Every week on Monday morning , the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question:What Do You see As America’s Greatest National Security Challenge?
GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the center of U.S. foreign policy and comprehensive strategy. Today’s Russia is not important enough to merit that role.But Russia is important, hostile, and active enough to take seriously.
A long time enabler of uncool regimes, Russia has the ability to totally queer the mix on a global scale. Just lucky perhaps, the Commonwealth’s ginormous size guarantees global consequences whenever She acts out.
The recent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs lays it out to play it out:
“If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I would have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
First, Putin’s Russia is a regime that combines a lack of respect for political, civil, and economic rights with a dysfunctional economy.
Second and most dangerous for the United States, Russia poses a series of worldwide strategic and diplomatic challenges, including buildup of its nuclear arsenal and military.
Third, Russia poses threats to discrete U.S. friends, allies, and interests around the world.
Fourth, Russia’s cooperation with bad actors and its increasing tendency to play a spoiler role pose another set of threats.
The U.S. approach should instead be to seek to impose costs on Russia—reputational, rhetorical, economic, financial, and military costs. The U.S. is vastly better equipped to bear costs than Russia because it has a larger and more flexible economy and political system. In any long-run competition, Russia will be at a profound disadvantage to the U.S. unless the U.S. imposes costs on itself, imposes them inefficiently on Russia, or simply fails to respond to Russia at all. Russia cannot afford to pay at anything like the U.S. rate.
Russia will always be able to gain a short-term advantage by doing something, such as invading Ukraine, that the U.S. cannot immediately counter. But the long-term cost of such victories for Russia will be high, and the U.S. can and should make them higher.
The U.S. approach should be to defend its allies and interests and to respond to destructive Russian actions with policies that raise Russian costs going forward and thus incentivize Russia to choose other, more desirable actions. A key requirement for this strategy is predictability. The U.S. must be willing to draw a clear line around its most vital allies and to make it clear that it has interests in other areas that can be defended in ways that are compatible with reasonable Russian concerns. Finally, it must reply to undesirable Russian actions calmly, firmly, and without evasions, so that the Russian regime will understand in advance that it cannot act without consequences.
The U.S. would ideally like Russia to become a normal nation that defends its interests, but that views the existence of independent nations on its border as not fundamentally threatening or a challenge to its sense of self. But this is not a realistic goal for U.S. policy. The experience of the past two decades implies that this ideal is, at best, a very long way off. Stating it as an aim would encourage the U.S. to delude itself about the limits of the possible.
Instead, the long-term goal of U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia should be to embed firmly in the minds of Russia’s leaders, whoever they may be, that their actions will have consequences and that Russia’s problems will become steadily worse if it continues on its current path. Genuine improvements in Russia’s behavior should meet a genuine U.S. response, but the essence of this strategy is that the U.S. should reciprocate fairly for cooperative actions, while imposing disproportionate costs for undesirable actions.
A comprehensive U.S. strategy toward Russia cannot be viewed in isolation. Russia is not the only or even the most important international actor in the world, and U.S. foreign policy cannot be viewed in isolation from U.S. comprehensive strategy at the highest level, which includes U.S. domestic policy. Stating a comprehensive strategy is easy, but carrying it out is much more difficult.
The essence of U.S. comprehensive strategy writ large is to defend the values embodied in the Constitution, which emphasize liberty, flexibility, and adaptability and which discourage autocracy, top-down control, and centralized direction. Of course, liberty has a fundamental and inherent value of its own, but the growth and power that have resulted from it has made the U.S. a superpower.
A U.S. comprehensive strategy toward Russia that relies fundamentally on the long-run superiority of the American system is simply a facet of an even wider strategy that values liberty under law at home and abroad and that views the international realm as a domain where power matters, but that can be structured by responsible nations for their mutual advantage. Today, regrettably, Russia is not a responsible nation.
Laura Rambeau Lee, Right Reason : America’s greatest national security challenge is our government’s wanton disregard for the rule of law. If the laws that have been established were enforced we would not be facing the problems we see in our country today. Our national security would not be so precarious if we were actively securing our borders, enforcing immigration laws, and deporting illegal immigrants and those who have overstayed their legally obtained visas.
In addition, if we were not decimating and demoralizing our military and were committed to maintaining peace through strength our national security would not be threatened by Iran and radical Islamic terrorists, along with Russia, China, and North Korea.
It appears to me our trusted servants are more concerned with retaining the power of their respective political parties than with our very real national security threats. The party of the president seems intent on transforming America into a full blown socialist country.
We have the laws, we have The Constitution, we must insist all of our elected officials be held to their oath of office or have them removed. Our greatest national security threat is the enemies residing at the highest levels within our government.
The Glittering Eye : The simplest answer is that we don’t have a serious national security challenge. I little more nuanced answer is that our greatest security threat is the outcome of years of trying to be the only adult in the room. We’ve infantilized the Brits, the Europeans, the Japanese, and the South Koreans. Now we’re astonished at the threat posed by their behaving like infants.
I guess if I had to pick a real external threat I’d pick disorder or even collapse in China.
JoshuaPundit : To quote that ancient Pogo cartoon:
That’s our biggest national security threat in a nutshell.
We have a porous southern border with little or no control over who comes into the country. We are importing thousands of Muslims with little or no oversight, many of whom come here with attitudes totally inimical to our culture, our Constitution and our country. And there’s also a high tolerance from the White House for Islamists, who control foreign funded mosques staffed by jihadist Imams. And there’s little or no oversight over them either until the bodies start piling up.
So back to Clausewitz’s first principle: we need to secure our base.
We need to totally revamp our military, both in sheer numbers and in terms of our military culture. Both have been severely damaged by the Obama regime, although the rot started with George W.Bush. We need to regain our capability to fight a two front war if necessary. We need to end politically correct indoctrination and the use of our military as a medium of ‘social justice’ and return it to what it should be…a strict meritocracy whose primary function is to break things, kill people and win clear cut victories with strictly defined objectives. And our military needs to get the message from its commander-in-chief that they no longer have to worry about fighting a war handcuffed by ridiculous Rules of Engagement that endanger both their lives and their mission, that they aren’t going to be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions and that if wounded, they will receive the best in care from an admiring nation. A pay raise wouldn’t hurt either. There’s no reason for military families to have to go on food stamps because they can’t make ends meet.
In terms of foreign affairs, we badly need to re-establish our credibility with our allies. Part of this involves major decisions on whom are allies actually are as opposed to whom they aren’t. And the realization that we can engage and cooperate with some countries in specific areas where we have common goals. Both Russia and China have severe internal problems, and instead of demonizing them, negotiating with them effectively while clearly establishing our own strategic needs and boundaries represents a major foreign policy opportunity.
The biggest threat to our security and to world peace is Islamism and jihad, especially because it involves horrific weapons (and those whom would sell and distribute them) in the hands of people like Iran and to a much lesser extent Pakistan who are simply not rational actors. That is something that must be dealt with now, in order to keep the cancer from metastasizing.
Well, there you have it.
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