trump indictment recently, for example, demonstrates things in the U.S. political system are very tense and there is not much room for compromise. That has a bunch of ripple effects on foreign policy and trade.”

Gomez said he was also very worried about “where things are going with China.”

“We have focused exclusively on deterring China and not on assuring them,” he said. “Taiwan doesn’t trust that we are doing what we say, and I think that’s going to be a big problem. If we can’t turn the temperature down a bit, then I think it’s more likely a crisis happens in the short term.”