March 29, 2016
National Security Reform and the 2016 Election
There are few issues of greater intrinsic importance to the United States than national security reform—or one riper for resolution. Twenty years ago most senior leaders were skeptical of allegations that the national security system was “broken”; they believed the system functioned well enough to manage the Nation’s most pressing problems. Since then numerous prominent experts have been sounding the alarm from inside the system and from without. No fewer than nine blue-ribbon groups have argued in favor of system reforms (see tables 1 and 2). The overwhelming majority of scholars publishing independently on the issue favor reform. During the 2008 Presidential election, the momentum in favor of national security reform was so strong that many thought it was inevitable. This presumption was reinforced when President Barack Obama appointed well-known proponents of reform to senior positions in the National Security Council staff, Department of State, Department of Defense (DOD), and Intelligence Community. Yet reform did not take place during the Obama administration, and so far it has not been an issue in the 2016 Presidential race, either. This paper examines why reform was sidetracked, whether it could emerge as a campaign issue during the 2016 Presidential election, and why it is in candidates’ and the Nation’s interest that it does.