Clearly, there are many challenges we have to address, and most all of them — along with possible solutions — are covered on this website
As you read the solutions, some things will seem like really big shifts away from what we are currently doing, while others will seem more like minor modifications. Without question, the really big shifts can feel overwhelming, if not impossible, to achieve. But I believe there is a secret to pulling them off: We will be more successful if we do some of the really big shifts in coordination with one another, because the aggressive actions we need to take to shift one of the big challenges can sometimes soften the negative consequences that are caused by shifting the other.
Okay, that sounds like a lot, so let’s walk through an example. Take two of our most looming policy issues: Our national defense strategy and our energy policy. Whether we like it or not — and regardless of what our personal opinions are on these two issues — major shifts in both areas are coming. Unfortunately, the difficult changes we need to make in our national defense and energy strategies have the potential to have a negative effect on many American lives and livelihoods.
Politicians are often dishonest about this inevitability — and most are masters at postponing the unpleasant — but, given the way both the basic facts and the world are evolving, these two shifts are going to happen sooner rather than later. It’s just the way it is.
The great news is that, if we are proactive, we can make the landing as soft as possible for those who may face hardships because of these changes. Believe me, it is far better to endure a little pain now — while we still have control over how to absorb it — than to live in denial until the music just stops and there aren’t enough chairs.
Up first, our national defense strategy. The United States of America should never be forced to forgo the critical military capabilities that we need to protect ourselves. America must have a cutting-edge military that has the fortitude to fully protect this country, regardless of where the threat comes from or in what form it comes in. AND the United States should never be in a position where we are forced to pick and choose between the most dangerous regions of the world.
Given China’s rise, ensuring stability in the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly critical to our economic and national security. At the same time, we obviously can’t fixate solely on that region of the world when the Middle East and Eastern Europe remain so unpredictable and unstable. We have to look no further than Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Hamas’ attack on Israel to see how quickly things can escalate in those regions.
The bottom line is that we must be able to sustain security simultaneously in Russia, Africa, South and East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe — and have everything we need to operate successfully in the traditional theatres of land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space. Because of the sheer scope of these operational and geographical realities, our national security must be forward-thinking, innovative, and dare I say, crafty.
War has evolved, big time. This means we must evolve as well — and do what five-star Army general and former president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower once advised: “Learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
This is not to say that diplomacy can solve everything. It clearly cannot. But the “intellect” part of President Eisenhower’s advice is convicting. The harsh truth is that throwing a bunch of money at a million different things to see what sticks — as we have done since the 9/11 terrorist attacks — is not going to cut it anymore. Neither is relying on the threat of a ridiculously gigantic arsenal of big, scary bombs. The “my bomb is bigger than your bomb” strategy we have depended on for decades now seems lazy and terribly inadequate.
Russia and China figured this out years ago. Sure, they still rely on the bomb thing to a certain degree. Even though the entire world now knows that the Russian military is largely inept (more on this later), they announced in December 2019 that they had deployed Avangard, a new hypersonic weapon that flies at lightning-fast speeds, allowing it to evade American missile defense systems. They are also working on stealth submarines and torpedoes.
China finally reached the wealth necessary to heavily upgrade its military and make a move for East Asia. The DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile is a game changer, as is their intermediate-range missile called the DF-26 that threatens our naval forces and bases in the Pacific. Already, China and Russia both have weapons that jeopardize our assets in space, through everything from cyberattacks to radio jamming to destroying them altogether.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community from 2019 said China and Russia “are seeking to expand the full spectrum of their space capabilities, as exemplified by China’s launch of its highest-resolution imagery satellite, Gaofen-11, in July 2018.” Plus, “China and Russia are training and equipping their military space forces and fielding new anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons to hold U.S. and allied space services at risk, even as they push for international agreements on the non-weaponization of space. Both countries recognize the world’s growing reliance on space and view the capability to attack space services as a part of their broader efforts to deter an adversary from or defeat one in combat.”
These advancements by China and Russia are even more frustrating because we did a lot of the heavy lifting for them by developing superior military technologies (like long-range precision-strike, electromagnetic-spectrum warfare, and hypersonic warfare) — then just let them copy us.
But beyond all of that, the most significant advancements China and Russia have made have little to do with space or military hardware at all. While we were busy fighting wars in the Middle East, China and Russia were busy closely examining our weak spots and developing new tactics to exploit our vulnerabilities.
Yes, by far, the most impressive part of their strategy to challenge the United States falls under the “crafty” category.
For example, both countries have developed anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) networks and designed smart asymmetric-warfare strategies (asymmetric -warfare is essentially a conflict between two countries that have significantly uneven military capabilities, like the United States versus either China or Russia). These hybrid warfare tactics are designed to significantly raise the cost and risk of retaliation by their potential adversaries, and to keep them guessing. This creates a kind of permanent gray zone between war and peace, where things don’t necessarily escalate into military conflict, but where adversaries know the threat exists nonetheless.
China has unlawfully used the disputed waters of the South and East China Seas as their gray zone battlefield, building militarized artificial islands and occupying disputed reefs and shoals to keep our naval forces out deep in the Pacific.
Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, global security experts, explain it this way:
“For more than a generation, China has been fielding a series of interrelated missile, sensor, guidance, and other technologies designed to deny freedom of movement to hostile powers in the air and waters off its coast. As this program has matured, China’s ability to restrict hostile access has improved, and its military reach has expanded. Many now believe that this anti-access, area denial capability will eventually be highly effective in excluding the United States from parts of the Western Pacific that it has traditionally controlled. Some even fear that China will ultimately be able to extend a zone of exclusion out to, or beyond, what is often called the ‘Second Island Chain’ — a line that connects Japan, Guam, and Papua-New Guinea at distances of up to 3,000 kilometers from China.”
For its part, Russia demonstrated hybrid warfare in the annexation of Crimea and in their effort to destabilize Ukraine (before the physical invasion) by using cyber warfare, extortion, and incredibly effective and destabilizing propaganda. When Putin started his full-fledged war in Ukraine, the propaganda went into overdrive. To justify his invasion, Putin told the Russian people that he started the war to “demilitarize and denazify” the Ukrainian government. He perpetuated the lie that Kyiv has been carrying out “genocide” against the Russian-speaking people who live in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine (known as the Donbas).
Since the war started, The New York Times reports that “the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a ‘special military operation’ against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.”
An analysis by the RAND Corporation — a nonprofit policy think tank partially funded by the U.S. government — “characterizes the contemporary Russian model for propaganda as ‘the firehose of falsehood’ because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. In the words of one observer, ‘new Russian propaganda entertains, confuses and overwhelms the audience.’”
Russia’s guerilla-style brand of asymmetric-warfare has been targeting America for decades. Moonlight Maze, Russia’s three-year covert operation to hack into U.S. governmental agencies, started in 1996 and penetrated both NASA and the Pentagon. In fact, Moonlight Maze is the reason the U.S. Cyber Command center was created in the first place.
James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explains that “Russia is a haven for the most advanced cybercrime groups and no clear line delineates the criminal world from the government. The Kremlin sees Russian cybercriminals as a strategic asset, and one of the most difficult problems for reducing cybercrime is that Russia, along with North Korea, will not cooperate with Western law enforcement. High-end cybercriminal groups in Russia have hacking capabilities that are better than most nations for both criminal and intelligence purposes.”
Unfortunately for us, Russia has just gotten better and better at cyberwarfare through the years, so much so that we now are engaged in an ongoing and unrelenting cyberconflict. This battle reached deep inside the good ‘ol USA when the Russians significantly intervened in the 2016 presidential election, then yet again in 2020 when they unleashed the mother of all cyberattacks against us.
In Spring 2020, as Americans were settling into Covid lockdowns and the U.S. cyber-defense agencies were obsessively focused on protecting the upcoming presidential election, Russian hackers known as APT29 and Cozy Bear — the pride of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russia Federation (SVR) — launched a massive cyber hack against the United States of America, now considered to be one of the largest ever.
The Russian assault was so sophisticated — and so flawlessly executed — that cybersecurity experts were reportedly “stunned” by its scope and impact. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) called the breach “one of the most widespread and sophisticated hacking campaigns ever conducted against the federal government and private sector.”
A large portion of the hack was facilitated by software called Orion, which is made by SolarWinds, a company that makes network monitoring software used by at least 425 of the Fortune 500 companies, media companies, and most of our governmental agencies. For years, SolarWinds had been accused of having insufficient security for its products, but for some reason the U.S. government and large corporations kept using them anyway.
Roughly 18,000 people, both inside and outside of the U.S. government, downloaded the corrupted software, giving the Russians a way to create hidden back doors to access each user’s network. The hack is believed to have reached at least 250 United States federal agencies and American corporations, including Microsoft and Amazon.
< Note: In October 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought a civil action against SolarWinds, accusing the company of failing to disclose its cybersecurity vulnerabilities ahead of this massive breach. According to the SEC, SolarWinds violated the antifraud disclosure and internal controls provisions of U.S. securities law numerous times. >
In my mind, Russia’s conduct here went way beyond spying, which most every country does to some degree. Instead, this was a global espionage supply chain attack that compromised U.S. intelligence agencies; nuclear laboratories; Fortune 500 companies; companies that monitor and protect critical domestic infrastructure; the National Institutes of Health; and the U.S. departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and Energy. The Department of Defense adamantly denies that the attacks penetrated its systems, although we have yet to see proof of that.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees our nuclear stockpile, was also breached, as was the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where most of our nuclear weapons are designed. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was compromised, which may not seem like a big deal until you find out that FERC is responsible for Black Start, the United States’ strategy for restoring power if we ever experience a disastrous national blackout (which you can bet is already on Russia’s attack checklist).
The Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon were also hit, which is ironic given they are the very departments tasked with protecting our networks. All of this, even though the United States has thrown billions after billions after billions of dollars to prevent this from happening. The National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS) is, according to its website, “an integrated system-of-systems that delivers a range of capabilities, including intrusion detection, analytics, intrusion prevention, and information sharing capabilities that defend the civilian federal government’s information technology infrastructure from cyber threats and includes the hardware, software, supporting processes, training, and services that the program develops and acquires to support DHS’s cybersecurity mission.”
These capabilities, known as EINSTEIN, “provide a technological foundation that enables the Department of Homeland Security to secure and defend the federal civilian government’s information technology infrastructure against advanced cyber threats.” Not to sound bitchy, but we should probably give EINSTEIN a new name since it completely missed hundreds of Russians stealthily digging around our governmental networks for months.
This is even more frustrating given that, in December 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned of this exact thing happening: “The 23 civilian agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 have often not effectively implemented the federal government’s approach and strategy for securing information systems. Until agencies more effectively implement the government’s approach and strategy, federal systems will remain at risk.”
As if all of that is not humiliating enough, two other facts make it even worse: First, the United States government may have never discovered the hack at all. Instead, a private cybersecurity firm named FireEye discovered it and informed U.S. intelligence agencies, calling the attack “top-tier operational tradecraft.”
Second, the Russians facilitated the attack from servers inside the United States. Some of the servers were actually in the same city as their intended targets. This was the most brilliant part of the plan because this allowed them to exploit rules that prohibit U.S. federal agencies from conducting domestic surveillance. Although it will be years before we know how much damage has been done, experts estimate the true cost could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
From all angles, it’s clear that China and Russia are ready to test the international order that America has ruled for decades. These countries are all the more dangerous because they view pesky things like human rights and the rule of law as nothing more than nuisances — and that philosophy can easily spread across the globe.
Hopefully, most of us can agree with the two statements I made earlier: 1) The United States of America should never be forced to forgo the critical military capabilities that we need to protect ourselves, and 2) The United States must have a cutting-edge military that has the fortitude to fully protect this country, regardless of where the threat comes from or in what form it comes in. Plus, we must be able to sustain security simultaneously in Russia, Africa, South and East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe — and have everything we need to operate successfully in the traditional theatres of land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space.
Now the question becomes: How can we best achieve this? Contrary to what some in Washington believe, we don’t have a bottomless bank account when it comes to military spending and national security. The Pentagon should never be immune to thoughtful spending and strict fiscal accountability — and that statement does not make me soft on defense, disloyal to the military, or unpatriotic in any way. What it makes me is a responsible realist.
We spend more on military expenditures — by far — than anyone in the entire world. In fact, we spend about as much on our military as the next ten largest-spending countries combined. In FY2023, $1.8 TRILLION was appropriated to the Department of Defense (DOD), which is 13.2 percent of the entire U.S. federal budget. The DOD planned to spend at least $1.2 trillion of those funds.
With that level of spending, here come the lobbyists (surprise, surprise). The defense sector — which includes defense aerospace, defense electronics and other miscellaneous defense companies — spent a whopping $128,266,496 to lobby Congress in 2022 alone.
Over the past twenty-five years, the defense sector has spent almost THREE BILLION DOLLARS to lobby Congress. Does this sound like a good idea to you? It’s pretty clear who is actually writing our national security strategy, and it ain’t the people we elect.
Now, more than ever, we need to heed yet another piece of advice from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”
Listen, I believe deeply in free market enterprise, but I also believe we have to watch our defense suppliers like hawks because they have billions of reasons to fight us on this.
In FY2022, weapons maker Lockheed Martin held contracts with the Department of Defense worth around $45 billion. Incidentally, Lockheed has spent $319,913,396 to lobby Congress in the past twenty-five years. Raytheon Technologies came in second with about $25 billion in contracts. They spent $340,901,571 during that time.
The United States is by far aerospace manufacturer Boeing’s largest customer, routinely bringing in over 30 percent of the company’s annual revenue. In FY2022, Boeing held $14 billion worth of contracts with the DOD. Boeing has spent $338,768,310 lobbying Congress since 1998.
Relying on defense lobbyists to write our national security strategy guarantees that our national security strategy will be all about bombers, helicopters, Super Hornets, Phantom Eyes, Growler, Prowler, B-2, PAC-3, F-15s, ICBMs, MEADS, B-52s, MHTK — and a lot of other cool weapons and bombs that ensure America’s arsenal has all the latest, greatest hardware.
It also guarantees that innovative, forward-thinking strategic planning will be discouraged. After all, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right?