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 202017
 

During his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly on 19 September, President Trump embraced a higher level of defense spending than his budget originally proposed.  The President said, “And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense. Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been”.

 

That funding level is in line with the work done by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees this year.  With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House authorized a defense budget of $631.5 billion for core military needs and an additional $64.6 billion for contingency operations.  Yesterday, the Senate acted overwhelmingly to authorize similar funding levels.

 

 

Following the President’s comments, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following statement:

 

 

“A majority of Republicans, Democrats, and now the President of the United States agree that after six years of neglect, America’s military needs a substantial investment to restore its strength and protect the nation.  Consensus on this issue has eluded Congress and the Executive Branch in the past.  There are still a number of hurdles to overcome, but I am encouraged that with President Trump’s support, we will soon be able to get troops the resources, training, and equipment they need.”               

 

Following the Goldwater-Nichols act, the defense budget is supposed to be informed by the national security strategy, submitted each year along with the President’s budget proposal. However, eight months into the Trump administration, and four months after the date the report was due, the national security strategy is still being written.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 9:05 AM
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.”

Sep 012017
 

On August 7, War on the Rocks released a podcast where several national security experts discussed the importance of the National Security Strategy (NSS), a document required by Congress for each new administration to outline its objectives. While the overall consensus is that, yes, the NSS matters, the podcast participants have varying opinions towards the extent of the document’s importance. The discussion includes commentary from several individuals who have been involved in the creation of past Strategies, providing insights that could only be achieved through firsthand experience.
The experts agree that the importance of the NSS lies in its purpose, which is to provide a framework for the issues and goals that the administration would like to focus on. Dr. Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution, who was part of the National Security Council during the creation of the 2002 NSS, believes that the document teaches the new administration what is important, provides a common purpose to be worked on, and allows congressional overseers, journalists, and the general public to hold the government accountable. Other podcast participants expand on the importance of the NSS, with Dr. Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies emphasizing that foreign governments pay closer attention to the document than Congress or any American entity; this forces the administration to address the entire world, rather than just the United States. Dr. Will Inboden of the Clements Center at the University of Texas, who worked on the NSS during the George W. Bush administration, provided an example of a foreign entity reading the NSS and harshly reacting to its content; following the release of the document, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement denouncing the Strategy, stating that the authors of the document should be fired. While it is crucial that the NSS be comprehensive and pertinent enough for its vast audience, it is important to note that it is quite common for one Strategy of an administration to read differently than the next. According to Dr. Colin Kahl of Georgetown University, the first NSS tends to be more idealistic and ambitious while making a clear distinction from the policies of the new president’s predecessor, whereas the following Strategies tend to retreat with more caveats. Although the NSS is a dynamic document with content that may or may not be appreciated by every reader, it is important that the objectives of the current administration are accessible to anyone who desires to read them.
The podcast participants then engage in predictions about what the NSS of the Trump administration will consist of, with everyone agreeing that doing so will be more difficult than during previous presidencies. However, the group concurs it is likely that the Strategy will be similar to the content addressed in the May 2017 article written for The Wall Street Journal by H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, President Trump’s National Security Advisor and National Economic Council Director, respectively. McMaster and Cohn emphasize Trump’s “America First” policy, yet also commit to strengthening cooperation between the United States and its allies. Their article adopts a more realist approach that describes the international arena as a competition between state and non-state actors for power rather than as a global community; they advocate for a focus on military, political, and economic strength in order to successfully compete. Dr. Kahl believes that not only will the NSS of the Trump administration define the United States as “being back”, but will also criticize the Obama administration and affirm that Trump’s presidency has more military might. Although the podcast participants accept that this will be the general tone of the Strategy, there remain many questions regarding specifics in the NSS, as well as how the Trump administration will go about implementing it. It is unclear whether the new NSS will make a commitment to an open global trading system, or how President Trump will grapple with advocating for a position of military might after he has publicly criticized American intervention in Iraq and Libya. Additionally, it remains ambiguous how his tumultuous relationships with Russia and China will manifest themselves in the NSS. The final concern expressed by those involved in the podcast was whether the NSS will have any bearing on the actions that President Trump will take throughout the remainder of his term, as he is notorious for being a “wild card” who changes his mind and contradicts previous statements and decisions. Although these concerns remain to be addressed, the consensus within the podcast participants was that, even with a “wild card” of a president, the National Security Strategy is a vital document for addressing the United States’ presence in the world.

 Posted by at 5:11 PM
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.

 

 

Mar 282017
 

From War on the Rocks, an insightful look at an important critique of military leadership:

H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam (Harper Perennial, 1998).

Dereliction of Duty is a serious book. Thoroughly researched, carefully argued, it tackles a big subject: Who is responsible for the debacle that is the Vietnam War? McMaster concludes that everyone in political and military leadership was: Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, presidential military advisor Maxwell Taylor, the Congress and — especially — the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s not wrong, but this book by the man who recently became President Donald Trump’s national security advisor reveals an innocence about politics at the highest levels as well as some questionable judgments about civil-military relations in the United States.

Read more of the review here.

 Posted by at 11:46 AM
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.