Former deputy assistant secretary of defense discusses national security

CJ Ash

Mara E. Karlin began her presentation Wednesday night by asking the audience, “Who likes the idea of America first?”

About half the hands in the room found the sky.


Karlin, the former deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Defense, held a presentation titled “National Security in the Age of America First” at the Lory Student Center Longs Peak Room.

“America First” today in terms of a governmental role, lies in the United States being a global leader. There are times when the U.S. “will do things and totally screw them up,” but other times “we will do the right thing and something will be better,” Karlin said.

This role leaves many diplomatics and policymakers feeling contradictory, according to Karlin.

“What regions do you focus on? What regions do you ignore?” Karlin asked. “With Rwanda, tragedy happened without U.S. military involvement. How do we deal with that contradiction?”

Karlin emphasized how, despite one’s feelings, leaders need to accept the fact that “contradictions are normal.” 

The next major topic involved the upcoming National Security Strategy, a report developed every four years by the presidential administration, and presented to Congress.

Karlin detailed what she believes to be the largest challenges facing the Trump administration in terms of national security: China, North Korea, Russia and Iran.

China, Karlin said, “is the hardest one to deal with” because it is the biggest competitor to the U.S. and is also gaining the most power regionally and globally.

The Trans-Pacific-Partnership, a proposed alliance between the U.S. and 11 Asian countries would represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP, specifically excluded China. The Trump administration has pulled out of the TPP, and the nation awaits an official strategy. 

North Korea is the nearest term issue, according to Karlin.


“We’re talking about a country that has been 30 and 60 nukes, long range ballistic missiles and a leader that is not as stable as you’d like a leader of that country to be,” Karlin said.

In her assessment, we are looking at a 25 percent chance of going to war with North Korea. China has the most influence with Pyongyang, so the public awaits the administration’s strategy. 

Russia is still a major issue, but Karlin said they are “very much a declining power. The economy is terrible, there’s tons of corruption, the population is dying more than it’s replenishing.”

However, Russia is still threatening the sovereignty of U.S. allies. She also said that “when you look at countries that are declining, that’s when you see the most drastic, desperate and dangerous behavior.”

“It is clear that they are not playing a helpful role in the world today,” Karlin said.

Karlin said Iran poses two problems, a nuclear one and a “bad behavior” one. The 2015 deal between Iran, U.S. and other major world powers saw Iran’s nuclear program put to a halt and rewound substantially.

But, Karlin said “there will still plenty of issues with that agreement.” 

In the question and answer section of the presentation, one audience member asked, “If you could speak to Trump directly, what would you say?”

Karlin said she would talk to Trump about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Don’t try to make peace between Isreal and Palestine,” Karlin said. “It wont happen and you’ll just be wasting time.”

Karlin said the nations should foment gulf unity, realizing that they all face a greater threat with Iran. 

Collegian news reporter CJ Ash can be reached at or on Twitter @Cee_Jay_Ash