SOTU, the Economy and National Security

February 11, 2013

As Washington prepares for this year’s State of the Union, expected to focus heavily on the economy, the White House previewed a set of national security initiatives that would heighten U.S. global influence – and move scarce financial resources from outdated initiatives into 21st-century priorities. Last week Vice President Biden listed them:

“[I]t will reflect our shared interests in the following areas: advancing a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, reduce global stockpiles and secure nuclear materials;… combating climate change, moving it up on the agenda; enhancing our development initiatives to promote global health and food security and end extreme poverty in the near future; strengthening our alliances, which are essentially — essential to our ability to meet our challenges in the 21st century; continuing to take down barriers to trade including with Europe to spur growth on both sides of the Atlantic; maintaining our commitment to the elusive but essential goal of Middle East Peace; and strengthening the — engaging the democracies in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and across the Middle East.”

As details emerge on this second-term national security agenda, NSN previews the overarching themes of how smart national security policies are essential to American recovery and prosperity:

Bolstering both national security and fiscal strength by working to reduce nuclear weapons and dangerous nuclear materials. Vice President Joe Biden told the Munich Security Conference that President Obama would likely use the State of the Union Address to reflect on the shared interests in “advancing a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, reduce global stockpiles and secure nuclear materials.”

Updating U.S. nuclear requirements for the 21st century. According to a report released Friday by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), senior Obama administration officials have developed a plan to reduce the United States’ nuclear arsenal by one-third or more. According to Jeffery Smith of CPI, the unconfirmed plan envisions that “Russia and the United States would agree not only to cut deployed warhead levels below 1,550 to around 1,100 or fewer, but also — for the first time — begin to constrain the size” of tactical nuclear weapons arsenals that are not limited under New Start. These reductions would result in a combined nuclear force of 2,500 to 3,500 nuclear weapons. The New York Times reports that, according to an official involved in the deliberations, Mr. Obama, “believes that we can make pretty radical reductions — and save a lot of money — without compromising American security in the second term. And the Joint Chiefs have signed off on that concept.” Studies find that reducing to 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons can have cost saving benefits of more than $113 billion over the decade – over one-fifth of total number of Pentagon reductions required by sequestration. [Jeffery Smith, 02/08/13, NY Times 02/10/13]

Renewing pressure on nuclear nations to complete an agreement controlling production of dangerous nuclear materials. The proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) will be discussed at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) taking place throughout mid-February. Remarks made by Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, make it clear that the U.S. is committed to supporting the FMCT and making it a reality: “I am also glad to be here talking about the development of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). As you all know, an FMCT has long been one of the key goals of multilateral arms control. A cut-off will provide a solid foundation for future disarmament efforts, and help to consolidate the arms control gains made since the end of the Cold War. An FMCT’s verifiable controls on fissile material production will play an important role by strengthening confidence among the relevant states and help to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. The United States is firmly committed to making this Treaty a reality.” [U.S. Department of State, 12/13/2012]

[Joe Biden, 02/02/13]  

Concluding the costly war in Afghanistan, protecting interests. The State of the Union will make a nod to America’s longest war, and to the Administration’s plans to bring it to a close by next year. Lieutenant General David Barno (ret.), former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, explains, “Recent reports suggest that the White House is looking at troop options ranging from 3,000 to as many as 15,000 stay-behind troops. Many think that the final figure will be well under 10,000… In recent weeks, vigorous debate has been under way inside the administration…to sort out a minimalist approach that will protect long-term U.S. interests in the region, but do so with the absolute leanest outlay of dollars and troops.”

Barno adds that there is a “Zero Option” – a way to protect U.S. interests in Afghanistan without any troop presence, using “powerful remote intelligence, surveillance, and strike capabilities that could only be dreamed of in the 1990s” and “U.S. intelligence networks” to conduct counter-terrorism. “Even though the Zero Option is not the best choice to protect American long-term regional interests, it certainly remains on the table.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/10/13. David Barno, 1/7/13]

Rebuilding domestic strength, the foundation of our global power. A strong economic base at home is fundamental to America’s military and national security strength, all the more when facing the globalized economy of the 21st century. Charles Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains, “[R]enewing the nation’s economic health is vital to advancing its national security… Reviving economic growth, reducing unemployment and income inequality, improving education—these are prerequisites for rebuilding the economic base on which national power rests and restoring the political consensus needed to guide U.S. statecraft.” America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, adds, “we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.” [Charles Kupchan, Winter 2012. Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12]

Trade and economic statecraft. In his recent confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State, John Kerry testified, “More than ever, foreign policy is economic policy.  The world is competing for resources and global markets. Every day that goes by where America is uncertain about engaging in that arena, unwilling to put our best foot forward and win, unwilling to demonstrate our resolve to lead, is a day in which we weaken our nation itself. My plea is that we can summon across party lines, without partisan diversions, an economic patriotism which recognizes that American strength and prospects abroad, depend on American strength and results at home.” [John Kerry, 1/24/13]

Balanced Deficit Reduction: The New York Times editorializes, The Pentagon, which has had a blank check for a decade, can easily absorb hundreds of billions in cuts, but using an across-the-board cleaver is the wrong way to make them. If the senators are serious about averting a problem they helped create, they can support negotiating a deficit-reduction package that includes tax revenues from the wealthy, or they can urge that both sides of the sequester simply be set aside.” [NY Times, 7/31/12]

Tackling global crises that have real impacts on the daily lives of Americans. Last year former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained, “we are making progress toward finalizing a far-reaching new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The so-called TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region… Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy.” And Vice President Biden recently laid out another possible foreign policy agenda that would impact working Americans: “There’s a lot of interest lately in the idea of a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment agreement… The question now is whether the political will exists to resolve those longstanding differences. And if so, we should pursue a transatlantic partnership… It would be good for growth, job creation, and be good on both sides of the Atlantic; it would strengthen our global trading system; and it would, importantly, help us strategically as a key element — add another element of our transatlantic alliance.” [Hilary Clinton, 11/27/12. Joe Biden, 2/2/13. David Ignatius, 12/5/12]

What We’re Reading

Tunisia’s governing Islamist party says agreement is imminent on a new national unity government for Tunisia, in response to the simmering political crisis brought on by the assassination of an opposition politician.

Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib said he is willing to hold talks with Bashar al-Assad’s representatives in rebel-held areas in the north.

French and Malian troops appeared to have reasserted control of a strategic settlement in northern Mali after a protracted firefight with Islamist extremists.

A Chinese military vessel locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese warship, marking a brief but dangerous escalation in the showdown over maritime territory between Asia’s two largest economies.

Several journalists who cover Burma reportedly received warnings from Google that their e-mail accounts might have been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers.”

A Moscow district court ordered Sergei Udaltsov, a prominent opposition leader, to be placed under house arrest in one of the most assertive legal measures to date against a leader of anti-Kremlin protests.

Police in South Africa arrested the “ringleader” of a group of 19 Congolese rebels who now face charges of allegedly plotting a war to unseat Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

A new intelligence assessment concluded that the United States has been the target of a massive, sustained cyber-espionage campaign that is threatening the country’s economic competitiveness.

The national leaders of the EU’s 27 member states expressed “support for a comprehensive trade agreement” with the United States, citing its potential to create jobs.

Venezuela cut the value of its currency against the US dollar by 32 percent, in an effort to boost its economy.

Commentary of the Day

Fred Hiatt emphasizes the sustained urgency of Obama’s strategic rebalancing to Asia.

David Brooks argues drones are useful to get at a good outcome but that an independent review panel would provide a needed check on the power to use them.

Mark Quarterman underlines that Malian leaders’ ability to govern, not military support, will determine the nation’s ability to fed off insurgents.

The Daily Show parodies outrageous Pentagon spending.

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