Under Article 2 Section 3 of the Constitution, the President is required to periodically give Congress information on the “state of the union”.
In that, this “state of the union” should be “information uniquely gleaned from the President’s perspective in his various roles as Commander-in-Chief, chief law enforcer, negotiator with foreign powers, and the like-that shall aid the legislature in public deliberation on matters that may justify the enactment of legislation because of their national importance.”
Since FDR, this “state of the union” has been an annual address to a join session of Congress.
The 2015 State of the Union (SOTU), to be given next Tuesday, comes at a pivotal time for the United States and the world. In his role as Commander-in-Chief and negotiator with foreign powers President Obama will have to touch on a number of threats, challenges and even opportunities the United States faces in the realm of foreign affairs and national security.
Here is a list of key topics I believe the President should cover….
Middle East and the Violent Extremism
Over the last 25 years, ever since the end of the Cold War, the United States and its allies have tried many different approaches in the Middle East: from supporting autocrats, mass-troop invasions and occupation, trillion-dollar aid programs, supporting islamisist and also secular parties, regime change and regime support.
In that time we have seen the rise of ever more violent extremists and greater economic and political destabilization.
2014 saw the rise of the ISIS death-cult with ever more horrifying stories of their destruction (physically, socially and mentally) of parts of Syria and Iraq, and Al-Qaeda morphed into a global movement corrupting young Muslims into becoming lone-wolf style terrorists.
In the meantime, in the wider Middle East the civil war in Syria is getting worse, Libya is spiraling out of control, income inequality is vast, the low oil price is squeezing government budgets around the region, social and education mobility is reversing. The fighters that went to Syria, Iraq (and other Middle East countries) are now returning to their families in the West – including here in the U.S.
All this has a direct affect on the United States and our allies. Paris has shown us that no Western city, including in the U.S., should not be ambivalent to the threats we face, and the destabilization of the Middle East will only grow these direct challenges to our security.
In his SOTU the President should start to track a new course for U.S. policy towards the Middle East, and to support effective messages against small non-connected terrorist cells.
This will mean crafting a long-term policy for the Middle East, which will need to be based around political, economic and security reform.
Unlike the last 25 years, this should be focused in helping Arabs take care of Arab problems, the United States will need to step back from always being in control, and instead assisting Arab countries and allow them to take the lead. To do this though, a strategic policy based on the values of human right, economic dignity and social improvement will need to be formed. This policy will need to be communicated professionally to both leaders in the region and it’s population. We should not hope for a quick turn around or overnight change. But by thinking long term and working for strategic success, will can both create hope for the Middle East and strengthen our security.
At domestic level, there should be additional support and reform at the local level for law enforcement. Local police services will need both local support in multiple communities for anti-terrorist actives and also create intelligence networks for possible violent extremists.
Congress should work with the Administration to quickly pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in order to speed up the conclusion of Trans -Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the United States and 11 other nations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The early parts of 2015 should see further progress on the massive Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union. In essence a strategic economic, investment, regulatory and geopolitical agreement, TTIP will create the largest economic area the world has ever known, and will firmly established liberal economics and democracy influence around the globe – by setting the “rules” for any further key economic and trade agreements.
Both the TPP and TTIP trade agreements present major opportunities to firmly establish America leadership and values across the globe and strengthen the economic and political bonds between strategic allies and partners.
In his SOTU, the President will need to garner support for quick TPA and almost immediate work to pass TPP, he should also ask for support for the ongoing TTIP negotiations
The cyber terrorist attack on Sony in Nov 2014, whether that be by North Korea or a group of like-minded individuals, resulted in not just the stealing of data and financial details and alters plans for the release of the move The Interview.
This will have consequences for firms that produce products and services and also for national political processes – all of which can be subject to cyber terrorist attacks.
The cyber attack on CENTCOMs social media also highlighted how companies are under attack each day. In the CENTCOM case passwords were stolen – either directly or via malware. Strategically if terrorists and extremists hack our voice online they not only give false impressions of our thoughts and values – they will intrinsically affect the social media of the companies involved. In the same way, when financial or personal data is stolen from companies – as what has happened with eBay, Target and other companies – our trust in our online transactions breakdown. These actions, if they go without a firm response, will force consumers and companies to move away from such platforms – this will have a wide impact on our economy.
In the SOTU, the President should set out his agenda to bring a whole-of-government response and international consensus on what to do with cyber terrorists and cyber criminal, (whether they are rogue-nations or non-state actors).
The United States, with its international partners will have to put together a new set of instruments to deal with these terrorist, which must include cyber counter attacks, financial constraints, and could even include targeted military operations.
The New Energy Economy
Energy is both a strategic -geopolitical challenge and an opportunity for the United States. As the global energy market transforms and new energy resources are found and commercialized in the U.S. energy security, the energy market will be very different in the coming few years compared with the last 50 years.
With access to new supply resources and greater efficiencies in use, the U.S. energy position is very different today than what it was even five years ago.
Oil prices are nearly 50% off their peak for the year, at around $60 a barrel (Brent). The geopolitical consequences of a lower price on oil have already greatly affected Russia, Iran and Venezuela, which may present an opportunity for more Western leverage with those nations, if this is sustained though if will also have significant negative effects on countries such as the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, and the North Africa region.
While this lower oil price has significantly reduced the price of gas for American consumers, with the rise in more efficient engines this lower gas-price will have less overall direct effects on the U.S. economy that has in previous low-price periods; at the same time lower prices negatively affect key oil- & gas production areas in the United States.
In power generation element the key challenges arrive from a sustainable fuel that provides base-load power while not contributing to the effects of climate change. The opportunity arises from the mass re-capitalization needed in the generation industry, as almost every generation power-plant will need to be replaced within the next 50 years. This investment in the future could create strong sustainable economic growth matched with climate requirements. As a bridge to a carbon-free generation economy, wider use of American natural gas as a generation source should be matched with a network of renewable sources (such as solar and wind) to provide highly efficient and effective low-carbon power.
To ensure a level price for U.S. natural gas, that created efficiencies but also a wide market base for supply, in 2015 and going forward there should be a wide increase in exporting Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). This would also have the added benefit of creating LNG markets for American companies, while loosening the strangle hold present exporting countries have on their customers. Serious thought should also be given exporting crude oil so as to support the U.S. domestic industry.
Congress will need to fully understand these issues and seize the new opportunities. The President will need to challenge Congress in his SOTU to put away the old talking points fully understand the new energy economy.
There are three core national security threats to the United States from climate change: global instability, military infrastructure and homeland security.
Climate change will cause global instability; these disruptions will burden civilian and military institutions around the world, including the U.S. military. Climate change poses costly threats to the United States’ military infrastructure at home and destabilizing threats to our international installations that hold strategic importance to the U.S. military. In order to prepare for these changes and to secure our military investments worldwide, the U.S. must invest in adaptation options that are effective and multidimensional. Climate change is not just a global problem, but also a threat to homeland security. A quickly changing climate will present threats to U.S. infrastructure, agriculture, economy and population. Climate change will therefore directly affect America’s homeland and the security of its citizens.
November 2015 will see leaders from around the world gathering in Paris to negotiate an agreement that will stake out how the world will agree to reduce its emissions. This agreement, if reached, would be a fundamental step in enhancing national and global security.
In his SOTU, the President will need to remind Congress and the American people that climate change is a national security threat, and will need to work on moving towards a low carbon economy in the medium term and non-carbon in the longer term.
U.S. Strength and leadership
The President will also want to stress American strengthen and leadership throughout the world, but underline that this role has to be different in the next 25 years from the last 25 years.
The last 25 years have seen American military involvement all over the world, being support by other elements of US power. It has also been the first response to almost any crisis or policy we have had.
The military will need to remain strong, but in order to support the strategic aims of our nation. The future will need to more about the partnerships America can make through the security and economic cooperation, and with American assistance and support.
In his SOTU the President will need to ask Congress to support the U.S. Military both in budget terms and operationally; but also support further the key elements of diplomatic and economic power – including the State Department, USTDA, the Department of Commerce and reauthorize the ExIm Bank.
But what else could he mention?
Iran, Ebola, Boko Haram, Intelligence Reform North Korea, Russia, Cuba….