Keeping America Secure

The world is changing. A hyper-connected, interdependent world economy and new technologies have empowered people and organizations. That means both individual activists in repressive countries have more power to seek freedom, and that groups like al Qaeda can wreak more havoc. This has made the work of ensuring American security more difficult. Gone are the days when we worried principally about a single geopolitical foe. Instead, American security concerns now range from nuclear proliferation and cyber terrorism to plots hatched in distant countries by small bands of radicals and managing a scale down of forces in Afghanistan in a responsible and safe manner. We face new, diverse threats, and we must meet them with a smart, principled strategy that recognizes, rather than ignores, how our world is changing.

America is a great nation because, over the course of our history, we have done great things. The tools that made us a world power – a strong economy, a strong military, robust diplomacy with strong allies, international development, and support for democracy – all must have a place in American strategy. Few of the new challenges we face can be solved by our military alone.  Instead all of these pieces must work together to address the economic, social, political, and military challenges of our time.

As a young councilman, I had the opportunity to ask General Colin Powell what the greatest threat to our national security will be over the coming years. His answer: “Our persistent failure to educate our children.” As we approach each of the issues I discuss below, and consider the many challenges that may arise in the future, we must always come back to that stark warning. If we are to continue leading, we must do a far better job preparing our children to lead in a 21st century economy.

The American Military

America has, and must continue to maintain, the strongest military force in the world. Our fighting men and women deserve the equipment they need to accomplish their missions, responsible planning necessary to ensure their success, and the care they were promised when they return home. These things are not negotiable.

The military threats of the future look very different than the challenges we faced in the 80s, 90s, or even just a few years ago, and America’s military needs to keep up. Without a major adversary like the Soviet Union, smaller nontraditional conflicts and interventions are more likely to be the rule, even as we refocus on asserting power in the Pacific. That is why military spending should be driven by a strategy to meet future threats, rather than an arbitrary number invented for political posturing or an attempt to fight the wars of past.

For too long, Congress has been spending money on weapons our military doesn’t want, weapons envisioned for wars never fought against enemies that no longer exist. That doesn’t make us any safer – in fact, it makes us less safe by siphoning funds away from essential training and spending on relevant weapons systems. This irresponsible spending is even less acceptable at a time when sequestration is forcing across-the-board cuts – to military priorities essential and superfluous alike.

Cybersecurity

America’s critical infrastructure – our power plants, oil pipelines, and water systems – are at serious risk of cyber attack. The vast majority of this critical infrastructure is privately owned. Yet today, if a major cyber attack took place on a telecom company or financial institution, that company wouldn’t even know who to call to report it. New Jersey, with its miles of pipeline, dense petroleum storage, and many seaports – not to mention nuclear power plants – may be particularly vulnerable.

We need new ways to protect the computer-connected systems that keep lights on and banks open. Years ago we decided that physical security – fences and cameras — around sensitive sites like power plants was essential. Yet there is no requirement, or even voluntary standard, for putting virtual fences around the computers that run these facilities.

When critical infrastructure is attacked or essential data is stolen, companies need a clear way to report it to civilian authorities so that government has a picture of the threats and other companies can protect themselves from similar attacks. And because personal information like emails, phone calls, or medical records are easily caught up in the mix of technology, it’s essential that privacy is protected.

Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

As a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran poses a threat to American security, a threat made worse by their pursuit of nuclear technology in defiance of the international community and their own treaty obligations. A nuclear-armed Iran is plainly unacceptable. It would pose serious threats to American interests and to our allies, particularly Israel.

Iranians recently elected a new President who has taken a less confrontational tone and positioned himself as open to negotiation. With the Supreme Leader of Iran holding control over final decisions regarding the nuclear program, it has yet to be seen if this openness is a delaying tactic to continue nuclear development or a genuine opportunity for engagement and negotiation.

The president is right to keep all options, including military action, on the table while vigorously pursuing both international sanctions and a negotiated settlement that prevents Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.  Today, sanctions have imposed real and increasing harm on Iran’s economy and isolated them from the international community.  Pursuing these diplomatic and economic actions must continue while there is time, because while all options should remain on the table, the cost of military action to end the Iranian nuclear program could be very high for us and our allies in the region.

China & International Competition

America’s relationship with China will, in many ways, define the next century of American security. As China expands its economy, grows its military, and competes on the world stage, it is essential for them to play by the rules. Thankfully, China needs us – our economy remains the most powerful in the world – and there are countless areas where our countries cooperate to advance shared priorities.

American workers can compete and win on a level playing field, which is why China’s cheating – through artificially depressing its currency and other unfair trade practices – is so damaging. While currency appreciation has occurred, keeping it artificially low hurts our economic competitiveness and undermines the trust that is essential to a strong relationship. That doesn’t mean we should start a trade war – that would hurt our economy just as much as it would hurt China’s. Instead, our goal should be a level playing field that treats everyone fairly, and that includes cracking down on unfair practices, such as unreasonable market barriers and Intellectual Property theft, that often break China’s commitments to us and the rest of the world.

Energy and National Security

Enhancing America’s security by developing clean energy is essential to our national security. And new energy technology means jobs and investment in our economy. America needs continued investment in clean, renewable, and alternative energy sources. There is no silver bullet technology, but diverse sources of 21st century energy will make us safer and stronger.

Every day, America sends $1 billion overseas for oil, often to countries that don’t share our values. Too much of that money ends up in the hands of extremist groups or helps prop up unfriendly regimes.  Oil dependence also makes our economy vulnerable to the price shocks of the global oil market, hurting New Jersey drivers at the gas pumps and industry as well.

While New Jersey has recent, firsthand experience with the damage severe weather events can do to a local economy – severe weather events that many scientists have connected to climate change – military leaders have been warning for years that climate change is making the world a more dangerous place. The droughts, floods, famine, and disease that accompany the impact of climate change around the world have their greatest impact on weak and failing countries – and when governments collapse or aren’t able to protect their people, extremism flourishes and terrorist groups find safe haven.  The Commander of US forces in the Pacific has identified climate change impacts as the biggest security threat in his region.

Recognizing the threat, our military is already leading the way on energy technology, as they have in the past with other technology, including microchips, GPS, and more. Already the Navy is running an aircraft carrier group on advanced biofuels; the Marines are powering small units in the field with roll-up solar panels, and pilots are breaking the sound barrier in fighter jets powered by drop-in biofuel. These investments are essential to creating clean tech that makes the military more capable, flexible and ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Such innovations also help secure a stronger and more robust economy where America leads in technology and innovation.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship

In an increasingly uncertain world, Israel continues to be an advocate for freedom, equality and democracy in the Middle East, protecting the rights of its citizens while upholding the values that Americans hold dear. From a strategic perspective, the United States must continue to support Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Simply put, where Israel’s security is at stake, America’s security is at stake. We share strategic interests, face common threats and jointly aspire to achieve peace.

Ultimately, however, it is not only America’s strategic self-interest, but also our shared history, a set of common ideals and respect for democratic values that anchors our special relationship with the Jewish state. American support for Israel has been at the center of our Middle East policy for over six decades and must continue to be a central component of our foreign policy in the region.  

Lasting security for Israel will ultimately require peace between Israel and its neighbors. That is why we as Americans must continue to work to facilitate direct negotiations that seek a two-state solution. However, it is the right of the Israeli government to make the tough decisions that are necessary to secure its future. The Palestinian People deserve a state, and one that allows them to prosper and thrive. That state, though, must not be a vehicle for the launching of attacks against Israel. During any eventual negotiation, certain things must remain non-negotiable, namely conditions that speak to Israel’s right to exist as a secure Jewish state.

International Development and Foreign Aid

International development efforts and foreign aid are essential to American national security. Development helps secure America’s role as a world leader, stabilizes some of the most troubling and dangerous parts of the world, and fosters markets for American goods. In short, as Secretary of State Kerry has said, foreign aid isn’t charity, it is strategy. We learned this lesson after World War II, when we rebuilt Europe and Japan – now some of our closest allies – and it’s a lesson we must remember today.

International development is one of the most important ways that we live up to America’s role as a force for good. Foreign aid isn’t cutting a check to the government of another country. Instead, it’s working with their police forces to fight the corruption that hurts business, training their militaries to protect unguarded borders from extremist infiltration, or connecting our farmers with theirs to learn the latest techniques and prevent famine. Together these tools ensure a safer, more democratic, and more stable world – things that are essential to our security at a time when difficulties overseas can have large and unpredictable impacts here at home.

Development helps the American economy as well. Americans only make up about 4 percent of the world’s population, so if our economy is going to grow, exports will be a big part of our success. Developing nations have the fastest growth and demand is high for the products that are being invented here in America, from clean energy to affordable technology.

Importantly, we must remember that America is not alone. Other countries, particularly China, are interested in exercising influence in the developing world. And while American support is often contingent on reform or democratization, other countries often have fewer scruples. The last thing we should do is retreat from our role and cede ground when our values are at stake.

African Economies and Opportunity

The countries of Africa have some of the fastest growing and most vibrant economies in the world. The story of Africa is one of transformation: local populations, partnered with international organizations and American international development funds, have done enormous good increasing standards of living and improving public health. In few areas has this been truer than the fight against HIV/AIDS, where millions of lives have been saved. Of course, much work remains to be done, particularly when it comes to helping governments drive out corruption and enforce the rule of law.

Expanding the economic pie means creating strong ties with these developing nations. Rather than making these countries dependent on long-term foreign aid, we should focus on increasing trade with them. For example, in countries that don’t have legacy landline telephones, as we do in America, there are opportunities to invest in mobile data technology – creating jobs here and there. This “trade, not aid” approach means new markets for American goods, self-sufficient counties that benefit from investment and a world economy that’s expanding.

Stronger, more stable African counties are also good for our security. Some parts of Africa, like Mali and Somalia, have had significant problems with extremist groups. Extremists have a much harder time gaining a foothold and recruiting when a countries people are making money, putting food on the table, and being supported by an effective government.

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