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Paul W. Taylor » National Security Strategy Archive
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Paul W. Taylor

Paul Taylor is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy & Research, an expert in foreign relations and national and international security, and a licensed attorney. His experiences during his two deployments with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, both to Afghanistan and to Iraq, left him with a keen interest in national security and intelligence, and an understanding of the need for a more rational use of our military and diplomatic power. In order to pursue this interest, he completed a joint-degree program in law and international relations at Seton Hall University, in which he studied, among other applicable subjects, international security, causes of war, national security law, and international law. At the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Global Action to Prevent War, Paul gained valuable insight into the effects of the unconstrained use of armed force, into the breadth of factors that lead to the outbreak of violence and need for military response, into how international law and institutions can affect the way people perceive their rights and responsibilities. During his tenure with the Center for Policy & Research, Paul participated in habeas litigation for Guantanamo Bay detainees and investigated various government policies and practices, focusing on the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Most recently, he lead a project debunking government claims of high recidivism among Guantanamo detainees.

Dec 102017

According to reporting from Just Security and The Atlantic, the Trump administration is preparing to roll out its new National Security Strategy on 18 December. While the document is meant to guide the government’s national security policies, it is already the subject of some controversy. A Trump administration staffer who reviewed a draft of the document describes it as “divorced from the reality” of Trump’s presidency.

The draft reportedly includes a few “classically Trumpian” themes, including the border wall and concern over trade imbalances, but much of the document reflects the values and priorities of the president’s predecessors.

Kori Schake, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and co-editor of the book Warriors and Citizens with Defense Secretary James Mattis, argues that these discrepancies render this national security strategy practically meaningless and widely ignored.

The current plan is to roll out the NSS on December 18, according to an anonymous administration official. As reported in a previous post, Trump has signed off on its core elements and the president’s cabinet was scheduled to review it this week.

The draft document currently runs to roughly 70 pages, and is broken into four pillars: defending the homeland, American prosperity, advancing American influence, and peace through strength. The principal author is Nadia Schadlow, senior director for strategy on the National Security Council (NSC). She joined the NSC at Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s request after he took over as national security adviser.

“The NSS drafters did an admirable job of trying to square the president’s views with longstanding American principles and interests, but the variance with the president’s own behavior is so wide as to make the document incredible.”
Kori Schake

The Trump administration’s NSS “is thematically consistent with many previous administration’s strategies,” according to the administration official. “In fact, it even shares many similarities with” the Obama administration’s 2015 Strategy, including identifying as a priority the security of the U.S. homeland, particularly against terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction. Other similarities abound:

  • Both strategies recognize the promotion of economic prosperity as core to sustained U.S. global leadership.
  • Both highlight preservation of an open and liberal international order that has often times benefited the United States.
  • And both underscore the importance of preserving core American principles and values.

One passage of the draft reads:

The United States rejects bigotry, ignorance, and oppression and seeks a future built on our values as one American people … an active and concerned American citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free-press, free-speech, and free-thought … no external threat must be allowed to shake the commitment of Americans to their values, undermine our system of government, or divide the nation.

Another section states:

America’s core values are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which proclaim that our respect for fundamental individual liberties beginning with the freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Liberty, freedom, equal justice under the law, and the dignity of every human life are central to who we are as a people … the United States will always stand with those who seek freedom … [and] continue to lead in championing human rights.

The draft NSS also highlights the value of alliances and international partnerships, including “enhanced intelligence sharing domestically and with foreign partners” to disrupt terror plots. The NSS also argues that the United States must “rally our allies and like-minded partners … to confront shared threats,” and that by “honing our instruments of diplomacy and development, we will support aspiring partners who want to improve their conditions.”

However, the draft NSS does contain several themes from the Trump presidential campaign, such as multiple references to “sovereignty” and migration. It states that “the United States affirms its sovereign right to determine who should enter the country and under what circumstances.” It also discusses physical border security, such as through “a border wall, the use of multilayered technology, the deployment of additional personnel” and through the use of “enhanced vetting of prospective immigrants, refugees, and other foreign visitors.”

Another clear campaign theme in the draft NSS is the idea that, while the liberal international order has advanced U.S. interests in some cases, it has also hurt the United States. The NSS’s second pillar, “Advancing American Prosperity,” notes that “we oppose protectionism, but take the view that globalism and multilateralism have gone substantially too far to the point that they are hurting U.S. and global growth. Our partners and international institutions can and should do more to address economic and trade imbalances, including overcapacity in industrial sectors.”

There is also an entire section dedicated to regulatory reform and tax reform. The NSS asserts that “significant government intrusion in the economy” and “excessive regulation” have been particularly problematic.

According to Joshua Geltzer, a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School, and previously the senior director for counterterrorism on the NSC staff, the NSS should be viewed

“less as articulating substantive policies and more as offering, for domestic and foreign audiences alike, a language of foreign policy that’s most meaningful to the president, so that others can engage with him on his own terms and understand how particular policies of his fit into a broader world view. That has value if, in fact, it speaks the president’s language and makes sense of how the different specific policies he’s pursuing fit together in his mind. If it doesn’t reflect those things, it’s not clear what the exercise has to offer.”

Dec 042017

The Trump administration will release its initial national security strategy in the coming weeks, pending final polish edits. The release marks the beginning of what the administration calls “a tough new approach to confront a raft of global security challenges.” Trump has reportedly signed off on the core elements of the draft, which is almost completed, and all the principals, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, have agreed to the core tenets.

Designed to guide the Trump administration’s foreign policy and national security decisions, the National Security Strategy will explain how Trump’America First mantra applies to the range of threats America faces, including Chinese economic competition, Russian influence operations, and the weaponization of space.

The report’s principle author, Nadia Schadlow, a respected member of the National Security Council and trusted confidant of H.R. McMaster, spent months drafting the document, working with Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell and McMaster.

Sources familiar with the document call it “hard-nosed” and “realistic” — and less ambitious and idealistic than prior efforts. Others described it as a “corrective” to the past 16 years of American foreign policy. 

Sources familiar with the draft tell us to expect three things:
  1. More focus on homeland security and protecting the homeland than any prior NSS.
  2. A focus on economic competitiveness as a national security imperative, especially regarding China. That fits into Trump’s long-held belief that foreign countries have been taking advantage of America and stealing U.S. jobs.
  3. Emphasis on the emergence of technological threats, including — per Newt Gingrich, who has worked with Schadlow and Powell to draft the document — Russia’s hybrid warfare and new breakthroughs in the weaponization of space.

McMaster told the Reagan National Security Forum over the weekend that current national security challenges facing the US today, like those at the beginning of the Reagan’s administration, “also require a dramatic rethinking of American foreign policy from previous decades.” The strategy will be based on “principled realism,” and “will focus on protecting our homeland, advancing American prosperity, preserving peace through strength … and finally enhancing American influence.”

Dec 042017

Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Recommendations for a Future National Defense Strategy

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain and Ranking Member, Senator Jack Reed hosted a hearing for outside experts to explore recommendations for a future national defense strategy. CSBA President and CEO Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken was invited to give testimony.

Among his recommendations:

  • First, the National Defense Strategy should address the threats and challenges that the United States faces and determine the priority for addressing them.
  • Second, the National Defense Strategy should provide both a global and regional look at U.S. defense strategy and set priorities there.
  • Third, the National Defense Strategy should provide focus on spending priorities on readiness, force size, and modernization.
  • Fourth, the National Defense Strategy should balance the need to fight and win wars with the need to deter and compete in peacetime.
  • Fifth, the National Defense Strategy should speak to how the United States can work more effectively with our allies.
  • Sixth, the National Defense Strategy should put forward a force planning construct to guide the shape and size of U.S. forces.

Dr. Mahnken concludes by noting that the answers the NDS provides to these six questions will also help answer one that is much more fundamental:

What role will the United States play in coming decades? Will we continue to lead and defend the international order – an order that has benefited us greatly – or will we retreat into a diminished role? Will we compete, or will we sit on the sidelines as states who seek to reshape the world to their benefit and our detriment take the field? And if we answer in the affirmative, then we need to acknowledge the magnitude of the task ahead. It
will take time, resources, and political will.

Read Dr. Mahnken’s full SASC statement here.


Sep 042017

Peter Feaver recently published an interesting article on the Trump administration’s forthcoming National Security Strategy. As the principal author of the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, his insights are not to be missed. In the article, he outlines the challenges that are faced by the Trump administration in writing the strategy.

But the team does have some advantages:

  1. A capable national security advisor who knows a thing or two about writing strategy;
  2. A capable NSC staff tasked with running the drafting process; and
  3. Fairly good relations among the Cabinet principals with equities most directly involved.

Among the challenges:

  1. Trump, as candidate and president, has produced far less “source text” (speeches, white papers, etc.) with thoroughly hashed-out stances on a wide variety of issues than any of his predecessors;
  2. What source text he has produced is rife with apparent contradictions (e.g., Is NATO obsolete or vital? Is China a threatening rival or a partner?); and
  3. An administration riven with fundamental divisions that will require either painful policy debates to resolve or artful prose to mask.

And of course, there is Russia. Feaver points to the Trump administration’s relationship with and approach to Russia as the greatest challenge. “You cannot write a credible National Security Strategy today that ignores one of the biggest ongoing current threats to American national security: Russia’s effort to undermine our democratic institutions and divide our nation both internally and from our allies. It would be like writing an NSS in the late 1940s and not addressing global communism. Or in the early 1990s and not discussing nuclear proliferation. Or in the early 2000s and not mentioning militant Islamist terrorist networks.”

He argues that the outcome could go one of two ways: “Perhaps the awkwardness of drafting language on this problem in the NSS will help spur the administration to confront the challenge,” proving the value of the legislative requirement for the National Security Strategy. If the administration does not tackle the Russia problem and talk through its differences, then “it will be painfully evident for all to read when the NSS is published.”

Aug 252017

By Marissa Soltoff

War on the Rocks recently released a podcast discussing the importance of the National Security Strategy (NSS), a report that outlines what the current administration deems important and how it will address various national security issues. This report is significant since it forces the United States to address the entire world, outlines specific issues that would otherwise be unclear, and provides a framework for foreign governments, journalists, and the American public to hold the administration accountable for its actions. The group of national security experts participating in the podcast detailed how they believed the Trump administration’s NSS would differ from those of the past, as President Trump is more of a wild card whose stances on issues can change overnight; this can pose a problem if the actions of the administration differ greatly than what was agreed to in the NSS. It is unclear as to whether the NSS of the Trump administration will continue the pattern of an international order led by the United States, as well as the stance on committing to an open global trading system. This report is particularly important, as foreign governments will be paying close attention to this administration to try to make predictions from an unpredictable president.



Jun 242012

Title: Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power
Author: Sanger, David

It is a common misconception that presidents that are consistently “pragmatic” do not simultaneously have a more general doctrine guiding their policy decisions. However, as is made amply clear in David Sanger’s new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, pragmatism is more a matter of knowing when and how much to follow your principles, and when the needs of the moment must prevail.

In Confront and Conceal, Sanger follows up on his last book, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power by  outlining the path that President Obama has followed in confronting the many  national security policy questions that a US president must face.

Typically characterized as following a pragmatict approach, the Obama administration actually does follow a very clear set of guidelines in all of its foreign policy. Indeed, the Obama Doctrine could be described as “don’t appear to act unilaterally.” That is, it generally attempts to use multilateral, diplomatic processes to achieve its foreign policy goals. When a threat arrises that appears to require the use of force, it therefore prefers to employ others in the international community, and aid them in the pursuit. This can be seen in its “leading from behind” in Libya and its generally hands-off approach in the rest of the Arab Spring. However, when it perceives a direct threat to US interests, it is not opposed to acting unilaterally and forcefully, as it has done in Pakistan, and generally prefers to keep the action as quiet as possible.

The most interesting example of this preference for unilateral action to remain secret is brought to light by Sanger’s chapter on the US operation known as Olympic Games, in which the US and Israel created and deployed a worm into the computers controlling Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As noted in the New York Times, “This is an account that long will be consulted by anyone trying to understand not just Iran but warfare in the 21st century. It alone is worth the price of the book.”

Of course, the book covers an array of other national security issues, ranging from the surge in Iraq, to Pakistan, to North Korea. It is a worthy book by any measure, but for those interested in the understanding the strategic approach of the president to national security issues, Confront and Conceal should be on the top of the must-read list.

Jun 102012

Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen recently wrote:

When Barack Obama hosts George W. Bush at the White House today for the unveiling of Bush’s presidential portrait, the 44th president will have to find something nice to say about the 43rd. Perhaps Obama could point out that the two men’s counterterrorism policies are virtually indistinguishable — except in the liberal reaction to them.

However, when reading through the details of his argument, it becomes clear that Thiessen’s facts are a bit fishy (as are his conceptions of the laws of war). He focuses most of his argument on the drone-warfare policies of the two Presidencies, but fails to note that while the drones were initially developed under Bush’s watch, very few of the drone strikes were carried out by him. He says:

Most conservatives support Obama’s drone strategy. And apparently so do most liberals. A Post poll earlier this year found that 77 percent of self-described liberals support drone strikes, and 55 percent approve even if the targets are American citizens. This may be the greatest bipartisan achievement of Obama’s presidency: He has secured broad liberal support for the key elements of the Bush doctrine. That is an accomplishment that was unthinkable when Bush was in office — and one I suspect Obama will leave out of his remarks at the White House today.

However, it is amply clear that drones played little if any part in the Bush Doctrine. Simply stated, this doctrine involved preemptive strikes to topple possible foes with little follow-through once the regime had fallen. Drones were used in each of the wars that Bush began under this doctrine, but were in no way integral to it. They are, however, indispensable to the Obama administration’s conduct of a remote war with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. Thus, Obama’s heavy reliance on drone operations reflects a significant departure from Bush-era policies.

Indeed, the two mens’ policies on Afghanistan and Iraq could not have been further apart: Bush ignored Afghanistan in favor of a war in Iraq, then under-resourced both; Obama has faithfully followed a surge and withdraw policy in both. Additionally, as Thiessen himself hints at, the two administrations approaches to interrogation and legal process are significantly at odds. Obama’s rejection of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and his attempt (foiled by Republicans in Congress) to close Guantanamo and bring terrorist back under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, need only be pointed out to persuade the reader that the two administrations differ remarkably in terms of their counterterrorism policies.

Jun 102012

In recent months and years, it seems that Congress has been taking an increasingly active role in setting US national security policy. Legislators are no longer satisfied with simple pronouncements on their foreign policy preferences, even in the form of House or Senate resolutions that indicate broad support for their position. Instead, Congress has been affirmatively exerting its power through all of the tools available to it, from requiring reports from the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense to imposing (vice authorizing) sanctions.

This turn of events would be important even if it did not directly affect the national security of the United States. After all, it reflects a shifting balance of power between the branches of the federal government which seems to be largely unnoticed in the general press. Under the status quo ante, the Congress’s role has been to endow the President with certain policy tools and to review his use of those tools. If it is uncomfortable with his policy, it generally just complains bitterly. On extreme occasions, it will remove or place restrictions on some of those policy tools.

The current Congress’s actions go much further. The best example is the sanctions regime it has placed on Iran. Congress did not merely authorize President Obama to impose sanctions on Iran, its leaders, or those others who may interfere with the sanctions regime–instead it required him to do so. This, of course, limits his flexibility in coming to a negotiated settlement (see my previous post), which is exactly what is intended.

The 112th Congress is not one which is particularly interested in negotiated solutions in any case, but with regard to Iran, many legislators see negotiation as a dangerous distraction from the path to war. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) described the Obama policy as a “foolish embrace of yet another round of negotiations [that] will only embolden the regime.” While language has been added to the forthcoming Iran sanctions bill which makes clear that the act would not authorize the use of military force, this provision was itself a contested issue that had to be watered down in the Senate.

But perhaps the most worrying aspect of this sequence of events is not that Congress is taking the lead, nor that it is hell-bent on using military force, but instead that it is intent on doing so without taking into account the effects on the political and economic situation. Indeed, in the absence of a ground invasion, there is little hope that the nuclear program could be destroyed by military force since it is both hardened and dispersed. Additionally, any attack that did not completely wipe out the program would likely cause Iranians to “rally to the flag”–in this case the nuclear flag–a completely counterproductive outcome. Lastly, not only would any direct attack on Iran would throw the oil markets in particular into wild chaos, but invading Iran at this point, so shortly after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (but not North Korea), would force much of the world’s population to conclude that we are at war with Islam. And you can be sure that the Islamic world will not take that lying down. Until these issues are addressed, precipitous use of military force would be most unwise. Thankfully a few Republicans, such as Chuck Hagel, are making their concerns about these issues known and are calling for cooler heads to prevail.

The general failure to take such considerations into account displays a lack of strategic thinking. In setting policy, especially in cases dealing with nuclear proliferation among our enemies and the decision to resort to military action, where the national security is so directly impacted, decision-makers (whoever they are) must take into account not only the odds of success or failure of the policy objective at hand but also the secondary and tertiary effects, as well as the relative likelihood of each possible outcome. Not doing so risks creating more problems than are solved–and that appears to be the road we are now being steered down.

Jun 042012

Over the course of the last week or so, several events in North Korea have occurred which shed light on the nature of the regime and thus its role in the strategic environment.
The typical view of North Korea is as a “communist dictatorship,” or less charitably, as an ideologically driven state with a child (or, formerly, a wingnut) at the helm. Alternatively, the DPRK is seen as a totalitarian monolith. However, there is more to the state than this. As is more fully discussed in David C. Kang’s article in International Security, there are actually several competing elements at the sub-national level, each vying for control of the state’s foreign policy, namely the party, the military, and the cabinet.

The recent constitutional amendment declaring the DPRK a “nuclear armed state” or “nuclear power,” depending on the translation, bring this into particularly stark relief. In a dictatorship, constitutional amendments are little more than publicity stunts, since the dictator can by definition do as he pleases. This means that negotiations with dictatorships, regardless of any applicable constitutional provisions are one-level games. This is of course one of the reasons that they are popular as allies in difficult regions: they are more manageable.

Democratic and bureaucratic states, on the other hand, have to play the same game on two levels: the international and the national. That is, in addition to pleasing the negotiating partner, the negotiator must not offend the constituents at home. Such two-level games cause obvious difficulties, but also benefits. After all, the negotiator can fall back on the inability to garner public support at home (true or not) as a reason to reject a proposal he dislikes, increasing his leverage in the negotiations.

An example of this could be seen in President Obama’s recent remarks to Russian President Medvedev that he will have “more flexibility” regarding the anti-ballistic missile shield after his reelection. This was not intended to be heard at home, but to convey a firmness in present negotiations that was out of his control. This increases Obama’s negotiating power: Medvedev cannot expect a result that Obama cannot produce. However, because it was caught by a “hot mic,” the gambit actually did have second-level effects, negatively affecting public support and weakening his negotiating power. This illustrates the simultaneous constraint and empowerment of the democratic negotiator’s two-level game.

Similarly, in an ideological state with competing factions, such constitutional provisions can become significant roadblocks to negotiation. Just as a US negotiator would face certain reprimand for attempting to negotiate away 2nd Amendment rights, a North Korean negotiator would now be in severe trouble if he committed the constitutional crime of agreeing to give up the nukes. The DPRK has thus created significant leverage in nuclear negotiations by constraining their negotiators.

Interestingly, the sub-national actors are not the only ones that North Korea must please (or avoid offending too badly). North Korea is heavily dependent on China for aid and international support. China is therefor another constituent whose views must be taken into consideration in negotiations with the West. According to Nightwatch, a party official recently told the South Korean media that “North Korea is prepared to attempt a second space launch but is concerned about Chinese and Russian reaction as well as the prospect of another failure.” While the DPRK sometimes asserts its independence by defying Chinas wishes, it will be hesitant to launch another missile or test another nuclear device for fear of going too far and risking its status as client state.

This adds a second dimension to the two-level game (now a three-level game?) which may be exploited by the West. If the US can convince China that it is in China’s interest to not only limit proliferation on the Korean peninsula, but to reverse the progress the DPRK has already made, it will effectively be changing the conditions within the DPRK’s constituency. This will increase the pressure on the North dramatically, forcing a change of policy.


Jun 012012

Daniel W. Drezner recently challenged his twitter followers to submit the YouTube clip that best represented U.S. Grand Strategy. All are worthwhile and illustrative of current or recent American grand strategy and its results. Of particular note is a late entry by  Diana Wueger, “Like a BUS!,” which portrays beautifully the benefits and dangers of hegemonic power.

According to Daniel:

Like most of these seemingly short clips, Wueger’s submission works on two levels.  On the one hand, it demonstrates the ways in which hegemonic power allows some actors to be able to pursue policies that small actors simply cannot.  In this comparison, this clip reminds the viewer of the many global public goods that a hegemonic actor might feel obligated to provide.  Compare Bus 62 with the U.S. Navy after the 2004 tsunami, for example.  On the other hand, hegemonic power can also have unanticipated negative externalities.  Sure, Bus 62 simply plows through the barrier.  However, it does so without helping the other people stuck in traffic, and, like a boss, nearly plows over the person in the way.  A cautionary tale about the uses and possible abuses of power.