Diversity and U.S. National Security

Why It Matters, and What Can Be Done

U.S. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton at the 50th anniversery of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington, August 2013. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

On October 5, 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a memorandum entitled “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce,” which stated that “as the United States becomes more diverse and the challenges we face more complex, we must continue to invest in policies to recruit, retain, and develop the best and brightest from all segments of our population.” As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, he has a unique opportunity to heed that advice and commit to improving diversity in the ranks of the national security establishment. To be sure, his derogatory statements about women and ethnic minority groups during the presidential campaign, as well as some of the appointments and nominations he has announced to date, have led many to question his views on diversity. But that is why a public commitment to ensuring diversity in America’s national security workforce is all the more urgent.

Without such a pledge, it is hard to imagine, for example, how U.S. intelligence agencies could successfully recruit Muslim Americans after Trump campaigned on a promise to block Muslims from entering the United States, when his choice for National Security Advisor called the fear of Muslims “rational,” and when one of his prominent supporters publicly cited as a precedent for a Muslim registry the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And it will be difficult for him to assure servicewomen in the military that as commander-in-chief he will not tolerate sexual harassment or sexual assault in the ranks when he boasted about touching women inappropriately and then dismissed it as mere “locker-room talk.”

Trump’s public position on diversity in the national security establishment, which he has not yet clarified, must thus be viewed as a national security issue. The rapidly changing demographic landscape of the United States, the increasing prevalence of women in the workforce, and the need to cultivate personal ties with people in every corner of the world demand it. To get diversity right, officials must

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