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What the Biden administration needs to do to strengthen our national security

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One thing made painfully clear through the 2020 election cycle is that race is America’s Achilles heel. The weaponization of race undermines our democracy and causes far reaching national security threats. Systemic racism also disenfranchises minority groups and is exacerbated by international and domestic policy decisions.

The fire that drives marginalized and oppressed groups to demand justice still burns bright in America and is proving to be a key factor that drove more Americans to the polls, driving  the presidential election result. That fire did not end on Election Day — it continues to spark demands for justice around the world. All of the existential challenges this administration will face are exacerbated by racism, racial tensions, and the weaponization of social issues.

Diversity is security.

As President-elect Biden prepares to take office, he and his transition have already made commitments to advance an aggressive agenda to address systemic racism and bigotry. The work starts with diversifying the workforce through appointing diverse practitioners at all levels of the administration. However, addressing systemic racism and hate of all kinds within agencies and the entire federal government must be woven into leadership priorities, processes, structures, and domestic and international strategy.

Through Diversity in National Security Network my fellow co-founders Laura Kupe, Asha Castleberry-Hernandez and I have seen first-hand the wealth of talented and knowledgeable practitioners of color ready and equipped to serve. However, for that to happen, every leader in the Biden-Harris administration will need to be intentional about building a staff that reflects the many lived experiences of the American people.

The Biden-Harris team acknowledges that mandate and the workforce recommendations provided by Michèle Flournoy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy under President Bill Clinton and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Barack Obama, and me.

Here are a few recommendations for how the incoming administration can not only build a team that looks diverse but actively work to dismantle systemic oppression.

First, rollback the executive orders (EOs) and any proposed policy efforts that serve little to no national security purpose and are rooted in bigotry. The travel bans rolled out during the Trump administration are xenophobic and have not proven to mitigate the risks of COVID or terrorism. President Trump’s EO on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping was a huge step backward, an impediment to progress, and runs counter to American values. This EO must be rolled back on day one. Next, the administration must conduct a review to identify, evaluate, and address ongoing policy efforts and organizational mandates throughout the interagency that reinforce or promote bigotry such as the proposed rule to limit student visas to two years for citizens of 59 countries.

Second, leadership must be held accountable to develop processes to review policies and initiatives for disparate outcomes for marginalized communities domestically and internationally.

President-elect Biden must set this tone and mandate leaders agree from day one to prioritize development and implementation reviews for systemic racism and other systemic injustices in our U.S. foreign policy and national security. This includes: 1) empowering U.S. foreign policy leaders to talk about systemic racism in the U.S on a global stage and acknowledging the detrimental effects of racism at home and in U.S. foreign policy towards regions of the world; and 2) encouraging key allies, especially those in Western Europe, to also address racial justice matters in their own countries. Anti-black racism is not just an American problem.

Third, revamp internal processes to facilitate diversifying the workforce and pursuing anti-racist and anti-hate policy outcomes.

The traditional ways of evaluating loyalty and assessing fit were not conceived for the diversity of this workforce. Many first-generation Americans have family ties, income and resource needs — and barriers to access — that create artificial barriers to entry or staying in government service. Now is a great time to plan for and pilot new processes and systems for evaluating talent and limiting conflicts of interest. A few areas that often limit diverse talent are the security clearance process and student loan debt.

This administration has the opportunity to reposition the United States on a global stage — an opportunity to harness America’s greatest asset, its rich diversity, to address some of the world’s most complex challenges.

Diversity and inclusion in our government workforce will lead to a more secure nation.

To protect our nation, we need to be intentional about building a diverse workforce and an anti-racisit, anti-hate policy agenda, and reimagining processes and systems that limit progress in those areas.

Diversity is security.

Camille Stewart is Cyber Fellow at Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and co-founder of Diversity in National Security Network. She served as senior policy adviser for cyber infrastructure & resilience policy at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. She serves on the Board of Directors of Girl Security. Follow her on Twitter @CamilleEsq

Tags Achilles Heel anti-discrimination Barack Obama Bill Clinton Discrimination Diversity Donald Trump Executive Order Institutional racism Joe Biden National security Racism

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