FPI Bulletin: National Security and the Debate

September 26, 2016

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet for the first of three scheduled debates this evening, moderator Lester Holt is expected to ask them about a variety of topics, including “securing America.” The Foreign Policy Initiative believes that the following questions and facts will help to illuminate the challenges that will face the next president as well as the choices facing the American people. For more information about FPI’s briefing program for leaders of both political parties, as well as our Foreign Policy 2016 briefing book, please visit our website.

America’s Role in the World

Do you believe America’s system of treaty alliances is a net benefit or detriment for our national security?

  • A report from the RAND Corporation estimates that “a 50-percent retrenchment in U.S. overseas security commitments could reduce U.S. bilateral trade in goods and services annually by as much as $577 billion — or 18 percent — excluding trade with Canada and Mexico. Based on conservative assumptions, the resulting annual decline in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) would be $490 billion (in 2015 U.S. dollars).” In short, the report concludes that severing America’s global security commitments could do far greater harm to the economy than could be recovered through any savings.

National Defense

How will you work with Congress to reverse the defense spending cuts that are forcing our military to slash personnel, lower military readiness, and cancel modernization programs?

  • The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 mandates approximately $1 trillion in cuts to the defense budget over a ten-year period. In recent testimony before Congress, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said that under sequestration, “the butchers bill is paid with American lives,” and each of the Service Chiefs has said that they will not be able to defend the United States.
  • In July 2014, the bipartisan, congressionally mandated National Defense Panel (NDP) unanimously concluded that “the President and Congress should repeal the Budget Control Act immediately.” The NDP also recommended that Congress should appropriate “funds on an emergency basis” to “remedy the short-term readiness crisis that already exists” in our Armed Forces.


What specific steps will you take to combat Iran’s regional aggression, human rights abuses, and illicit ballistic missile tests?

  • After reaching the deal, President Obama repeatedly pledged to continue combatting Tehran’s regional aggression, human rights abuses and ballistic missile tests by imposing non-nuclear sanctions on Iran. To date, however, the administration has imposed only a handful of new sanctions, and opposed virtually all congressional efforts to enact meaningful new ones.

What steps will you take to ensure the nuclear agreement’s transparency and hold Iran accountable for its efforts to flout the deal?

  • In the 14 months since the deal, Iran has failed to come clean on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. According to German intelligence, the regime has sought to procure proliferation-sensitive technologies in violation of the agreement. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in February that Tehran briefly violated the nuclear deal by exceeding the accord’s limits on heavy water accumulation. Earlier this month, the Institute for Science and International Security disclosed that Iran secretly received several exemptions on its nuclear obligations in order to hasten the arrival of the deal’s Implementation Day. Iran and world powers also reached a confidential side deal that allows Iran to self-inspect a key military facility.
  • In its three quarterly reports since the nuclear deal’s implementation, the IAEA has provided less information about Iran’s nuclear activities than it did in reports that preceded the agreement, thereby making independent verification of Iran’s compliance impossible.

Russian Support for Iran and Syria

What steps will you take to stymie Russian support for Iran’s regional aggression and other malign behavior?

  • In November 2015, Russia and Iran reached an agreement to expand research on dual-use space technology that Tehran could use to develop ballistic missiles. In February 2016, Tehran announced that it will sign a contract with Moscow to purchase Sukhoi-30 fighter jets; if completed, the transaction would violate the five-year arms embargo in the U.N. Security Council 2231 tied to the nuclear deal. In April, Iran announced that Moscow completed delivering the first part of the S-300 air defense system, which Tehran can use to protect its nuclear facilities from aerial attack and threaten the airspace of its neighbors. And over the past 14 months, Tehran and Moscow have bolstered their military cooperation to preserve Syria’s Assad regime.

How will you respond to Russia’s backing of Iranian and Assad regime atrocities against the Syrian people? Will your response require that Assad “step aside,” as President Obama said in August 2011?

  • Secretary of State John Kerry warned in February that the United States would implement “Plan B” measures for greater U.S. military involvement in the Syrian conflict if the Assad regime did not participate in political transition talks. He added in May that the target date for implementing these measures was August 1. Despite Russia’s continued support of Bashar al-Assad, and his regime’s escalated campaign against moderate opposition forces, the United States has not changed its stance on the conflict.

America’s Role in the Middle East

What lessons do you believe should be learned from the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State? As president, what will you do to avoid a resurgence of the Islamic State following its defeat in Iraq?

  • The Institute for the Study of War has documented how Al Qaeda in Iraq — the forerunner of the Islamic State — returned to terrorism in Iraq as soon as six months after the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Their organization’s rise in Iraq was bolstered by its safe havens in Syria, as well as the autocratic rule of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who deeply alienated Iraq’s Sunni population.
  • The New York Times reported in July that ISIS fighters in Iraq “have blended back into the largely Sunni civilian populations there, and are biding their time to conduct future terrorist attacks.” Even if the city of Mosul were to be liberated from ISIS soon, senior U.S. officials warn that “will not be sufficient to stave off a lethal insurgency.”

The Islamic State has expanded to a system of affiliates across the globe.  What actions will you take to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat the organization worldwide?

  • CIA Director John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June: “Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach. The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.”
  • The House Homeland Security Committee reports that ISIS attacks in the West have inflicted 875 casualties through July of this year, already exceeding last year’s total of 720 killed and wounded. The report also finds that the success rate of attacks is growing, along with the frequency of direct support from foreign operatives.

North Korea

North Korea recently conducted its fifth — and most successful — nuclear test. What will you do as president to strengthen alliances in the region and roll back Pyongyang’s increasingly capable nuclear arsenal?

  • Experts believe that North Korea will likely have the capability to produce a nuclear warhead by 2020, and may have an arsenal of as many as 100 nuclear weapons by that time. Last month, North Korea successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and has conducted several tests of its short and intermediate-range missiles in recent years.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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