On Monday, November 16th, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted the Global Security Forum 2015 in Washington, DC. The event featured panels of government officials, think tank fellows, and business professionals to discuss the major national security issues facing the nation and the possible solutions to these bedeviling quandaries.
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan gave the keynote address, which was recalibrated to address the terrorist attacks in Paris, France that took place the previous Friday. Director Brennan noted that the Paris attack was not a one-off event and that more were not imminent but likely on the horizon. He described the members of ISIL as “murderers and sociopaths,” and addressed the broad cooperation of CIA with foreign intelligence agencies across the world to combat this threat.
On the cyber front, Director Brennan highlighted the need for ‘systemic learning,’ as reactive policy and national security strategies are insufficient. He noted that, “85% of the Worldwide Web’s critical infrastructure is held by the private sector. This is a privately owned and operated environment in which the rules remain uncertain at best.” Director Brennan then called for Congress to pass comprehensive cyber policies to address the destructive threat because privacy and security are not mutually exclusive.
The first panel focused on Russia’s Strategic Vision and was moderated by Senior Advisor and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS Olga Oliker. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and Jordan, was the only panel member in attendance. Michael Vickers, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, was invited but unable to attend the panel due to traffic.
Ambassador Pickering argued that Russia is tormented by a deep sense of unhappiness after the fall of communism and it longs to regain the stature it believes is historically its due. To obtain this, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cultivated a hyper-nationalistic atmosphere in Russia and is vying for influence in the surrounding countries, with an end goal similar to the Monroe Doctrine.
More specifically, Ambassador Pickering characterized many of Russia’s moves as “ankle kicking America,” not enough to provoke a conflict with the U.S., while still challenging U.S. hegemony and influence around Russia. Ambassador Pickering noted that in Syria there is currently a de facto no-fly zone where U.S. planes fly, but by clearly instituting a no fly-zone, he argued, the U.S. could eliminate confusion if Russia decides to chip at the U.S.’s ankles.
The second panel discussed The Defense Budget and Reform After the Deal and was moderated by Todd Harrison, Director of Defense Budget Analysis and Senior Fellow of the International Security Program at CSIS. The panel consisted of Christian Brose, Staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tina Jonas, Former Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Senior Advisor of the international Security Program at CSIS, and Steve Kosiak, Former Associate Director for Defense and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget.
On August 2, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, which entailed roughly $1 trillion in cutbacks for the defense budget over the next decade. The most recent defense budget stipulated funds for the next two years, but Ms. Jonas and Mr. Brose agreed that two year agreements hinder the Department of Defense (DOD) from planning large projects; four year budget deals provide greater certainty to defense planners.
The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) aspect of the budget has been a hotly disputed subject in Congress, but Mr. Brose noted that the Paris attacks are a reminder that the OCO will inherently be a part of the budget deal. Mr. Kosiak argued that the real question regarding the OCO is not its existence but its use to supplement funds for other projects; whether that will continue and in what capacity is yet unknown.
The third panel debated Foreign Policy Priorities for the Next Administration and was moderated by Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. The panel consisted of Derek Chollet, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, International Security Program Fellow at the New America Foundation.
Ambassador Dobriansky began by asserting that not only should the U.S. put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to combat ISIS, but also the U.S. needs a foreign policy strategy for the entire Middle East that goes beyond a military strategy. She argued there must be a political strategy as well that reinvests the U.S. in the Middle East to restore relations with U.S. allies and encourages greater intelligence sharing. Mr. Chollet countered that the U.S. must assess the risks associated with such a strategy because immediately the risks to U.S. troops, those allied with the U.S., and the U.S. homeland would increase.
As the debate shifted to balancing China, the previous panel’s puzzle was restated concerning the allocation of defense resources to combat the numerous national security threats. Ms. Eaglen argued there is bipartisan support for shifting U.S. focus to balancing China, but this cannot be done at the expense of U.S. attention to the Middle East or Russia. To explore such a broad foreign policy strategy, funds would have to be adjusted/diverted – possibly by closing U.S. bases which there is no political will for – leaving the U.S. with a weaker position on many fronts.
The Global Security Forum concluded with Iran and the Way Forward in the Middle East: A Conversation with Henry Kissinger and was moderated by President and CEO of CSIS John J. Hamre. Mr. Kissinger observed that there is a crisis of government in the Middle East. There is tension between subjects and rulers – how the Syrian crisis began – and when governments begin to fail ethnic tensions are exacerbated because the Middle East is not a homogenous place. There is also a rejection of the current world order – particularly state boundaries – and ISIS exemplifies this in that they cross the Syrian-Iraqi border like it is nonexistent and make universal claims. This is a complex problem that ties into the previous panel’s discussion of a solution in Syria: a political strategy, not just a military one, is needed for the Middle East
For American leadership to comprehend and manage the complex national security threats facing the U.S., Mr. Kissinger joked that if politicians dropped the phrase ‘on my first day in office,’ we would be much better off. The Global Security Forum pointed to more uncertainty and ambiguity than resolution to the security threats facing the world, but that just proves Mr. Kissinger’s point: the U.S. leadership should not make grand promises to such complex threats because the job is more of a balancing act.