Consider first the traditional definitions of security that focus on a country’s external threats. The United States has not faced a great‐power rival since the end of the Cold War, and none are likely to emerge. Its closest rivals, such as China and Russia, cannot compete militarily and struggle to project military power abroad.2 Furthermore, the United States’ geography and nuclear prowess make it an unlikely target for invasion. In addition, the United States has powerful allies and maintains unequaled diplomatic power. According to John Mueller of Ohio State University, terrorism is not a considerable threat either:
Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, terrorists have inflicted little violence in the West … [Extremist Islamist terrorism] has claimed 200 to 400 lives yearly worldwide outside war zones … about the same number as bathtub drownings every year in the United States [A]l-Qaeda has mainly succeeded in uniting the world, including its huge Muslim population, against its violent jihad, and cooperative efforts by governments have led to important breakthroughs against the group.3
Furthermore, it is unlikely that terrorists will be able to obtain nuclear weapons. In sum, as John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago argues, no great power in world history comes close to enjoying the traditional state security that the United States does today.4
Scholars of “human security” argue that as threats from foreign states diminish, as they have for the United States, security analyses should shift focus to individuals. Any meaningful discussion of security, they argue, should include other dangers such as hunger, disease, violent crime, pollution, and natural disasters. Those risks kill far more people than war, genocide, and terrorism combined.5 Human security scholars suggest that to evaluate the security of a country’s citizens, one must consider whether people are “able to take care of themselves … [whether they] have the opportunity to meet their most essential needs.”6
Human security is not an esoteric concept used exclusively by university professors. Influential people and policymakers have also adopted that approach. For example, President Dwight Eisenhower’s national security agenda focused on the improvement of human security indicators such as education and transportation.7 Similarly, Cold War defense secretary James Forrestal argued: “The question of national security is not merely a question of the Army and the Navy. We have to take into account our whole potential for war, our mines, industry, manpower, research, and all the activities that go into normal civilian life.”8
International organizations such as the United Nations have also used the human security approach, even forming the United Nations Commission on Human Security.9 Kofi Annan, former secretary‐general of the United Nations, said: “Security can no longer be narrowly defined as the absence of armed conflict, be it between or within states … [We must] adopt a much more coordinated approach to a range of issues.”10 Other international organizations, including the World Bank and the Organization for Security and Co‐operation in Europe, have adopted the human security approach in all but name.11 Public intellectuals, such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, have championed the notion of human security.12 And several governments, such as Canada and Japan, have adopted human security goals in their foreign policy approaches.13
If one considers the growing importance of human security, is it reasonable to ask how secure the United States is (or Americans are)? How does one evaluate the human security of a state? Because human security focuses on the security of individuals, we could compare Americans with citizens of “peer nations,” such as Australia or Canada. Unfortunately, cross‐country comparisons of human security indicators such as wealth, child mortality, and good governance do not tell us how secure the United States is. They tell us only how secure the United States is relative to other countries.