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Excerpted From: Pavan S. Krishnamurthy, Racial Bias in the United States Armed Forces: A Threat to National Security in the Era of Renewed Great Power Competition, 29 Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 31 (Winter, 2022) (201 Footnotes) (Full Document)

PavanSKrishnamurthyOn January 6, 2021, a mob supporting then-President Donald J. Trump stormed the United States Capitol building in a failed attempt to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election. Many of the insurrectionists held extremist ideologies including far-right anti-government politics, fascism, and white supremacy. Nearly 20% of those charged in relation to the attack either serve or served in the United States Armed Forces. However, only 7% of American adults are veterans and less than one percent are active duty. In response to the overrepresentation of military affiliation among those who stormed the capital, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III directed a Department of Defense (DoD)-wide stand down to address the challenge of extremist and supremacist ideology in the ranks, followed by working groups and changes in DoD regulation. Extremism and supremacy, however, only represents a small subsection of the larger issue of racial bias in the United States Armed Forces.

The United States has entered into a new “Era of Renewed Great Power Competition,” principally defined by three features: first, challenges to military advances due to the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition and a resilient, but weakening, post-WWII international order; second, renewed ideological competition against authoritarianism and illiberal democracy; and third, rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war. As the United States enters this new era, it will have to grapple with the threat that racial bias, both explicit and implicit, poses to national security with respect to U.S. military dominance, renewed ideological competition, and rapid technological changes across multi-domain operations (MDOs). To confront the threat, the United States must now incorporate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the National Security Strategy (NSS).

This Article proceeds in four parts. Part I presents the history of international security environments, from the Cold War Era to the Post-Cold War Era to the current Era of Renewed Great Power Competition. Part II defines racial bias and discusses its role in the three eras of international security. Part III defines national security and argues that racial bias is a threat thereto, specifically with respect to U.S. military dominance, renewed ideological competition, and rapid technological changes across MDOs. Part IV advocates for the elevation of DEI commitments within the NSS and concludes with recommended NSS language.

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We will enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion, and prioritize flexibility and improve training across our national security workforce. We will further combat extremism and supremacy within the United States Armed Forces. To do so we advance three distinct strategies.

Root Cause Analysis: We direct the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, to study and provide a report no later than 120 days from issuance of this National Security Strategy to ascertain the root cause of racial bias within the United States Armed Forces.

Standardized Training: We direct the Department of Defense Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in consultation with the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, to develop standardized training related to racial bias, to include unconscious or implicit bias which will be disseminated amongst offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the United States Armed Forces.

Combatting Extremism within the Ranks: Domestic violent extremism, including white supremacist ideology, challenges core principles of our democracy and demands policies that protect public safety while promoting our values and respecting our laws. To that end, we direct all Department of Defense and U.S. Military investigatory units to create task forces within their counterintelligence sections, for the purpose of identifying, locating, and prosecuting service members who pose a threat of domestic violent extremism. This includes the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Army Counterintelligence, Army Criminal Investigation Command, Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division, Coast Guard Investigative Service, and Navy Criminal Investigative Service.

Such an NSS would provide a framework to confront racial bias in the U.S. Armed Forces within the NDS and the National Military Strategy (NMS), neither of which directly address the topic. Whereas laudable efforts have been made at the tactical and organization level, efforts among the branches have been uneven and uncoordinated. A clear strategic commitment will ensure coherence in the U.S. Armed Forces' approach to addressing racial bias and its DEI efforts.

The Era of Renewed Great Power Competition will be defined by challenges to U.S. military advantage, renewed ideological competition, and rapid technological advancements. Racial bias in the U.S. Armed Forces poses a key threat to these features of our contemporary security environment.

Specifically, various permutations of racial bias, both explicit and implicit manifested at the individual, micro-level as well as the organizational, macro-level, pose threats to U.S. national security. First, racism (i.e., micro-level, explicit bias) undermines U.S. military dominance by weakening good order and discipline and may serve to radicalize service members towards extremism and supremacy. Second, systemic racism and racialdisparity (i.e., macro-level, implicit bias) challenge U.S. soft power projection and the ability to rebuff propaganda efforts from illiberal ideological competitors. Third, all forms of racial bias, both explicit and implicit at individual and organizational levels, disadvantages DEI efforts by the U.S. Armed Forces, a necessity to harness rapid technological changes across MDOs.

We should laud the tactical and organizational efforts by the DoD to combat racial bias. However, the U.S. has failed to confront the wrought issue of racial bias at the national security strategic level. Acknowledging the threat of racial bias and incorporating DEI commitments specifically within the NSS is necessary to ensure a coherent strategy and provide DoD leaders with institutional backing to confront racial bias within the U.S. Armed Forces.

Captain, Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, 316th Wing, United States Air Force. B.A. 2012, Northwestern University; MSc 2014, London School of Economics; J.D. 2017, Georgetown University Law Center.

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