With just over a month to go before the 2012 presidential election, eyes around the world are on the United States. Will Americans vote to give Barack Obama another four years in the White House, or will the country opt for a turnabout and vote Mitt Romney into office? The election may well come down to a few select issues. So what matters most to Americans? The TED Blog was very surprised to read this Gallup poll from late July highlighting the issues that citizens most want the next president to prioritize. Since these are topics that speakers often address on the TED stage, every week until the election we’ll be bringing you a new playlist focusing on one of the top-rated issues.

One of the most pressing issue for our next president to think about, according to those polled, is “dealing with terrorism and other international threats.” A whopping 86% of those surveyed rated job creation as either “very important” or “extremely important.” Which makes sense because, as Obama and Romney spar over unemployment and government benefits, always present in the conversation is an elusive search for peace in an increasingly complex global community.

The 12 talks below approach the themes of terrorism and security from a number of diverse backgrounds, reflecting the multidimensional nature of 21st century military and security policy. These talks range from personal stories about how the 9/11 attacks affected the speakers’ lives to analytic explorations of the inner-workings of the Pentagon to the economics and logistics of terror operations — and everything in between. And, of course, no discussion of violence and war is complete without a discussion of its inverse, peace.

Jason McCue: Terrorism is a failed brand
In today’s powerful talk, given at TEDGlobal 2012, reputation management expert Jason McCue outlines a new way to fight terrorism—by looking at it as a brand, like Coca-Cola. “If you look at terrorism as a brand, you’ll come to realize that it’s a pretty flawed product,” says McCue. “It’s bad for your health. It’s bad for who it effects, and it’s no better if you’re a suicide bomber. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin — you’re not really going to get 72 virgins in heaven and you’re not really going to end capitalism.” Because the brand of terrorism  has “an Achilles heel,” says McCue, we should be looking to attack the brand’s myths and, at the same time, demonstrate that we have a truly better product.

9/11 healing: The mothers who found forgiveness, friendship
An unlikely friendship between two mothers caught in the throes of geopolitical terrorism share their son’s stories — one a victim of the Twin Towers collapse, another on trial as a terror suspect — in this deeply moving talk from TEDWomen. Hoping to derive positivity from their suffering for other mothers, these two women bridged cultural gaps, looking to find forgiveness and learn from each other.

Loretta Napoleoni: The intricate economics of terrorism
Economist Loretta Napoleoni tracks the rise of transnational terror organizations and the under-the-table transactions that fund and enable terror activity. In this enlightening talk from TEDGlobal 2009, Napoleoni shares surprising revelations about the origins of the cash that funds the terror economy and highlights the surprisingly close proximity of western nations.

Thomas Barnett: Rethinking America’s military strategy
International security strategist Thomas Barnett’s job is to bridge the gap between war and everything else. In this candid talk from TED2005, Barnett looks at US security with a wide-angle, glancing into the past to project what is needed for the future. Honing in on specific flaws and successes, Barnett gives a realistic and intimate look at the inner goings-on of the US military.

James Stavridis: A Navy Admiral’s thoughts on global security
Navy Admiral James Stavridis advocates an open-source system of global security in this inspired talk from TEDGlobal 2012. To make ourselves safer, he argues, we need to collaborate and break down our barriers.

Hasan Elahi: FBI, here I am!
After being questioned for six months by the FBI following the attacks of September 11, artist and professor Hasah Elahi decided to cut out the FBI as the middleman in the information gathering process. He realized, having had to justify seemingly meaningless moments of his existence to the FBI, that by sharing mundane moments of his life — a precursor to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — that he could beat the FBI to the punch and take control of the barrage of information available about him on the internet. As he explained at TEDGlobal 2011, to secure a private life, he decided to share everything.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Inside a school for suicide bombers
Documentary maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy walks through the Taliban’s five-step process of recruiting children suicide bombers in this astonishing talk with startling video clips from TED2010. Providing a perspective deeply contextualized in poverty and religion, Obaid-Chinoy explores the living conditions of the Taliban’s “sacrificial lambs.”

Joseph Nye on global power shifts
We need to redefine and realign national interests for positive-sum multi-national gain, said former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye at TEDGlobal 2010. As power dynamics shift and forceful power is mixed with what Nye calls soft power — the power of influence — Nye highlights the potential for the 21st century to be a period of cooperation and mutual benefit.

Marc Goodman: A vision of crimes in the future
Security expert Marc Goodman has spent his career studying criminals and terrorists, examining how groups co-opt technology for nefarious purposes. In this chilling talk from TEDGlobal 2012, Goodman outlines how burgeoning advances — like 3D printing and personalized medicine — could be exploited by terrorists. But there is a solution, he says. By making citizens a part of the security process, Goodman says that we can better anticipate threats and be prepared to counter them.

Jody Williams: A realistic vision for world peace
“We can change this world,” said Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams at TEDWomen. Outlining women’s roles in bringing peace to violent and sometimes terror-ridden countries, she highlights the power of individuals to attain peace.

Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun
“Sometimes only the gun can stand between good and evil.” In this thought-provoking talk from TEDxAmsterdam, Netherlands Chief of Defense Peter van Uhm shares the experiences that lead him to go into the military to help keep the peace, and why he thinks that guns in the hands of good people are so important.

Rory Stewart: Time to end the war in Afghanistan
Rory Stewart isn’t your typical Member of Parliament. An author and adventurer, he walked across Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and later founded a charity in Kabul. In this extraordinary talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he powerfully argues for bringing home the troops in Afghanistan, not only because deployment has lead to more violence but because the perpetual optimism of Western military leaders is making failure “invisible, inconceivable and inevitable.”