TAIPEI — A new report from a prominent defense think tank examines 70 years of US national security policy and processes, and makes recommendations for the next president as he or she builds a national security team.
Few periods in modern world history have been as complicated and tumultuous as the one the next US administration will confront. A long list of international problems will compete for the next president’s attention upon taking office, including:
- The evolving yet persistent threat of terrorism against U.S. interests, persons, territory, and allies emanating from Islamic extremist groups like the Islamic State;
- The resurgence of an aggrieved and more aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin, who has demonstrated his willingness to use the Russian military, an array of asymmetric tactics, and energy resources to assert his will from Ukraine to Syria;
- The rise of an increasingly powerful, capable, and confident China that appears bent on becoming the dominant power in Asia and is willing to unilaterally change the status quo and violate the rules-based international order;
- The deepening turmoil in the Middle East as four ongoing civil wars (in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq) create the most significant humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, breathe new life into sectarian conflicts and violent extremism, and threaten to unravel established borders and destabilize neighboring regimes; and
- The accelerating global proliferation of dangerous technologies, from weapons of mass destruction to sophisticated precision-guided munitions, cyber weapons and drones to both state and non-state actors.
Equally troubling, the tools and institutions we have spent the last 70 years creating appear increasingly ill-suited to handle such challenges.
In addition to this very concrete set of challenges, the next commander in chief will have to contend with a more intangible though quite serious problem: growing uncertainty about the nature of US global leadership going forward. Whether this perception is fair or unfair, it is real among many friends, competitors and potential foes alike. The next president will therefore need therefore to articulate a clear vision of US leadership in the world and take concrete steps to demonstrate the United States’ willingness and ability to uphold its commitments and defend its interests, values and allies around the world. This will be critical to restoring credibility and confidence that America’s support for key allies and partners is iron-clad. ...
... What follows is a list of concrete steps (in logical though not necessarily priority order) that the next president should take to better position his or her administration to handle the national security challenges and crises that will inevitably force their way onto the agenda in 2017.
- Come into office with a clear assessment of U.S. national security challenges, opportunities, goals and priorities, and a strategy to align the administration’s efforts in the first year.
- Choose a national security team based not only on individual experience, expertise and qualifications for each respective cabinet position but also on how effectively the group will work as a team.
- Start with a clean sheet of paper and redesign the National Security Council and process.
- Pay immediate and close attention to any ongoing or imminent military or intelligence operations, particularly those that put Americans in harm’s way.
- Given the volume and complexity of the national security agenda, set aside time, especially early on, for a regular tempo of engagement with his or her team to set direction, monitor execution and outcomes, course correct, and learn.
- Develop an initial agenda of initiatives and actions designed to signal renewed U.S. leadership internationally and communicate the administration’s strategic priorities.
- Make a comprehensive budget deal a top national security priority.
- Ensure that the national security team invests in a healthy civil-military relationship.
- Invest in the people on the national security team, whether political appointees, civil servants, foreign service officers, intelligence professionals, or military officers.
The report, is part of CNAS’ Papers for the Next Presidentseries, which explore critical regions and issues the next president will have to address early in his or her tenure. Over the course of the next 18 months the CNAS will release reports designed to assist the next president and his or her team in crafting a strong, pragmatic, and principled national security agenda. The Papers for the Next Presidentseries will explore the most critical regions and topics that the next president will need to address early in his or her tenure and will include actionable recommendations designed to be implemented during the first few months of 2017.