Lt. Gen. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, spoke at Penn State on Monday night as part of Military Appreciation Week.
Clapper served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as a member of the U.S. Air Force. He was appointed Director of National Intelligence in 2010, and served in that position for just over six years before resigning in January.
On Monday night, he became the inaugural keynote speaker for Penn State’s Center for Security Research and Education, which will receive support from several of the university’s academic colleges in future years. Penn State President Eric Barron introduced Clapper to the standing-room-only crowd in the Katz Law Building.
Clapper’s presentation addressed some of the major issues facing the United States, ranging from Russia to climate change.
Clapper said he considers Russia the biggest threat to United States national security for a number of reasons. He claimed that Russia overcompensates for its weaknesses — which include a declining population and troubled economy — by interfering with American institutions and threatening the country.
“Russia is our No. 1 adversary,” he said. “Russia poses a fundamental threat to our institutions and way of life. They are not our friends; their first goal was to sow discontent in our system, and they’re going to keep doing it. They don’t care whether there are Democrats or Republicans in power.”
North Korea and Iran also present challenges to United States foreign policy, Clapper added. “We’ll be dealing with North Korea and Iran for a long time,” he said, “but they do not pose an existential threat to our way of life.”
On the topic of climate change, Clapper recognized the severity of the issue and the harm it will inflict on the Earth in the coming years. He presented several startling statistics charting the amount of people impacted by air pollution and a potential food and water shortage in the future. These statistics indicated more than half of the 7.3 billion people on Earth will be exposed to water shortages by 2035, and 80 percent of those who live in urban settings will be exposed to unsafe amounts of pollution by the same time.
Clapper called for a global effort to prevent the world’s medical progress from reverting back to the pre-antibiotic era, when surgery was often unsafe due to high risk of infection. A flu epidemic in the future, he claimed, would devastate the Earth’s population as much as the “Spanish flu” epidemic of 1918 that killed approximately 50 million people worldwide.