Keeping up-to-date and informed regarding national and domestic security threats is imperative. Only in America could there be such a world-class group of speakers in an almost completely open forum discussing such crucial issues with thoughtful options and observations, AND taking direct questions from the audience.
This week, I attended the Aspen Security Forum, an annual three-and-a-half-day conference in Aspen, CO. It’s where domestic and foreign government officials, business executives, leading academics, and journalists gather to discuss solutions to critical national security and foreign policy challenges.
The focus is on nonpartisan problem solving, educating the public about foreign policy issues, and developing American foreign policy leadership. It has been an incredible experience to listen to decision-makers and thought leaders from around the world.
Over the past three and a half days, there have been so many highlights. The audience was fascinated and sobered by the Fireside Chat on Wednesday with William J. Burns, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who shared a lot of great information about Putin’s sphere of influence and his take on the war in Ukraine.
Thursday was full of more great panels. One of the highlights was the interesting talk between former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and current Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about how to stay ahead of China, the negative outcomes from the Russian attack on a democratic Ukraine, and how critical it is for the US to pass legislation to support the domestic production of high-end computer chips, as dependence on Taiwan and other nations is untenable.
Michèle Flournoy, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of WestExec Advisors, an American defense policy advisor and a former government official, made the key point that our own polarized politics are our biggest enemy during a panel discussion on “Technology and National Security”.
The closing highlight of the day on Thursday was by Vladimir Ashurkov, Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Ashurkov shared his very interesting view of what it takes for Ukraine to win in Russia. His Fireside Chat was overall very knowledgeable, and Ashurkov stated that “The key to removing Putin from power is the Russians.” Putin has a target on him. He also emphasized how important it is to keep the WEST totally focused on supporting democracy and not falling to Russian propaganda and fatigue.
The Forum ended on Friday with really pertinent topics, including a powerhouse panel on “A New Frontier: National Security, Artificial Intelligence, and Misinformation” with former Chairman and CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, President and Vice Chair of Microsoft Brad Smith, and Senator Mark Warner. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, co-chair of the Aspen Strategy Group, reflected on the state of the world with former national security advisors Thomas Donilon and Stephen Hadley.
The closing Fireside Chat was with Jake Sullivan, the top Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and was a great way to wrap up the entire Forum. Jake’s matter-of-fact and sober assessment of where the US stands on key security issues that affect everyone in the world was realistic but also left me optimistic.
Sullivan stated that “Confidence is a Commodity” and really got past all of the rhetoric to the direct point that President Biden has staked out a leadership position in the world over the last 12 weeks by traveling to almost every place on the globe.
This was really eye-opening. One of the most difficult chapters was the exit of Afghanistan a year ago. Jake spelled out two critical points about this that are important. The first one is that the previous administration had committed to a departure by a certain date and that agreement only called for peace until the draw-out date. And the second is that we would have had to re-escalate our troop numbers and extend the war beyond its 20-year past at a great expense and with an ongoing loss of troops. I think the audience left feeling much more confident about the current administration’s work.
And lastly, for some future reading that will keep you up at night, I learned about “Useful Fiction.” Useful fiction is a term used by science fiction writers and military experts working together to develop wargame scenarios.
These scenarios are realistic enough to capture the imagination of the intelligence community to start “what if” situations to find advanced solutions. Different circumstances are explored, such as what would happen if a preemptive move in a war escalation was to knock out everybody’s cell phones and no one could communicate with one another. It’s an exciting way to plan and discuss security.
This has been a powerhouse event sponsored by the likes of Google, Microsoft, and other critical stakeholders and has given me food for thought about the current state of our nation and our world.