Transnational Challenges

Globalization has created or exacerbated the transnational challenges faced by the United States. Immigration, piracy, crime, disease, WMD, narcotics, and terrorism all impact multiple nations and require different approaches to counter potential threats. Transnational issues present a particular coordination challenge, since they require collaboration between multiple disciplines, agencies, levels of government, US Missions, and foreign governments. Three national security missions that highlight the need for coordination on transnational challenges are international narcotics trafficking; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and international terrorism. To successfully counter these threats, the expertise of regional and functional diplomats, various law enforcement organizations, the intelligence community, financial and trade experts, homeland security professionals, cyber professionals, legal professionals, military forces, and many others must be shared and integrated. The need for and challenge of coordination becomes even greater when there is a nexus between these transnational threats.

Countering international narcotics trafficking involves detecting, monitoring, and interdicting the flow of illicit drugs throughout the supply chain; providing assistance to other nations fighting illicit drug production, transit, and financing; building international cooperation on counterdrug efforts; seizing drug funding; and bringing traffickers to justice. Major US players include the Office of National Drug Control Policy, State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the, Department of Justice, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, US Southern Command, US Northern Command, Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, US Agency for International Development, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Drug Intelligence Center, Department of the Treasury, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Commerce, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), US Marshals Service, State and local law enforcement, and the Coast Guard.

Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction involves various measures to prevent the spread of WMD or the materials and technology used to manufacture or employ WMD. The United States assists other nations to better secure and dispose of WMD; builds partnerships to reduce and eliminate WMD threats; conducts diplomacy to build consensus and negotiate agreements on WMD issues; monitors and gathers intelligence on potential WMD proliferators and development programs; controls sensitive exports; evaluates and improves physical security measures; interdicts WMD; and implements sanctions against proliferators. Major US players include the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs, US Strategic Command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, FBI’s Chemical Biological Sciences Unit, FBI’s National Security Branch, Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, DHS’s Office of Domestic Preparedness, and multiple components of the intelligence community. Of particular importance is seamless coordination between intelligence, law enforcement and military organizations.


Countering the threat from international terrorism. Uniformed American men with masks transporting suspect materials.

Countering the threat from international terrorism requires that US departments and agencies plan, conduct, and structure operations, from the very outset, as part of a whole-of-government approach.  Counterterrorism operations have a heavy intelligence and information sharing component.  Other functions involve assisting other nations to have the capacity to counter terrorist threats, conducting diplomacy to build consensus and negotiate agreements on terrorism; monitoring and improving US security measures; implementing sanctions against terrorist groups and supporters; disrupting all aspects of terrorism; and capturing or killing terrorists. Major US players include the Department of Homeland Security, State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Interdependent Capabilities, US Special Operations Command, US Northern Command, US Central Command, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Treasury’s Office of Terrorist and Financial Intelligence, FBI’s National Security Branch, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Directorate for Preparedness, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Agency (TSA), U.S. Secret Service , Department of Energy, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director for National Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Agency for International Development.