The National Security Challenges of the Next Administration
Since last month’s Presidential election there has been much debate and speculation on both the position and composition of the new Trump Administration. On 02 December, 2016 ETS were invited to attend the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) annual Global Security Forum in Washington, DC. The Forum, this year focused on the range of National Security Challenges facing the next American President and Congress. For ETS this presented an excellent opportunity to discuss the issues which will have significant effects on the security and risk management landscape as the next chapter in US Presidential history begins.
In discussing public opinion trends and implications for the next administration’s foreign policy agenda a recurring theme was that most Americans, whilst not isolationist, were growing increasingly skeptical and cautious of America’s role abroad and in particular any future interventions. Absent of any clear indication as to what the priorities will be for the next administration it is clear that much of the world is now looking on in interest – and what will this mean for American interests abroad? Polls presented at the forum indicated that Americans are more fearful of terrorist attack at home than any time since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The study based purely on people’s perceptions – not any tangible threat - are certainly pointing towards a greater concern on feelings of personal security risk vs broader international security concerns. A definite feeling of uncertainty is growing – and while Trump purports a position of “America First”; the extent to which this is true remains to be seen in what he actually believes; and what he actually will do.
Former Secretary of Defense and Director of CIA, Leon Panetta raised concern that the credibility of the United States is the biggest issue facing the new administration. Stating that America needs to ‘stand by its commitments and be prepared to back them with action’. He further commented on the fact that we live in ‘a very dangerous world’ – likely to be tested through the transition Period. With much of the discussions dwelling on Iraq, Syria and ISIS, Panetta commented that the terror threat cannot be viewed as simply dealing with ISIS on the battlefield. Furthermore he noted that the responses to global terror threats must consider other groups including Boko Haram and Al Shabab and others, in addition to ISIS.
The ability to defeat extremism on the battlefield is a more straight forward task than countering them in cyberspace. Geographically the desire to establish a caliphate can be countered – but can it be done so virtually? The battle for ideas and ideology is pressing on in the cyber domain. Panetta remarked that as of today “Cyber Attacks can cripple the United States” – and who and what in government has responsibility to provide both the defensive and offensive responses to these threats? The debate as to the role and reach of the NSA (and CYBERCOM) rumbles on.
In an era where we are governed by flexing between ‘crisis or leadership’ – but not planning or strategy -uncertainty remains. At ETS our mantra has been to guide our clients through the challenges of an increasingly complex and uncertain world. Based on the content of these fascinating discussions at the CSIS forum, this now appears to be even more compelling as we transition in to this next chapter. We will continue to examine what this means for our clients as they seek to achieve their aims, goals and objectives abroad at a time when considerable uncertainty remains over America’s emerging position on key security issues and challenges at home and abroad.