18 December 2017   Leave a comment

The US has issued its annual security report, a report that is mandated by Congress.  The report is a way for the President to outline the priorities of American foreign policy, to identify strategic threats, and to lay out the defense spending necessary to implement the foreign policy.  This year, President Trump has submitted a report that emphasizes the economic foundations of defense strategy.  The key threats are identified early on in the report: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran (p. 2).  The report, as published, suggests that it was a rush job.  A key part of the report reads:

“The United States must retain overmatch—the combination of capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success and to ensure that America’s sons and daughters will never be in a fair fight.” (p. 28)

I suspect that the sentence should read “that America’s sons and daughters will [always] be in a fair fight.”

The report also reads:

“The Joint Force must remain capable of deterring and defeating the full range of threats to the United States. The Department of Defense must develop new operational concepts and capabilities to win without assured dominance in air, maritime, land, space, and cyberspace domains, including against those operating below the level of conventional military conflict.” (p. 29)

Winning without dominating the field is called “luck”.  I am not sure that the Defense Department would be satisfied with non-dominant capabilities.

Moreover, there are numerous inconsistencies in the document.

First, the report singles out transnational criminal organizations as a security threat: “The United States must devote greater resources to dismantle transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their subsidiary networks. Some have established global supply chains that are comparable to Fortune 500 corporations.” (p. 11-12) The point is unquestionably true, but there is no mention of any intent to clamp down on offshore banking which is the principal mechanism for the money-laundering that keeps criminal money flowing freely.

Second, the report mentions foreign interference with domestic use of electronic communications: “The United States will impose swift and costly consequences on foreign governments, criminals, and other actors who undertake significant malicious cyberactivities.” (p. 13)  Additionally, the report says: ” These attacks can undermine faith and confidence in democratic institutions and the global economic system.” (p. 31) But there is no mention of Russian interference in US elections or the penalties imposed on Russia for those activities.

Third, the report emphasizes the need to attract innovators and inventors: “The United States must continue to attract the innovative and the inventive, the brilliant and the bold. We will encourage scientists in government, academia, and the private sector to achieve advancements across the full spectrum of discovery, from incremental improvements to game-changing breakthroughs.” (p. 20).  But a few pages later, the text says: “The United States will review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors. We will consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to our competitors, while acknowledging the importance of recruiting the most advanced technical workforce to the United States.” (p. 22)

Fourth, the report departs profoundly from previous national security reports that identifies climate change as an important security threat to the US.  Instead, the report outlines a policy toward climate change that borders on the incoherent: “Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system. U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.” (p. 22)   Indeed, the report emphasizes the need to export more fossil fuels to the rest of the world: “The United States will promote exports of our energy resources, technologies, and services, which helps our allies and partners diversify their energy sources and brings economic gains back home. We will expand our export capacity through the continued support of private sector development of coastal terminals,
allowing increased market access and a greater competitive edge for U.S. industries.”  (p. 23)  Renewable energies do not require coastal terminals–only fossil fuels do.

Fifth, in assessing the Intelligence Community (IC) in the US, the report acknowledges that “the IC, as well as the law enforcement community, offer unique abilities to defend against and mitigate threat actors operating below the threshold of open conflict. Both communitites (sic–another example of a rush job) have exceptionally strong liaison relationships throughout the world, allowing the United States to cooperate with allies and partners to protect against adversaries.” (p. 32)  The report does not acknowledge the reluctance of Britain and Israel to share intelligence with the US because of intelligence leaks.

Sixth, the report notes the singular importance of diplomacy in the security of the US: “Diplomacy is indispensable to identify and implement solutions to conflicts in unstable regions of the world short of military
involvement. It helps to galvanize allies for action and marshal the collective resources of like-minded nations and organizations to address shared problems. Authoritarian states are eager to replace the United States where the United States withdraws our diplomats and closes our outposts.” (p. 33)  The report does not address the 37% reduction in the State Department and USAID budget or the fact that many important Ambassadorial Post (such as the US Ambassador to South Korea) remain unfilled.

Seventh, the report talks about the liberal international economic order and the institutions that underpin that order (the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization): “the United States will continue
to play a leading role in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO), but will improve their performance through reforms. These reforms include encouraging multilateral development banks to invest in high-quality infrastructure projects that promote economic growth. We will press to make the WTO a more effective forum to adjudicate unfair trade practices.” (pp. 40-41).  The report does not mention President Trump’s threat to “ignore” the rulings of the WTO.

Eighth, the report refers to the freedom of the internet: ” The United States will advocate for open, interoperable communications, with minimal barriers to the global exchange of information and services. The United States will promote the free flow of data.” (p. 41)  The report does not mention the repeal of Net Neutrality which makes the internet significantly less “free”.

Ninth, with respect to refugees, the report states that: “No nation can unilaterally alleviate all human suffering, but just because we cannot help everyone does not mean that we should stop trying to help anyone. For much of the world, America’s liberties are inspirational, and the United States will always stand with those who seek freedom. We will remain a beacon of liberty and opportunity around the world.” (p. 41)  Nowhere are the recent constraints on refugees and immigrants to the US mentioned.

Tenth, the report celebrates religious freedom: “The United States also remains committed to supporting and advancing religious freedom—America’s first freedom. Our Founders understood religious freedom not as the state’s creation, but as the gift of God to every person and a fundamental right for our flourishing society.”  (p. 41) Hard to square this rhetoric with a “Muslim ban”.

Eleventh, the report discusses the need for humanitarian assistance: “The United States will continue to lead the world in humanitarian assistance.”  There is no explanation for why the US has done little to help the Royingha in Myanmar, the people of Yemen or Syria, or the starving people in South Sudan and Venezuela.

The last two sections of the report are on regional issues and the conclusion.  I will try to write about those two sections in a subsequent post.


Posted December 18, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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