November 05, 2020

Sharper: The Next Four Years

By Chris Estep and Cole Stevens

America will face a range of national security challenges over the next four years. From sustaining military deterrence to bolstering the nation's economic leadership and more, the next presidential administration will encounter obstacles and opportunities to renew U.S. competitiveness at home and abroad. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation surrounding the future of America's global competitiveness. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.


Rising to the China Challenge

This year, CNAS released a major independent assessment, “Rising to the China Challenge,” as required by Congress in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The report offers a comprehensive approach to competition with China and offers nearly 100 specific, actionable policy recommendations across seven critical vectors of American competitiveness. “The United States and China,” the authors wrote, “are locked in strategic competition over the future of the Indo-Pacific—the most populous, dynamic, and consequential region in the world.”

The Next Defense Strategy

Regardless of who wins this year's presidential election, by statute the Department of Defense must deliver a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) to Congress in 2022. The CNAS Next Defense Strategy series features weekly papers on the tough issues the next NDS should tackle. The goal of this series is to provide intellectual capital to the drafters of the 2022 NDS, focusing specifically on unfinished business from the past several defense strategies and areas where change is necessary but difficult.

Congress’s Hidden Strengths

On matters of peace and war, virtually no one seems satisfied with Congress today. Even lawmakers complain that Congress postures more than it prescribes, overlooks more than it oversees, and passes time more than it passes laws. Experts Richard Fontaine and Loren DeJonge Schulman argue in a CNAS report that it is time for Congress to rediscover its informal tools and put them to work. Examining such informal tools as hearings and briefings, congressional delegations and reports, media engagement and public speaking, the authors outline the scope for increased congressional influence over use-of-force decisions—and describe ways in which members can seize the opportunity.


Rising to the China Challenge

The United States and China are locked in strategic competition over the future of the Indo-Pacific—the most populous, dynamic, and consequential region in the world....


The Next Defense Strategy

About this commentary series By statute, the Department of Defense (DoD) must deliver a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) to Congress in 2022. And CNAS is here to help. From...

Congress & National Security

Congress’s Hidden Strengths

Introduction On matters of peace and war, virtually no one seems satisfied with Congress. Constitutionally coequal to the executive, the Congress often appears more an uneasy ...


The U.S.-China Confrontation Is Not Another Cold War. It’s Something New.

In July, Richard Fontaine and Ely Ratner wrote in The Washington Post that "cookie-cutter Cold War policies — such as a counter-China military alliance, a geographic containment strategy or all-out economic warfare — are as ill-suited as they are unlikely to succeed. Nor is the answer to fan fears of a looming Cold War and urge Washington to ease up on competition with China."

On Iran, the Next Administration Must Break With the Past

"Putting U.S. policy toward Iran on a firmer footing is an extraordinarily complex task that will require delicately aligning numerous players," Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg and Kaleigh Thomas argue in Foreign Affairs. "The U.S. political transition in 2021 could offer either a President Biden or a President Trump a critical opportunity to do just that."

Indo-Pacific Security

The U.S.-China confrontation is not another Cold War. It’s something new.

With U.S.-China relations in free fall, the Trump administration’s chief arms control negotiator recently proclaimed that "we know how to win these races and we know how to sp...

Middle East Security

On Iran, the Next Administration Must Break With the Past

The United States can address its discord with Iran and calibrate a smart and clear-eyed policy for the Middle East....

The Defense Department Needs a Real Technology Strategy

In Defense One, Paul Scharre and Ainikki Riikonen argue that "Defense Department leaders agree the U.S. military must reinvigorate its technological edge. They just can’t agree on which technologies matter. Nor do they appear to be laying out arguments that would help the rest of the Pentagon, lawmakers, and industry understand which technologies will matter most in tomorrow’s wars, and therefore which should receive top priority in terms of effort and funding."

Add Economic Policy to Deterrence Planning

"From Russia and North Korea to Iran and Venezuela," Elizabeth Rosenberg and Jordan Tama write in Defense One, "U.S. presidents and lawmakers have long employed varying levels of economic pressure to alter the policies of foreign governments. Some of these tools – for instance, severing links between a country and the international financial system – can impose greater costs than some uses of military force. Yet policymakers have given too little thought to how different types of economic pressure intersect with different forms of military coercion."

Technology & National Security

The Defense Department Needs a Real Technology Strategy

Defense Department leaders agree the U.S. military must reinvigorate its technological edge. They just can’t agree on which technologies matter. Nor do they appear to be layin...

Energy, Economics & Security

Add Economic Policy to Deterrence Planning

American defense leaders have adapted over the years to shifts in technology and conflict — for example, accepting space and cyber as principal warfighting domains and integra...

The U.S. Needs a New Techno-Democratic Statecraft: Start With 5G

5G is but one example of where like-minded countries have the opportunity to reshape foundational aspects of the 21st century economy in ways that promote healthy competition and bolster the deployment of technology in alignment with democratic norms and values," Martijn Rasser argues in The Hill.

The Department of Homeland Security Is Broken. Here’s What It Needs in a Boss.

"These are hardly 'normal' times," Paul Rosenzweig and Carrie Cordero write in The Washington Post. "The next homeland security secretary will also need to repair a broken department: broken in morale, broken in reputation, broken in mission. The stature and regard for DHS are so diminished that only someone with a long track record of honesty and probity will be able to repair it, regardless of who is sworn in as president on Jan. 20."

Technology & National Security

The US needs a new techno-democratic statecraft: Start with 5G

To effectively compete, the United States needs a new strategy and a comprehensive commitment to technological leadership....

Congress & National Security

The Department of Homeland Security is broken. Here’s what it needs in a boss.

The span of responsibility for DHS may well be the broadest of any single Cabinet department....

Coronavirus Pandemic Illustrates the Need To Maintain a Strong VA

"It’s been well-documented that VA provides higher-quality, culturally competent care to an older, sicker population at lower cost — and there are grave concerns about whether capacity even exists in the civilian sector to absorb more patients," Kayla M. Williams argues in The Hill. "Closing VA facilities would lead to decreased capacity to care for veteran — and non-veteran — patients in communities around the country during public health crises."

Enlisting NATO to Address the China Challenge

"The U.S. Department of Defense should recognize the clear threat that China poses to NATO and work through NATO to address these vulnerabilities. The next National Defense Strategy should pursue a plan of action that enables Europe to bolster its own defense, starting with a few critical European capitals, and that broadens beyond transatlantic allies," Carisa Nietsche, Jim Townsend, and Andrea Kendall-Taylor write in the Next Defense Strategy series.

Military, Veterans & Society

Coronavirus pandemic illustrates the need to maintain a strong VA

Schools, offices, and other businesses are shutting down nationwide as the United States ramps up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we read about the extreme strain pl...


Enlisting NATO to Address the China Challenge

Moving forward, the DoD should enlist NATO in efforts to address the China challenge....

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Ely Ratner, Peter Harrell, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, and Kristine Lee.

Indo-Pacific Security

As U.S. struggles to stem coronavirus, China asserts itself as global leader

With Italy in dire need of medical equipment, an economic superpower stepped in to help. No, not the United States. It was China. Beijing last week promised Rome a thousand ...

Energy, Economics & Security

Additional Iran-Related Sanctions by U.S. May Have Little Impact, Sanctions Experts Say

Sanctions observers expect the U.S. to impose more sanctions on Iranian officials or companies that trade with Iran as tensions escalate between Tehran and Washington followin...

Indo-Pacific Security

Moscow Isn’t New Delhi’s Pal

With border tensions between India and China at their worst in decades, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh headed late last month to a familiar destination: Moscow. There M...

Indo-Pacific Security

Deteriorating relations with China put US companies on edge

American businesses are wary of the growing animosity between the U.S. and China, particularly as Trump administration officials are starting to name and shame companies they ...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.


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