Rapid and profound advances in hardware and software, paired with the global shift to digitally-networked communications and transactions, have transformed the economic and security landscape. They have introduced new risks to personal safety and national security, fueled a strategic competition between the United States and China, and increased collective vulnerability to malicious states and non-state actors armed with cheaper, more effective, and difficult-to-attribute tools. The nature of the challenges posed by novel technologies has rendered our legacy tools for understanding and addressing national security risks outmoded and misaligned with the changing geopolitical landscape.
The National Security Council (NSC)—the most influential foreign policy decision- making body in the executive branch—is still playing catch-up. While the last two administrations have made commendable efforts to modernize the NSC, its structure and skillset continue to reflect an anachronistic picture of the critical threats facing the United States, failing to capture or address the mounting vulnerabilities posed by emerging technology.
As the Trump administration draws to a close, the new national security establishment has an opportunity to reexamine existing paradigms and approaches in light of the evolving threat landscape. Drawing from over 25 interviews with current and former NSC staffers, interagency personnel, national security professionals, policymakers, and academics, this report offers several policy options for restructuring the NSC to better respond to technological developments that impact national security.