A fresh look, through a broad lens, to help navigate the emerging security landscape

Tuesday, September 1, 2020
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The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so must we think anew and act anew.

– President Abraham Lincoln

Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

In this century, the United States faces a different threat landscape than it did in the last. New policy and strategic approaches will be needed to preserve national security in this emerging world.

Military capabilities are increasingly complex. Emerging technologies are revolutionizing conventional warfare. Autonomous systems offer prospects of high capability and large numbers. Space and counterspace capabilities and offensive and defensive cyber operations open up new domains of conflict. Modern sensors collect so much information that artificial intelligence techniques are needed to process it into forms usable to decisionmakers. It is difficult to assess the stability of this multi-dimensional picture. Conflicts among advanced powers could unfold rapidly, in asymmetric ways, with unpleasant surprises. Conventional conflict could escalate to use of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the ability to inflict harm has become more accessible. Post-9/11 terrorism was a postcard from this future. Critical infrastructure of an increasingly networked America is a potential target for cyberattack. Drone and other dual-use technologies reduce the costs and technical expertise needed to operate in previously rarefied domains such as air or even space power. And CRISPR-Cas9 synthetic biology reduces the development of biological weapons to the bench scale.

Other emerging threats to national security include disease and pandemics, which exploit our transportation networks to spread rapidly and inflict great damage to our health, our societies, and our economies. Growing instability in the climate will have disparate economic and social impacts. Changing global demographics, aging populations, and shrinking workforces are transforming many countries; this is mirrored in waves of international migration pressure, often chaotic. Economic performance affects resources available for national security investment or expenditure, while populist pressures are reshaping nations, their governance, and global geopolitics. The impact of these challenges will be felt domestically, but effectively facing them will require international cooperation, highlighting the continued importance of effective diplomacy with both our allies, partners, and friends and even with potential adversaries. The international security and economic commons that the United States helped bring into being at the end of World War II, now eroding, will have to be repurposed or reinvented.

Strategies for meeting the national security challenges we face today need to address the many attributes of national power. Military strength is necessary, but not sufficient. Solutions to many of our problems require cooperation with allies and partners, and recognition of the importance of diplomacy, science and technology, economic strength, and changing demographics. The Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security has been developed to pursue such a comprehensive, whole of government approach to national security challenges.

The Hoover Institution houses under its roofs some of the world’s most eminent national security thinkers and practitioners, developing and articulating new strategies to cope with this chaos. The National Security Task Force turns a broader lens to the global transformations now underway by combining this military expertise with the Hoover Fellowship’s equal depth in economics, in diplomacy, in geopolitics, and political thought. The Hoover Library and Archives collections offer unique original perspectives on the experience of changing security environments historically. And the Task Force draws on the global science and technology leadership of Stanford University more broadly, and the surrounding Silicon Valley, in looking over the horizon to understand the dynamics of this century’s emerging new threat landscape.

Task Force participants have proposed initial conceptual foundations of this new, “West Coast Offense”:

- Solvency and Security. Growing federal deficits, government debt, and competing societal demands will put pressure on defense funding. Security priorities, and the hard and soft power means to pursue them, will have to operate from these limits. Balancing that equation is long-term economic growth and prosperity, at home and among our allies, which defines the realm of the possible.

- From Allies to Adversaries: The Continuum of International Engagement The challenges we face are inextricably woven into the fabric of our nation's international relationships. Our friends span the spectrum from formal allies through willing partners to neutral collaborators; the potential foes include classic nation states as well as transnational threats from terrorism to intellectual property theft to cybercrime. We can only precisely define the nation's international and transnational environment through the full range of international engagement; we can only effectively address the challenges through renewed and reenergized international cooperation. The United States should look to the multi-sectoral capabilities of its allies, partners, or collaborators to complement its own. Some transnational threats may suggest the value of focused cooperation with traditional adversaries, as well. A maxim of pragmatism rings out given the complexity of global threats and opportunities; rather than "If you are not with us you are against us," it should be “If you are not against us, you are with us.”

- Technology and national security. The technical landscape is rapidly changing, much of that driven from outside the traditional military domain. The challenge before us is to exploit the benefits of advancing technology while dealing effectively with the new capabilities in the hands of our adversaries. Rather than demonizing new technologies, we must effectively harness them and appreciate that, underneath it all, technology has an important human element. The ethics and morality of modern warfare have new dimensions, and require the development of new behavioral and policy norms to promote stability.

- Citizenship, Leadership, and the New Federalism. The relationship between the federal government and the states is changing in a number of realms. Meanwhile many emerging transnational threats manifest in areas that are today the responsibility of or require the shared expertise of local governments, the business world, or civil society. Pandemic response is a case in point. Moreover, many US citizens (and taxpayers) often disagree on the nature of American security interests, and they express those opinions. What changes when Washington does not hold a monopoly on defining or delivering US national security?

- COVID-19 and national security. The coronavirus pandemic has broad domestic and international implications in itself and is likely a turning point in conceptions of national security much as 9/11 was. As with that attack, while the initial signals were  apparent , the full implications were only understood through the experience of the years that followed. Meanwhile, the pandemic has brought a magnifying glass to questions of traditional military readiness and on government administrative competency. What can we learn from this stress test so as to facilitate a robust recovery and resilience against future pandemics and other transnational “slow” threats, be they biologic, climatic, or social?

To this end, the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security convenes roundtable discussions where current national security decisionmakers—military and civilian—can air their own priorities, interests, and concerns and explore these new dynamics through frank engagement with Hoover Fellows, Stanford scholars and students, or others with experience and expertise in the field. Outputs from those conversations, private and public, augment existing Hoover Fellow scholarship through new, syncretic policy and strategy recommendations. Our goal is to offer a fresh look; to allow those striving to meet the nation’s security needs to set out an agenda that is relevant to them, and inform that effort through the scholarship of this Institution and University, as they grapple with the weight of preserving national security in a complex, emerging new world.

- Adm. James O. Ellis, Jr. (USN, Ret.)

- The Hon. George P. Shultz

July, 2020