State-sponsored cyber-espionage infiltrating the U.S. election process. The integrity of America’s 70-year NATO alliance. These were the urgent national security concerns we expected would come up in the first Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential debate – and the candidates stayed true to form in their responses Monday night. The facts behind these two critical issues matter to American security.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was specific in her condemnation of foreign hacking by state actors such as Russia, and unequivocal in her support for the 28-nation-strong NATO alliance. Donald Trump tried to deflect responsibility for recent election-related cyber attacks away from Moscow, saying he doubted that Russia was behind them. He also repeated his assertion that NATO was “obsolete.”
Instead of addressing the concerns, Trump sought to dodge most of the specifics on both of these issues. Here is a recap of some of the critical national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.
Moderator Lester Holt raised this question about cyber security: “Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?”
In her response, Clinton pointed to President Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation: “The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee.”
She went on emphasize that the U.S. has the capacity to respond to cyber attacks: “And the Russians need to understand that. I think they’ve been treating it as almost a probing, how far would we go, how much would we do. And that’s why I was so — I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable.”
For his part, Trump steered clear of his often-repeated support for Vladimir Putin. Instead, he said it was not clear who was behind the latest cyber attacks. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
According to The New York Times, United States intelligence officials disagree: This most recent round of attacks, they concluded with “high confidence,” indeed originated from Russia.
And, as The Washington Post reported, the cyber security firm Crowd Strike, which investigated the breach, also determined that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC – a fact, the Post points out, that Trump must surely know. “Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, is going against the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community and private researchers in asserting that it’s unclear who hacked the DNC, as well as other political organizations.”
When the debate turned to the 28-nation NATO alliance — what Clinton called the longest military alliance in the history of the world — Trump was initially critical: “…Many of them aren’t paying their fair share…we’re defending them, and they should at least be paying us what they’re supposed to be paying by treaty and contract.”
“Just to go down the list,” Trump said later, “we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune. That’s why we’re losing — we’re losing — we lose on everything…We’re a country that owes $20 trillion. They have to help us out.”
Trump went on to repeat something he said he feels strongly about: “NATO could be obsolete, because…they do not focus on terror…I’m all for NATO. But I said they have to focus on terror.”
According to the New York Times, Trump was correct in asserting that many NATO countries do not contribute their full share to NATO — a complaint that Mr. Obama and a former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, have also voiced. But he was wrong about NATO failing to fight terrorism. NATO was in Afghanistan starting in 2003 — part of the battle against Al Qaeda.
Politico corrected another fact from Trump: how much of NATO’s budget is paid for by the U.S.:
“We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people…Trump is wrong…The United States pays just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO’s spending. Trump is confusing the numbers. President Barack Obama has also urged other NATO member-states to up their defense spending.”
Clinton’s response was aimed at statements by Trump that have alarmed NATO members and other allies. Trump has suggested the U.S. might not respond, for example, if Russia pounced on the Baltic states that are members of NATO unless they were paying their fair share of the alliance.
‘NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5,” Clinton said Monday night, “and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.”
She returned to the point about honoring the NATO alliance later: “Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.”
National security issues are expected to be an even bigger focus in the next presidential debate scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 9, moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)