Lieutenant General James Clapper, Lieutenant General Michael K. Nagata and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, participated in a panel at the Ford School of Public Policy Monday night on national security, public service and foreign policy.

In an auditorium packed with more than 200 people, the national security experts honored Veteran’s Day by discussing the value of service and the greatest challenges the U.S. national security apparatus faces today. 

According to Lt. Gen. Nagata, his decades of service had a profound impact on the ways in which he approached policy challenges over the course of his intelligence career at the National Counterterrorism Center. In facing constantly changing global and political dynamics, Nagata says today’s intelligence and elected officials should modify the ways in which they view the very concept of service.

“How I defined that word, service, when I first joined the military in 1981 is not the same way in which I view that word today,” Nagata said. “My view of that word now is much larger. It’s subordinating what I may wish for personally, or what my family and loved ones may need, for a purpose that is more important than me or even my family.” 

In an interview with The Daily, Nagata explained changing domestic politics — namely political polarization and increased partisanship — have complicated public servants’ ability to work together and problem-solve in order to respond to shifting global dynamics. 

“Our ability to do things effectively internationally requires both sides of the political spectrum of the U.S. government to find ways to compromise enough that they can work together,” Nagata said. “Our ability to compromise politically has been steadily eroding for a very long time.”

Both Nagata and Clapper agreed that the current political atmosphere has also made the job of public servants difficult, as political pressures applied by the president and other partisan forces have attempted to politicize the jobs of intelligence officials.

“There’s always been an aura of suspicion about intelligence anyway,” Clapper said. “That’s inherent because of its secrecy, and there has to be a certain amount of secrecy involved with the conduct of intelligence. If there’s no secrecy, you know, you’re out of luck. So the atmosphere now has amplified that suspicion and all the references to the deep state, the whistleblower complainant being a member of the intelligence community. All that contributes to — even heightens — the suspicion and, unfortunately, distrust.”

Beyond the intelligence community, Slotkin spoke about how her experience serving in the military informs her mission-driven approach to policy-making against the backdrop of an increasingly polarized political climate.

“My service really colors how I view other people,”Slotkin said. “When I walk into a room, and we’re talking about the issue of an impeachment inquiry, and there’s one side who’s just chomping at the bit to make political hay out of it, and the other side is rejecting the whole thing and refusing to acknowledge (the other side’s perspective), all I can think of is: where is your sense of mission of what we’re trying to do to protect and defend the Constitution?” 

The panel as a whole spoke to the importance of integrating values into American institutions to ensure that citizens’ physical safety does not come at the cost of their rights, beliefs, and ways of life. Lt. Gen. Nagata said Americans need to more passionately engage in conversations about how the intelligence community should balance American values against the need to combat the growth of domestic terrorism. 

“We are seeing a significant growth of all forms of violent extremism within the United States… I hope that the United States as a government and as a people start becoming more energetic about a debate,” Nagata said. “How do we reconcile these very important values, privacy rights, constitutional rights, societal norms… versus the need to ensure the safety of our own people against violent extremists?” 

The panelists each highlighted both physical and international threats to national security. Lieutenant Generals Clapper and Nagata pointed towards terrorism, China and Russia as menaces as well as an assault on institutions that support truth and the erosion of confidence between populations and their governments. 

They agreed the United States military must become more agile, adaptable and risk-tolerant in order to confront 21st century challenges. 

“The United States military has to get better at training and educating for complexity and uncertainty,” Nagata said. “We need to inculcate a tradition in the United States military… (that 21st century threats are) an incredibly complex, multi-dimensional security challenge, there is no solution, there is no answer.” 

Though panelists were concerned about young people’s declining interest in military and government service, LSA junior Noa Sreden shared her excitement for the panelists’ discussion.

“I think they’re very unique perspectives that the presenters give, especially on foreign policy,” Sreden said. “That’s something that’s pretty unique and goes above what we typically learn here in Michigan.”

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