The Changing US Role in the World

By its actions and its refusals to act, the Trump Administration is changing the profile of the United States in global affairs.

Whether demonstrating disdain for longtime allies, disrupting diplomatic relationships and international agreements, or cultivating ties with authoritarian figures in Russia and elsewhere, President Trump seems to be radically altering the character and meaning of American foreign policy. But to what end?

A new report from the Congressional Research Service tries to sort through the situation, and to advise Congress on its options under the circumstances.

For the last 70 years, the U.S. has sought “to promote and defend the open international order that the United States, with the support of its allies, created in the years after World War II,” according to CRS. That may no longer be the case.

But exactly how the direction of U.S. policy is changing, whether it should change, and what it should change to are all subject to dispute. The new CRS report, by specialists Ronald O’Rourke and Michael Moodie, presents the fundamental policy questions on a fairly abstract level, without mentioning Putin, Merkel, Duterte, or other leaders with whom the Trump Administration has acted to modify U.S. relations.

See U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress, July 12, 2017.

Scorning multilateral trade agreements, the Trump Administration risks diminishing the U.S. role in setting the rules for international trade, another new CRS publication said. A pending Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Japan could also work to the disadvantage of U.S. firms by “increas[ing] the relative price of U.S. goods and services exports to both the EU and Japan, lowering their competitiveness in key U.S. markets.” See The Proposed EU-Japan FTA and Implications for U.S. Trade PolicyCRS Insight, July 14, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Foreign Affairs Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Funding: Background and Current StatusCRS In Focus, July 19, 2017

Reform of U.S. International Taxation: Alternatives, updated July 21, 2017

Accounting and Auditing Regulatory Structure: U.S. and International, July 19, 2017

Economic Impact of Infrastructure Investment, July 18, 2017

Pending ACA Legal Challenges Remain as Congress Pursues Health Care ReformCRS Legal Sidebar, updated July 13, 2017:

The Nuclear Ban Treaty: An OverviewCRS Insight, July 10, 2017

Can States Uphold Paris Accord?, & More from CRS

Some American cities and states are committing to pursue the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change despite President Trump’s repudiation of that policy.

But a new brief from the Congressional Research Service said the US Constitution may limit the ability of states to formally adopt such a course. In particular, the Constitution appears to bar states from making legally binding agreements with foreign nations. And the Supreme Court has often stated that the federal government preempts states in matters of foreign affairs.

See Constitutional Limits on States’ Efforts to “Uphold” the Paris Agreement, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 27, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Climate Change: Frequently Asked Questions about the 2015 Paris Agreement, updated June 28, 2017

Help Wanted: Supreme Court Holds Vacancies Act Prohibits Nominees from Serving as Acting Officers, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 28, 2017

Comparison of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), July 3, 2017

Foreign Direct Investment in the United States: An Economic Analysis, updated June 29, 2017

U.S. Direct Investment Abroad: Trends and Current Issues, updated June 29, 2017

The Federal Budget: Overview and Issues for FY2018 and Beyond, June 30, 2017

No Bivens for You?, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 5, 2017

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated June 29, 2017

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, updated June 28, 2017

The Coast Guard’s Role in Safeguarding Maritime Transportation: Selected Issues, updated June 28, 2017

The Legal and Practical Effects of Private Immigration Legislation and Recent Policy Changes, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 30, 2017

Reception of Refugees in the US, & More from CRS

As of May 31, more than 46,000 refugees from around the world were received in the United States in FY 2017 and were settled in every state except for Wyoming, a new report from the Congressional Research Service found.

Though that is a small number compared with the hundreds of thousands of refugees accepted annually in Germany and some other Western countries, it is roughly consistent with the number of refugees accepted by the US in the last several years, according to data compiled by CRS. See Reception and Placement of Refugees in the United States, June 21, 2017.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Paris Agreement: U.S. Climate Finance Commitments, June 19, 2017

Political Status of Puerto Rico: Brief Background and Recent Developments for Congress, updated June 12, 2017

India-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, June 19, 2017

Arms Sales: Congressional Review Process, updated June 22, 2017

When Is Running Guns From the Philippines to Mexico a Federal Crime?, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 26, 2017

The Budget Control Act: Frequently Asked Questions, June 22, 2017

Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms: Causes, Challenges, and Policy Considerations, June 20, 2017

Global Research and Development Expenditures: Fact Sheet, updated June 16, 2017

Violence Against Members of Congress and Their Staff: A Brief Overview, CRS Insight, June 15, 2017

In new legislative report language, the House Appropriations Committee endorsed public access to all non-confidential CRS reports. Subject to approval or amendment by the Committee today, CRS was tentatively told to develop recommendations for implementing such access within 90 days.

“The Committee directs the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make available to the public, all non-confidential reports. The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people,” the draft Committee report said. (Wash Post, June 28).

Military Aircraft Oxygen Issues, & More from CRS

“The Air Force recently grounded some of its newest aircraft, F-35A strike fighters, due to incidents in which pilots became physiologically impaired with symptoms of oxygen deficiency while flying.”

The background and implications of this potentially disabling problem were discussed by the Congressional Research Service in Out of Breath: Military Aircraft Oxygen Issues, CRS Insight, June 21, 2017.

Other new and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

U.S. Military Presence on Okinawa and Realignment to Guam, CRS In Focus, June 14, 2017

Understanding Constituent Problems with the Military, CRS Webinar, May 10, 2017

Tanzania: Current Issues and U.S. Policy, updated June 7, 2017

Cuba: President Trump Partially Rolls Back Obama Engagement Policy, CRS Insight, June 21, 2017

Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, updated June 15, 2017

U.S. Beef: It’s What’s for China, CRS Insight, June 22, 2017

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and U.S. Agriculture, June 22, 2017

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), updated June 13, 2017

Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve: Current Policy and Conditions, updated June 21, 2017

Energy and Water Development Appropriations for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation: In Brief, June 12, 2017

“Readiness” and Secrecy in the US Military

Is there a “readiness crisis” in the U.S. military?

The answer is uncertain because the question itself is unclear. But a perceived need to improve readiness has become a primary DoD justification for increased military spending. Meanwhile, previously unclassified indicators of military readiness are now being classified so that they are no longer publicly available.

“I have been shocked by what I’ve seen about our readiness to fight,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee on Monday.

There is a need to “improve readiness conditions” said President Trump in his National Security Presidential Memorandum 1 on Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces.

Or maybe not.

“America’s fighting forces remain ready for battle,” wrote David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon in an op-ed last year. “They have extensive combat experience across multiple theaters since 9/11, a tremendous high-tech defense industry supplying advanced weaponry, and support from an extraordinary intelligence community.” See “The Myth of a U.S. Military ‘Readiness’ Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2016.

What is readiness? What should the military be ready for? How is readiness measured? How would increased defense spending affect readiness?

Although the term “readiness” is used in many ways, it has two principal definitions, the Congressional Research Service said in a new report yesterday:

“One, readiness has been used to refer in a broad sense to whether U.S. military forces are able to do what the nation asks of them. In this sense, readiness encompasses almost every aspect of the military.”

“Two, readiness is used more narrowly to mean only one component of what makes military forces able. In this second sense, readiness is parallel to other military considerations, like force structure and modernization, which usually refer to the size of the military and the sophistication of its weaponry.”

So is there a readiness crisis or not? It depends, CRS said.

“Most observers who see a crisis tend to use readiness in a broad sense, asserting the U.S. military is not prepared for the challenges it faces largely because of its size or the sophistication of its weapons. Most observers who do not see a crisis tend to use readiness in a narrow sense, assessing only the state of training and the status of current equipment.”

The two definitions are interdependent, CRS said, so that narrow readiness may compensate for deficiencies in broad readiness, or vice versa:

“Greater readiness in the narrow sense, such as better trained personnel, may offset the disadvantages of a smaller or a less technologically sophisticated force, depending on what task the military is executing. Alternatively, the military could be ready in the broader sense because its size and the sophistication of its weapons make up for shortfalls in such areas as training or how often a unit has used its equipment before experiencing combat.”

But readiness for what?

“Some senior officials express confidence in the military’s readiness for the missions it is executing today–although other observers are not as confident– but express concern over the military’s readiness for potential missions in the future,” CRS analyst Russell Rumbaugh wrote.

How is readiness measured, anyway? Not very well.

“Because of the two uses of the term, measuring readiness is difficult; despite ongoing efforts, many observers do not find DOD’s readiness reporting useful.”

Will more spending help?

“DOD’s 2018 request increases operating accounts more than procurement accounts. If readiness is used in a narrow sense, these funding increases may be the best way to improve the military’s readiness. If readiness is used in a broader sense, that funding may not be sufficient, or at least the best way to improve readiness.”

The new CRS report aims to illuminate the debate. But in the end, “it does not evaluate the current state of the U.S. military’s readiness or provide a conclusive definition of readiness.” See Defining Readiness: Background and Issues for Congress, June 14, 2017.

Definitions aside, increasing military secrecy is making the state of U.S. military readiness harder to discern.

“Some readiness information has always been classified and now we are classifying more of it,” a government official told The National Interest last month.

“We don’t think it should be public, for example, how many THAADs are not operational due to maintenance reasons,” the official said. “We don’t think it should be public what percent of our F-22s are not available due to maintenance. We don’t think it should be public how many of our pilots are below their required number of training hours in the cockpit.”

See “How the U.S. Military Is Trying to Mask Its Readiness Crisis” by Maggie Ybarra, The National Interest, May 18, 2017.

Legal Issues in the Paris Agreement Withdrawal

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change raises a series of legal, procedural and policy questions that have yet to be decisively answered, said the Congressional Research Service last week.

Among those questions: Will the US follow the prescribed multi-year procedure for withdrawal? Or can the US withdraw immediately? What role if any will the US play in future climate change deliberations under the Paris Agreement? What are the prospects for a legal challenge to the US withdrawal?

See President Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Raises Legal Questions, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 9, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

FY2018 Defense Budget Request: The Basics, June 9, 2017

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated June 9, 2017

Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, updated June 9, 2017

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Middle East and North Africa: The President’s FY2018 Request, CRS Insight, June 8, 2017

Malawi: Key Developments and U.S. Relations, June 2, 2017

U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, June 8, 2017

European Security and Islamist Terrorism, CRS Insight, updated June 8, 2017

Juneteenth: Fact Sheet, June 9, 2017

Air Force B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, updated June 7, 2017

Special Counsels, Independent Counsels, and Special Prosecutors: Options for Independent Executive Investigations, June 1, 2017

Qatar and Its Neighbors, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Qatar and its Neighbors: Disputes and Possible Implications, CRS Insight, June 6, 2017

Burma’s Political Prisoners and U.S. Policy: In Brief, updated June 6, 2017

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 6, 2017

Stafford Act Assistance and Acts of Terrorism, updated June 2, 2017

Digital Trade and U.S. Trade Policy, updated June 6, 2017

Ransomware Attacks Renew Focus on HIPAA Security Standards, CRS Insight, June 5, 2017

Unmanned and Unregulated? Court of Appeals Rejects FAA Regulation of Many Drones, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 6, 2017

CRS Titles Listed in New Annual Report

The Congressional Research Service prepared 1,197 new reports and publications last year, as well as 2,471 updates of previous reports. The new reports were identified by title and number in an internal version of the CRS annual report for fiscal year 2016 that has not been previously made public.

Among the notable 2016 reports listed in the new annual report but not previously cited here were these:

Closing Space: Restrictions on Civil Society Around the World and U.S. Responses, April 8, 2016

U.S. Electronic Attack Aircraft, July 26, 2016

The public version of the CRS annual report that is posted on the Library of Congress website is abridged and does not include the listing of new CRS products or other appendices from the full report.

Newly updated Congressional Research Service reports from the past week include these:

Stafford Act Assistance and Acts of Terrorism, June 2, 2017

Small Business Administration: A Primer on Programs and Funding, June 5, 2017

The Debt Limit Since 2011, June 5, 2017

Iran: Politics, Human Rights, and U.S. Policy, June 2, 2017

Net Neutrality, and More from CRS

New and updated publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Net Neutrality: Back to the Future, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 30, 2017

East Asia’s Foreign Exchange Rate Policies, updated May 26, 2017

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trends and Projections: Role of the Clean Power Plan and Other Factors, updated May 31, 2017

Respirable Crystalline Silica in the Workplace: New Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards, updated May 31, 2017

Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 115th Congress, May 26, 2017

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, updated June 1, 2017

Advanced Pilot Training (T-X) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, May 31, 2017

The Fifth Amendment in Congressional Investigations

Individuals have a broad right to refuse to testify before Congress by invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Congressional Research Service explained last week.

“Even a witness who denies any criminal wrongdoing can refuse to answer questions on the basis that he might be ‘ensnared by ambiguous circumstances’.”

On the other hand, the scope of the Fifth Amendment privilege applies more narrowly when it comes to a congressional demand that a witness produce documents. “The Supreme Court has made clear that the mere fact that the contents of a document may be incriminating does not mean that the document is protected from disclosure under the Fifth Amendment.”

See The Fifth Amendment in Congressional Investigations, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 26, 2017.

Other new and updated products from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

President’s FY2018 Budget Proposes Cuts in Public Health Service (PHS) Agency Funding, CRS Insight, May 24, 2017

President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection: Toward Final Disclosure of Withheld Records in October 2017, CRS Insight, May 26, 2017