By Eric Olson

Tsoma Nakamoto speaking at Georgetown University Law Center on 10 November 2017

On 10 November 2017, an eager crowd packed into Georgetown University Law Center to hear from experts in one of the hottest technology fields, cryptocurrency. Friday’s event, the first in an ongoing Cryptocurrency Speaker Series, featured Tsoma Nakamoto, Bitcoin venture capitalist, and Ryan Lester, founder and CEO of Cyph, an encrypted messaging platform. Sponsored by the Cyberlaw Society, Georgetown International Law Society, and Society for the Cessation of Tobacco Death, last week’s event drew a strong crowd, indicating significant public interest in this developing technology.

Mr. Nakamoto - who shares a last name, but apparently no relation, to the rumored inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto - began the evening with an overview of cryptocurrency technology. Framing new currencies such as Bitcoin as the next evolution of ledger technology, Mr. Nakamato suggested currencies like bitcoin are merely a more technologically advanced solution than the double spend problem of recording transactions that humans historically solved through seashells or stone tablets. Now, currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Polkadot, include the complete transaction history of a currency unit in a distributed ledger, preventing both forged currency and currency double use.

His comments, however, alluded to the sometimes volatile nature of cryptocurrency technology. In addition to market volatility (evidenced by this past weekend’s sharp drop in Bitcoin prices), Mr. Nakamoto expounded on the new currencies’ technological volatility. Obstacles to a stable currency include technological mishaps, such as the bug that locked up $300 million worth of cryptocurrency last month, and targeted attacks on the markets such as the Mt. Gox hack, which Mr. Nakamoto said wiped out half his holdings. Cryptocurrencies also may soon face legal obstacles to ensure compliance with SEC regulations, and Mr. Nakamato believes assets bought in future ICOs (initial coin offerings, the cryptocurrency equivalent of an IPO) will be subject to the capital gains tax. Mr. Nakamato’s view regarding SEC enforcement is supported by the July 2017 Investor Bulletin issued by the SEC, which alerted investors that currencies issued through ICOs may be securities, falling within the purview of SEC regulation. The September 2017 arrest of Maksim Zaslavsky for selling unregistered securities in ICOs further suggests increased regulation of cryptocurrencies.

Looking forward, Mr. Nakamoto believes that the future of blockchain technology will move towards eco-friendly algorithms due to the severe environmental costs of these transactions. In fact, a recent report indicated that a single bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as a house uses in a week. Mr. Nakamoto posited ‘holochains,’ which contain data stored on a holographic image, as a possible solution to environmental concerns.

Ryan Lester continued the evening with an overview of his new secure messaging program, Cyph. Growing out of his use of ‘off-the-record’ encrypted chat to communicate with his friend and co-founder, Josh Boehm, Cyph aims to provide users with the security of encrypted chat and the easy user experience of popular messaging applications such as Gchat or iMessage. After the Snowden leaks, Mr. Lester realized encrypted chat services could have broader appeal beyond niche tech-sector users. 

Mr. Lester is poised to scale Cyph for greater public use in the near future. In addition to presenting his work on Cyph at prominent conferences such as Defcon and Blackhat, Mr. Lester will release the full version of Cyph in the near future. He evaded questions about any IPO, stating he wanted to retain control over the company for at least the next few years. Mr. Lester ended his lecture with a call for sensible encryption regulations, telling his law school audience to work towards a future with greater privacy protections for consumers.

The large turnout for this event indicates strong interest among the legal and greater Washington community for information on these developing technologies. For those interested, keep an eye out for announcements regarding the next event in the Cryptocurrency Speaker Series.

By Alexandra Moffit
Photo: President Clinton Signing NAFTA, Creative Commons License

1. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a treaty between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that’s been in effect since 1994.

The region is home to over 444 million people. Before NAFTA, the United States and Canada created a free trade agreement in 1989. The three countries started negotiations under the tenure of President George H. W. Bush, and the treaty was completed and signed into law by President Clinton.

2. NAFTA was put in place to encourage economic integration between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

NAFTA pushes countries to open their markets and eliminate tariffs. Another major goal of the treaty was to create and encourage North American competitiveness in the world. NAFTA was to create an economic zone like the European Union.

Similar to the European Union, an open economic zone would allow each country to specialize. In the United States, one oft-cited example is manufacturing. Since manufacturing is often cheaper in Mexico, some companies have moved production from the United States to Mexico under NAFTA. On the other hand, surplus agriculture such as almonds in the United States could be exported to Mexico or Canada.

3. NAFTA isn’t just an agreement – there are many institutions in place to facilitate it.

NAFTA includes a Free Trade Commission. This commission oversees the work of several working groups, committees, and other entities of NAFTA. There are many working groups in place to encourage investment and trade. These are in place to encourage cooperation in areas such as labor and environmental policies. Important aspects of NAFTA include customs, goods, agriculture, and business. Millions of people in each of the three countries depend on NAFTA every day.

4. President Trump hates NAFTA.
President Trump blames NAFTA for the loss of some U.S. jobs to Mexico. He has called the treaty the “worst trade deal in history.”  President Trump also remarked, “I’ve been opposed to NAFTA for a long time, in terms of the fairness of NAFTA.”

As President Trump said, the treaty caused some job loss in the United States’ Rust Belt, specifically in the manufacturing sector. However, millions of other American jobs depend on NAFTA In addition, there is no proven direct causation for any net loss of jobs being because of NAFTA, as job losses depend on many factors. For example, around the same time as NAFTA, China emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse and joined the World Trade Organization. China joining the WTO is one of the many potential factors that resulted in job losses in the United States’ manufacturing sector since 1994.

5. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have been renegotiating NAFTA for several months, and there is no end in sight.

Since President Trump took office, renegotiating NAFTA has been a top priority. The three countries have been negotiating a rewrite of the treaty for the past few months, with four rounds of talks completed so far.

In the most recent meetings, the NAFTA negotiators have decided to extend negotiations into 2018. The three North American powers have not been able to find common ground on several important points. These contentious points include how to rewrite the treaty and whether NAFTA should have to be renewed every five years. The fate of NAFTA is in jeopardy. Many experts believe that the dissolution of NAFTA could jeopardize North American competitiveness, making competing with China and the European Union more difficult. The current American climate of protectionism could hurt the economic growth of all three countries in the short term and long term.

Erika Valentina Suhr

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”, quipped Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-53) at an event at the United States Institute of Peace where Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani spoke on the role of women as peacemakers in Afghanistan. However, getting to the table is easier said than done for women in Afghanistan, where violence against female public officials, regressive social norms, and wild disparities in law enforcement exist. The First Lady prompted women to work for their rights and to “not wait for them to fall in their laps”, but it is difficult to imagine that anyone in Afghanistan labors under the delusion that rights will be spontaneously bestowed upon women. How are women to assume the mantle of peacemakers in any substantive way if they are barred from most formal and informal dispute resolution and peace building mechanisms?

Of foremost importance is that women have a forum where their grievances can be redressed. Although much focus has been placed on improving the formal judicial system, an estimated 80% of disputes, not counting family-level disputes, are resolved by informal dispute resolution mechanisms. Both men and women prefer informal processes, such as local councils known as shuras and jirgas, perceiving them to be quicker, more cost-effective, and more cognizant of community norms and values, which in turn leads to a greater likelihood that those decisions will be upheld. Given that these methods are the overwhelming preference, it is significant that in many instances, informal dispute mechanisms are closed to women to varying degrees. For instance, in Aqcha District of Jowzjan Province, women are restricted from leaving their homes, let alone accessing a venue where they have to appear and speak before men who are not family members. Since the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan government and foreign actors have endeavored to expand local informal justice venues, including by increasing the number of shuras and jirgas, as well as creating new types of shuras driven by the government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP), designed to increase women’s access to justice by being required to have a quota of female membership, or at least a minimum of female input in decision-making. In certain districts, all-female shuras have been established.

Of course, even where these NSP shuras exist, there are considerable barriers to women achieving a just result. Women are cognizant of this, and although most theoretically prefer local enforcement over the formal court system, they are not optimistic about their chances in either forum. Some of this skepticism is due to the motivation behind local dispute resolution, which is geared more towards community welfare as opposed to individual rights, particularly women’s rights, the upholding of which can be perceived as being at cross-purposes with community goals. Relatedly, despite the existence of mixed-gender shuras, and even select all-female NSP shuras, the vast majority of these local councils are composed entirely of men, village elders and religious leaders, who have incentives to maintain the status quo, given that they are the beneficiaries of the current system and would be reluctant to share or relinquish power Also, of those community dispute resolution spaces where there are women arbitrators, women are threatened, and their decisions are not treated with the same authority as men’s.  Added to this is the more insidious problem of normative barriers to justice. Where the ability to quietly suffer and place one’s family and community above oneself is valued as a virtue of Afghan women, the result is incredible pressure to not pursue legal disputes.

As the First Lady and partners at USIP suggest, despite the aforementioned barriers to access, informal dispute resolution mechanisms are an important means by which Afghan women can both participate as peacemakers and themselves seek legal remedies. If the threshold of access to community-based systems are great, those to access government venues are even greater, and they carry comparably little weight in the view of the majority of Afghans. Further, future projections of greater instability and violence in Afghanistan place the reliability of government mechanisms in question. Reliance on external NGOs and foreign donors is equally suspect, given their potential inability to access remote parts of the country should there be greater instability. This phenomenon has already been evinced by the United States’ post-Benghazi reluctance to place American personnel at risk, which has had a cooling effect on several State Department and non-profit sector initiatives. American personnel not being allowed to stray from the embassy signifies that they cannot perform their important diplomatic functions to the best of their ability, because of information asymmetry and inefficient relationship building with local actors and communities. Furthermore, as has happened in the past, conservative elements within the national government could roll back the reforms that the current administration has implemented, rollbacks that local initiatives could be inured from. Thus, Afghans should invest in locally driven informal dispute resolution forums, with the end of relying less on externally driven or government programs.

No doubt, reformers should take a holistic approach and expand opportunities for women at every level of society; government state and local. Making the governmental court system more consistent, less corrupt, and accessible to women is important, but focusing on informal processes is the pragmatic way to get women to the table and off the menu right now. 
By Eric Olson


European market watchers nervously anticipate the effects of the second Market in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II), the newest iteration of European Union investment services regulations. Called the European Union’s “most ambitious, yet controversial, packages of financial reform” by the Financial Times, MiFID II applies to European Union member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway starting on 3 January 2018.

The original MiFID took effect in September 2007 with the aim of increasing the competitiveness of the European markets through uniform controls, ultimately fostering the development of a European single market. The launch of MiFID, however, unluckily coincided with the onset of the financial crisis, the effects of which underscored the shortcomings of the regulations. Because MiFID I primarily focused on equities markets, the regulations were ill-equipped to handle the systemic pressures caused by the 2007 crisis.

In October 2011, the European Union began the process of revising MiFID I, spending the next two years debating various proposals and approving the final version of the regulations in 2014. Although MiFID II was originally set to take effect in 2017, in October 2015, the European Securities and Market Authority (ESMA) - the regulators in charge of MiFID II implementation - announced that due to the technical challenges of such a large-scale implementation, they would not be ready for a 2017 MiFID II launch. Because the law did not contain enough detailed guidance, the European Union delayed implementation by a year so ESMA could produce technical implementation standards.

MiFID II’s changes to investment regulation touch practically every aspect of investing. One of the largest changes in MiFID II is a shift from phone trading to electronic trading in order create a reliable record of trade transactions. For example, trades will now be timestamped to the millisecond, and traders must keep this data on file for at least five years. MiFID II also imposes new regulations on research data used by asset managers to make investments. Previously, traders received data for free, imposing the research costs on their clients through trading fees. Now, traders must budget for trading and research separately, with the goal of providing clients a research trail that allows them to evaluate the efficacy of their asset managers.

Proponents of MiFID II argue that the regulations will achieve their goals of increased transparency, while also creating uniform, efficient market structures. However, financial analysts fear that the wide-reaching regulations could negatively disrupt the market. Regardless of one's opinion, to prepare, market traders must effectively understand how the 1.4 million paragraphs of new rules will affect their work in the European financial markets.

Importantly, non-European traders must also carefully examine the new regulations because any European investments and research data could fall under the purview of the MiFID II regulations. U.S.-based firms especially should heed any guidance the SEC, which has the power to waive some MiFID II rules (such as the prohibitions on direct payment for research) as applied to U.S. traders. On 26 October 2017, the SEC issued three letters providing temporary guidance to financial markets investors detailing how the MiFID II regulations apply to U.S. investors, promising permanent guidance regarding the regulations in thirty months. The SEC, and the global financial sector as a whole, will surely be watching Europe closely after MiFID II’s commencement in early January 2018 to see the positive or negative effects of MiFID II on the market.

By Yucai Yu

Displaying IMG_20171006_115506.jpg

On October 6, 2017, George Washington University’s Institute for International Economic Policy hosted its 10th Annual Conference on China’s Economic Development & U.S.-China Economic Relations at the Elliott School of International Affairs. The Conference featured speakers from both American and Chinese universities as well as experts from research institutes and a Chinese government agency.

The Conference started with a keynote speech given by Professor Shang-Jin Wei from Columbia University. He presented research on the impact of U.S.-China trade on local U.S. labor markets from a supply chain perspective. The conclusion was counter-intuitive: following a period of “trade shock”, trade with China has actually helped U.S. employment. According to Professor Wei, this showed that people might not be fully aware of the indirect influence of the U.S.’s trade with China. He reflected that the academic community needed to do a more thorough job educating itself and the public about the whole picture.

A panel talk on the subject of infrastructure, environment, and growth followed Professor Wei’s keynote speech. Professor Shanjun Li from Cornell University presented his study on the impact of air pollution on the Chinese economy. Professor Li’s research quantified the short and medium term impact of PM2.5 (tiny particles in the air with a width of two and one half microns or less) exposure on health. With a model considering air pollution data, consumer spending data (collected via cards transactions settled through UnionPay, the counterpart of VISA in China), and meteorology data, the analysis led to the conclusion that China’s annual health costs would be reduce by 50 billion RMB (roughly 7.5 billion dollars) if average PM2.5 dropped from the current 56 μg/m³ to the World Health Organization’s standard 10 μg/m³. This health cost saving would equal around 0.45% of China’s GDP and 8% of total health spending. Professor Simon Alder from the University of North Carolina subsequently presented his research on political distortions and infrastructure networks in China in the panel talk. Based on data of geography, income, and politicians’ birthplaces, Professor Alder started with Heuristic Network Design Algorithm, an algorithm used to obtain the optimal highway network design, and compared the ideal design with actual highway network in China. He then quantified the distortions caused by politicians’ birthplaces, meaning these birthplaces more likely to be close to the actual network relative to the optimal network. While the optimal network implies a 0.75% higher aggregate net income each year, 0.1% of this income difference or 1/7 of the total distortion may be attributed to the birthplaces of politicians.

The morning concluded with a policy session discussing Chinese macro-economy in the next decade. Three speakers represent three different perspectives. Dr. Derek Scissors from the American Enterprise Institute pointed to the decline in private ownership and competition in China, which he believed were the reasons behind Chinese economy’s past waves of growth. He also cautioned the dramatic change in multiple Chinese economic data, for example, China is now three times more leveraged than the United States in respect of debt. In his opinion, the reform needs to be done right now or never. Dr. Jiyao Bi from Chinese National Development and Reform Commission presented a different view. He broke down the economic development plan proposed by the Chinese government and viewed the current status as part of the “new normal” of the Chinese economy. Current policy is focusing more on transforming the economic structure and finding new driving forces of the economy. Economic reform in China involves numerous complicated issues and the government is indeed trying to push the reform process, for example, restructuring state owned enterprises. Finally, Professor Jay Shambaugh brought out a middle ground point of view. He did examine reasons to worry about the Chinese economy, particularly the skyrocketing credit to the non-financial sector. There were different outcomes associated with similar situations in history, and a financial crisis would not be a certain result, especially in light of the unique role of government in China. The core problem is corporate leverage, and the process to solve this issue would require quick, but difficult and even unpopular political choices.

The all-day long conference also featured topics including globalization and human capital, outlook of U.S.-China trade relations, and the China model of economic development. 

By Xiaoyi Wang

Photo: Electric Car Station , Creative Commons License

On October 17, 2017, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a China Environment Forum titled Working Towards Clean Cars and Clean Skies in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. The event was organized by Ms. Jennifer L. Yurner, who has been managing the China Environment Forum for 18 years. Two speakers, Mr. Simon Ng and Ms. Zifei Yang gave their speeches.

City Planning

Mr. Simon Ng is an independent researcher on urban sustainability. He focused his speech on city planning in Hong Kong. After comparing Hong Kong with Los Angeles, he pointed out that Hong Kong is more vertical and with more limited space, which promotes people to use public transportation. However, the Hong Kong government must still grapple with certain pressing issues, such as the current priority given to cars over pedestrians. In response, the Hong Kong government has been working on zoning plans. By setting up the Energizing Kowloon East Office (EKEO), the Hong Kong government intends to beautify Kowloon East for it to be more pedestrian-oriented.

On February 21, 2016, the Chinese central government released a guideline, the “Several Opinions of the State Council on Further Regulating Urban Planning and Construction” ( 中共中央国务院关于进一步加强城市规划建设管理工作的若干意见 - translated by author), aimed at building more walk-able cities by tearing down the walled boundaries between residential districts and opening residential areas to the public. The document has generated huge online discussions. Some people are concerned about public safety, while others focus more on property issues, since under the Property Law of the People’s Republic of China, roads, green lands and other public facilities inside residential areas are owned by all residents. The guideline is still in the “opinion” phase (not yet crystallized into law), and the discretion to remove the walls may be given to the residence committees.

More Stringent Regulations

Ms. Zifei Yang is a researcher for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). She has been working on renewable energy issues and clean transportation mainly within Guangdong Province in the Pearl River Delta area. She pointed out that the Chinese government has been committed to environmental protection for a long time. From 2000 to 2017, more stringent emission standards have been set, and local governments can adopt even more stringent standard on gas emission than the central government.  

The recently amended Environmental Protection Law (which came into force in 2015) shows the determination of the Chinese government on environment protection and is perceived as the most stringent law in the history of environmental protection in China. Because of the pressure from Beijing, local governments have been compelled to strengthen their regulations in order to keep their funding.

Local governments have also placed great efforts on enforcement, which used to be a tough issue. In Shenzhen, newer and cleaner cars are inspected once a year, while older and less clean cars are inspected twice a year. A remote sensing system is also used to spot high-emission vehicles, and local governments cooperate with each other to make sure tickets are sent to the car owner.

These more stringent policies may influence car manufacturers as well. In 2019, the Chinese government will likely enforce a new policy, requiring all car manufacturers to sell a minimum of 8% electric cars. Also, the Chinese government promotes the use of electric cars by giving many benefits to individuals. In Shanghai, electric car owners could get a car license for free, which usually takes more than $10,000 and half a year to get (Shanghai car owners need to bid for car licenses).

Shared Bicycles and Subsidies to Replace Old Cars

The speakers also mentioned shared bicycles in China, which is one of China’s most popular topics for 2017. Because of the low rental fee (around $0.15 per hour), shared bicycles are widely used as public transportation. These shared bicycles are purely private startups, as the Chinese government has not invested in the business. It has, however, built and maintained bike lanes to encourage the continued use of shared bicycles.

The Chinese government also subsidizes car owners to replace old cars with clean cars. The local governments have discretions to set the specific number and the enforcement procedure. The Guangdong government decreases the subsidy year by year, so, as explained by Yang, consumers realize that “the earlier you get rid of your old car, the more subsidy you will get.”. Since the subsidy cannot cover the entire purchase price, for those car owners intending to keep their old cars, they are required to put a filter on the pipeline, which can reduce particle pollution by 99%.

“[The] Chinese government is doing everything it can,” noted Yurner. Indeed, the Chinese government is trying hard to improve the environmental situation and to solve the severe air pollution out of concern for the people’s health and long-term development. As a country with such a large population, China still has a long way to go. However, the Beijing government has already paid a lot of attention to environmental protection. With the great efforts put in place to deal with air pollution, its environmental situation will probably improve with time. 

By Navy Binning 

Photo: Heron 1 Drone , Creative Commons License

On October 5th 2017, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an international security policy research organization, hosted Sam Bendett, research analyst with the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) for a discussion on Russian military robots. Bendett’s talk was primarily focused on developments in Russian military technology.

The increasing prevalence of military robots gives rise to concerns of international humanitarian law, such as discrimination and proportionality. Most notably, the ability to control military weapons remotely prevents transparency and makes it more difficult to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable.

History of Military Robots in Russia

Bendett began the event by providing a summary of the history and current status of military robots in Russia. During the Cold War, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as “drones”, were used heavily. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s defense sector was hit hard, which impacted UAVs as well.

Russia’s military technology is now behind many nations — including the United States, Israel, and China. As recently as 2008, Russia’s military was in the same condition as it was during the Cold War. A shift began around 2011-12 with Russia placing a greater emphasis on technological advance in the military. In 2014, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Russia planned to spend up to 9 billion USD on military robotic developments through 2020.


Russia currently operates many UAVs. Most of the UAVs are small and simplistic and used for information gathering, observation, electronic warfare, communication, and target acquisition. Additionally, Russia has a number of mid-to-long range UAVS that are used primarily for targeting and have ranges of up to 120 kilometers.

An increase in interest in UAVS and support from the government has led to a recent resurgence of development of UAVs in Russia. Several programs of various levels of progress and sophistication are currently underway in Russia.

Russian UAVs in combat have already been observed in Ukraine and Syria. In Syria, these have primarily been used as target acquisition, frequently to increase precision of artillery strikes. Russia has reported an increased effectiveness as a result of the use of UAVs in combat.

1) Ukrainian forces have responded by turning to United States-supplied drones.  
2) The United States has previously aided Ukraine by supplying drones for self-defense. Whether this will continue under the Trump administration, which seeks to improve ties with Russia, is unclear.
3) Ukraine has responded to this threat with attempts to improve its own UAVs. These have been complicated due to high purchase costs and a corrupt government. Ukraine is instead turning to innovative solutions, including a public crowd-funding project to purchase UAVs and a crowd-funded start-up that aims to build new UAVS.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) are becoming more prevalent as Russia has placed an emphasis on arctic exploration. Russia is aiming to increase its maritime capabilities so that its technology can move farther from shore and deeper. 

Although Russia does possess UUV technology, it is primarily international.  There is now an attempt to replace these with domestic models in the next several years. Most of the technology is in the testing and evaluation stages.

This technology includes UUVs that can be used for surveillance, search and rescue duties lasting up to 6-9 months, and repair services. Additionally, a drone that can imitate and re-produce enemy vessels’ fields is being developed.

There is also development of a nuclear capable submarine. Last year, a nuclear submarine that posed a threat to US harbors and ports was tested, but little information has arisen since.

Other technologies

Other technologies being developed include a virtual battlefield to test military robotics and drones, an incredibly powerful computer that will be able to control air and sea military robots, and unmanned ground vehicles.

The Future of Russian Military Technologies

For many years, Russian military technologies were developed by a number of different and uncoordinated organizations. In recent years, this has changed as Russia aims to streamline its development. In 2014, the Minister of Defense established the Creation of Perspective Military Robotics Program and formed a commission for the development of robotics. In 2016, Russia also launched an annual conference called the Robotization of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Russia is working with a number of organizations, including research institutes and higher education entities, to create a uniform approach to military development and set a framework for research and developments to be undertaken. By drawing upon the nation’s industrial, technological, and intellectual potential, Russia is working towards creating a completely new armed force that will be able to further advance Russian foreign policy goals on an international scale. As President Putin recently declared — “Whoever masters [artificial intelligence] will get to rule the world”.

Should readers wish to view Sam Bendett’s talk in full, an online recording can be found here.
By Thea McDonald

On October 10, 2017, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) hosted a panel titled The National Security Council at 70: Charting the Future of America's Security.

CSIS President and CEO John J. Hamre moderated a coalition of distinguished experts who, among the four, have seen and addressed our nation’s most imminent national security issues over multiple generations. These four men have all held the job of top adviser to the president for national security. Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster joined three of his predecessors, General James L. Jones Jr., Mr. Stephen Hadley and Dr. Henry Kissinger, to discuss the history of our nation’s National Security Council (NSC) and the issues the NSC currently faces.

Congressional Collaboration

Faced with Congress’ oversight power and in possession of executive branch authority, the NSC “sits at the fault line of the national government,” Hamre noted as he asked for the panelists’ views on information sharing with Congress and deference to the president. Lt. Gen. McMaster, National Security Adviser to President Trump, expressed that his NSC aims to include Members of Congress in early strategy development conversations as many of the challenges our nation faces today require legislative fixes.

Gen. Jones, who served on Capitol Hill as a non-partisan Marine Liaison Officer and then as National Security Adviser to President Obama, opined that the NSC should “project an image of bipartisanship.” He continued and noted, “When I became National Security Adviser, all of a sudden I was a Democrat – and I didn’t know I was.”

President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley expressed that while his former position is not Senate-confirmable, he spent plenty of time talking with Congress on national security priorities.

Dr. Kissinger, who served as National Security Adviser to Presidents Nixon and Ford, and in other capacities under President Reagan, told of older times “when bipartisanship wasn’t at its height” but during which he and President Nixon held private, unrecorded meetings over drinks with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in their efforts to involve Congress in their decision-making.

Strategy vs. Operation

Noting that the NSC is faced with criticisms that its role has devolved from strategic to operational – and that the NSC should be a forum for strategy development – the panelists seemingly agreed that the agency’s focus should indeed be developing integrated strategies, but that staying out of the operations game is a difficult undertaking.

Technology’s Impact

According to Dr. Kissinger, when the U.S. government began opening lines of communication with China, the U.S. sent printed letters via a Pakistan diplomat, who would transfer the communications between the U.S. and China – taking anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months from sending a letter until receiving a response.

Today, said Gen. Jones, the speed of information transfer and technological development makes it necessary for the National Security Adviser to always know what’s going on in every corner of the world, be able to sift through that information, and distill what the president needs to know on a daily basis.

Lt. Gen. McMaster acknowledged today’s technology-driven challenges and described the importance of agency heads in the operation, implementation and partnership in managing these challenges and contributing to the development of national security strategies.

Pragmatic Realism

Reflecting on his predecessors’ comments about the current national security situation, McMaster noted, “the stakes couldn’t be higher” because new and sophisticated threats emerge daily. McMaster described today’s threat pool as “democratization of destruction,” which “requires us to focus on our strategic competence.”

According to McMaster, President Trump has assessed the threats we face and laid out a strategy for moving forward. Put the safety and security of the American people first. Coordinate economic, diplomatic and military strategies. Prioritize “peace through strength.” Work to deter a broad range of bad actors. Expand America’s influence across the globe, and capitalize on our relationships with our allies. These are the ideals McMaster pinned to President Trump’s “pragmatic realism” approach to national security to close out the session.

To watch the full panel discussion, click here