Episode 4

General James Jones: We need a coordinated international response to manage the pandemic and our economy

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Key Points

  • A National Security Council transition plan, the pandemic, the economy, and China are among the top challenges for our next administration
  • Biden or Trump will need to forge strong international alliances with our allies to manage China’s economic and strategic strength
  • Iran needs to be reminded of the “consequences” of exporting terrorist actions globally
  • Continued follow up is necessary to ensuring NATO’s commitment to military spending
  • The U.S. can adapt to defense budget pressures by reducing inefficiencies associated with technological development

Disclosures and Disclaimers

As the former U.S. National Security Advisor to President Obama, General James Jones believes staffing and organizing the next National Security Council (NSC) is the Day One challenge facing our next administration.

A proper transition is necessary, he says, because the NSC plays a critical role in coordinating strategic decision-making among the Secretaries that allows the U.S. President to make clear and timely economic and foreign policy decisions.

Headlining the agenda for the next administration is a coordinated geopolitical response to the pandemic with our international peers. This can help bolster economic growth and address China’s rising influence. “A calibrated response is essential to managing China’s likely attempts to use ‘vaccine diplomacy’ to gain the upper hand,” says General Jones.

How the NSC advises the next U.S. President on these and other matters will have far-reaching implications on our geopolitical landscape, including monetary, economic, and fiscal policy and our national security.

Here are the highlights from our discussion:

The cyber security threat is “the wolf at the door”

The next administration needs to manage the geopolitical implications of China’s growing influence by coordinating with our allies and implementing public and private sector actions to manage cybersecurity threats, says General Jones.

“The cyber security threat is the wolf that's closest to the door…and it's a threat that I think we should pay a great deal of attention to.”

- General James Jones


He believes these actions are necessary because China is determined to replace the U.S. as the most influential nation on the planet through the Huawei phenomenon – an effort to penetrate our societies by harvesting our intellectual properties and state secrets in a “seductive” way.

“The cyber security threat is the wolf that's closest to the door…and it's a threat that I think we should pay a great deal of attention to,” he warns. In response, Western democracies are working on technologies that can compete with Huawei’s platform on all levels.

China’s government may be its “weak spot”

General Jones doesn’t believe our escalating tension with China will lead to a major conflict, but he wouldn’t rule out an “occasional skirmish” through miscalculations in locations such as the South China Seas.

He believes China is copying the 20th Century U.S. playbook by ramping up its military and infiltrating economies. As opposed to military pressures, the 21st Century U.S. response to China’s threats consists mostly of economic measures like sanctions.

China’s government is a “weak” spot because it wants to be a free-trading country while also operating under a Communist government, explains General Jones. In addition, the country is dependent on the international community for energy and natural resources, and the U.S. is in a position to affect that track.

Managing Putin and Russia is a global imperative

Vladimir Putin can be a dangerous adversary, so our next President should continue to make strategic moves to shore up our Eastern European allies and confirm its role as a NATO partner, advises General Jones.

“Putin came back on stage and demonstrated very clearly that his understanding of history differs from just about everyone else’s.”

- General James Jones


During his time serving in NATO from 2003 to 2007, General Jones says there was a general consensus that Russia wanted to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the Obama administration, it even cooperated with the U.S. on Iran (Russia canceled a missile sale to Iran when the U.S. uncovered evidence that it was a nuclear threat) and established the START Treaty.

Putin soon emerged as an opportunist. “Putin came back on stage and demonstrated very clearly that his understanding of history differs from just about everyone else’s,” he says. For example, he came out against NATO, and said that the U.S. didn’t honor its alleged “agreement” to help Russia when it was struggling economically.

No “free lunch” on military spending for NATO members

General Jones believes NATO is a very important group, but emphasized that there’s no “free lunch” on its commitment to military spending. Although he believes President Trump took a hard-lined stance, he still thinks NATO needs a strong reminder: “If NATO votes to spend 2% of their government budgets on the military, then they should follow through on that commitment,” he says.

Iran needs to be cautioned against its mischief

Iran is one of the main regional threats to U.S. and European security because of its ability to export terror and cause “mischief” in the region, says General Jones. The current administration has been resolute with Iran about the consequences of its actions, and he believes it’s important for the U.S. to continue that stance.

Adapt to budget pressures by reducing inefficiencies

If managed properly, General Jones believes the current budget can both meet the Department of Defense operations and necessary U.S. force modernization.

Rather than diminish our presence and strategic advantage overseas, he believes the U.S. can adapt to budget pressures by reducing inefficiencies for technological development. One example is reducing the time and costs associated with U.S. Navy ship deployment, compared with China’s rapid production rate of ships for its Navy and Air Forces.

This discussion with General James Jones is part of the series “Beyond the Ballot with Helima Croft.” To listen to the next virtual session live, or for more information about Helima Croft’s research report “Beyond the Ballot: General James Jones” published on September 30, 2020, please contact your RBC representative.

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