July 15, 2019

Mark Esper's Confirmation Hearing: CNAS Experts Pose Key Questions for the Nominee

By Susanna V. Blume, Kara Frederick, Ilan Goldenberg, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Daniel Kliman, Carisa Nietsche, Ainikki Riikonen, and Loren DeJonge Schulman

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper will face members of the Senate Armed Services Committee this week in a hearing to consider his nomination as Secretary of Defense.

As part of their commitment to confronting tough questions about issues shaping U.S. national security, experts from CNAS have produced a series of questions from their respective fields for committee members to ask the nominee:

Susanna Blume, Program Director for Defense: What are the three most important changes the Department needs to make in order to more effectively compete with China?

How do rising tensions with Iran affect the National Defense Strategy’s (NDS) direction to prioritize strategic competition with China and Russia? How would war with Iran impact the Department of Defense’s (DoD) ability to execute the NDS?

Kara Frederick, Associate Fellow for Technology and National Security: Attracting and retaining tech talent to support DoD is a national security imperative. What steps will you take as Secretary of Defense to ensure the United States military employs and has access to personnel with the relevant STEM skill-sets?

Ilan Goldenberg, Program Director for Middle East Security: In June the United States almost came into direct military conflict with Iran after Iran shot down an American Global Hawk surveillance drone. It was deeply concerning at the time that there was no Senate confirmed Secretary of Defense empowered to provide advice to the President. What would you have recommended in that situation? Do you believe the United States should have struck facilities inside Iran in retaliation? If Iran shoots down another U.S. asset, would you recommend limited military strikes inside Iran? Do you believe the president has the authority to launch such strikes without congressional authorization?

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Program Director for Transatlantic Security: The United States is on course to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on August 2 in part because of Russian violations of the treaty. What steps do the United States and NATO need to take to improve their defense posture against Russia in a post-INF world? How do you think about the future of arms control, including China’s role and the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)?

The risk of direct military confrontation with Russia is higher now that it has been in decades. Putin has become more assertive, our militaries operate in close proximity, including in the Baltics and Syria, and direct lines of communication between Washington and Moscow have atrophied. What steps would you take to mitigate the risk of direct military confrontation with Russia?

Dan Kliman, Program Director for Asia-Pacific Security: China’s digital expansion in the Indo-Pacific has the potential to compromise the networks of U.S. allies and partners and reduce opportunities for future American military access. What is the role of the Department of Defense in blunting China’s growing digital footprint in the region, starting with, but not limited to, Huawei and 5G wireless networks?

Carisa Nietsche, Research Assistant for Transatlantic Security: The April 2019 meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Washington marks the first mention of China on NATO's agenda. Although China does not pose a direct military threat to Europe, Beijing’s growing footprint in Europe will create challenges for the Alliance. What does NATO need to do to address these challenges? And what role, if any, should NATO play in countering China?

Ainikki Riikonen, Research Assistant for Technology and National Security: Part of China's approach to military technological advantage has been to blend in civilian and commercial lines of effort to create supply chain risks. These risks pose a challenge to the integrity of American and allied platforms and infrastructure. What approach will you take to address this challenge and what role might you play in coordinating interagency solutions?

Loren DeJonge Schulman, Deputy Director of Studies: Press reporting has indicated tensions between the Secretary of Defense’s civilian advisors and the Joint Staff, with allegations that the Joint Staff has taken on a larger role in supporting the secretary in national security policy matters. What do you see as the distinct roles of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and how do you see the most effective division of labor among their staffs?

The Department of Defense has taken a number of steps to decrease press engagement and public access to information of military operations. There has been no regular camera press briefing by a DoD spokesperson in a year. Information on how many U.S. forces are deployed to Afghanistan and Syria is not accessible to the public. Do you plan to continue this trend? How do you see the role of the Secretary of Defense in connecting American citizens to the day to day efforts and challenges of their military?

To schedule an interview with any of the experts, please contact CNAS Communications at comms@cnas.org or 202-457-9400.


  • Susanna V. Blume

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Susanna Blume is a former Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. Her research areas included the Defense program and budg...

  • Kara Frederick

    Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

    Kara Frederick is a Fellow for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Prior to joining CNAS, Kara helped create and lea...

  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is a foreign policy and defense expert with ext...

  • Andrea Kendall-Taylor

    Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program

    Andrea Kendall-Taylor is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She works on national security ch...

  • Daniel Kliman

    Senior Fellow (on long-term military leave), Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Daniel M. Kliman is currently on long-term military leave from CNAS. He has been involuntarily mobilized to active duty by the U.S. Navy to support American military operation...

  • Carisa Nietsche

    Associate Fellow, Transatlantic Security Program

    Carisa Nietsche is the Associate Fellow for the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She specializes in European security; China’s ...

  • Ainikki Riikonen

    Research Assistant, Technology and National Security Program

    Ainikki Riikonen is a Research Assistant for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her research focuses on emerging te...

  • Loren DeJonge Schulman

    Adjunct Senior Fellow

    Loren DeJonge Schulman is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Previously, she served as the Deputy Director of Studies and the Leon E. P...