General James Jones: Most Pressing National Security Threats

Washington, D.C. – General James L. Jones, National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama, says that what keeps him up late at night is the threat of non-state actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction. His concern has grown through seeing where the U.S. has intervened to stop such efforts while knowing how difficult it is to be one hundred percent successful.

Moreover, in a world where national security must also be viewed from an economic standpoint, he states "the most dramatic threat to our national well-being over the next two decades" is the challenge to our national competitiveness. The former Supreme Allied Commander Europe adds that, without radical reform through a new strategic concept, NATO could become "a testimony to the past but not much else."

Jones made these remarks in an interview with Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe for Freedom’s Challenge, a publication commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall unveiled at the Council’s Freedom Awards ceremony in Berlin on November 8. The interview is available at the Atlantic Council website.

On the proliferation issue, Jones argues that "the danger is omnipresent" because "acquiring these capabilities is a driving goal of these organizations" and "we don’t know to what extent" state actors are enabling them. Further, he states, "I’m not really worried about the nuclear aspect as much as I am the other biological, chemical and related threats, which are easier for them to get a hold of."

With respect to competition, Jones says, "We’ve had a good run for over half a century. We’re very comfortable and are used to being number one. We took a little bit of a dip over the last decade in terms of how people looked at us around the world, but we saw that this could be very quickly restored." Still, he warns, "There are rising competing powers. There are other sleeping giants that are coming up all at the same time: the Indias, the Brazils, the Chinas, the European Union. Hopefully, our own hemisphere will also have a similar rebirth, to say nothing of the potential of Africa. By comparison, it was easy to get things done in a bipolar world."

While acknowledging that "NATO has served the cause of freedom extraordinarily well" over the last six decades, Jones says it must now reorganize itself "in such a way to confront the asymmetric, multipolar world that we face." First and foremost, this means that it can no longer be defensive and reactive. To continue to be useful, NATO must be "able to deter future conflicts in their embryonic stages and to take on the transnational threats that face us in an asymmetrical way today: terrorism, human trafficking, flow of energy, protection of critical infrastructure and proliferation."

Freedom’s Challenge provides analysis on the enduring significance of the Berlin Wall’s fall, German reunification, the peaceful end of the Cold War, the expansion of NATO and the spread of Euro-Atlantic values. It features contributions from leading Atlanticists, including President Obama, former President George H.W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, General Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Condoleezza Rice, Lord Robertson, Horst Teltschik and Atlantic Council Chairman Senator Chuck Hagel, in addition to Jones.


For more information, please contact Peter Cassata, Public Affairs Coordinator of the Atlantic Council, at or 202-778-4991.