Cryptocurrency Mention Buried In US National Security Strategy

December 28, 2017 9:22 PM

For the first time since 2015, the United States has a new National Security Strategy. The document is heavy on national security, light on strategy, and weightless in its comprehension of emerging technologies and social trends.

The president is required by law to periodically prepare a document highlighting US national security concerns. The document prioritizes the Executive Branch’s overarching perspective on the most pressing challenges and threats facing the nation.

Per page 12 of the new National Security Strategy (NSS) report, generated by Executive Branch staff and delivered to Congress by President Trump on December 18, 2017, “We will use sophisticated investigative tools to disrupt the ability of criminals to use online marketplaces, crypto-currencies, and other tools for illicit activities.”

Taken as a standalone initiative, there is credence to stopping the illicit use of cryptocurrency, especially after a year in which several high-profile ransomware attacks targeted the new asset class for extortion.

However, this single mention of cryptocurrencies (on page 12 of the 55-page document) conveys a rudimentary understanding of both cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them.

By associating cryptocurrency solely with crime and terrorism, the leader of the free world is missing a historic opportunity to embrace the emerging technologies already reshaping many of the security interests mentioned in this, his first NSS report.

Including cryptocurrencies under the broader initiative to “dismantle transnational criminal organizations,” is indeed an important part of helping cryptocurrencies move out of their somewhat shadowy origins. However, by limiting his commentary to that single statement, the president has denied the financial revolution taking place and relegated the positive potential of cryptocurrencies to the fringes of national interest.

By choosing to only see the negative implications of a monetary revolution that can potentially spread traditional American values of freedom and security, as well as create fiscal value, the president is contributing to a future in which the lack of state interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain could potentially put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, relative to countries like China and Russia, which have national initiatives embracing the potential of both digital currencies and blockchain.    

It seems as though the president has synthesized the vast amount of information at his disposal into many of the right questions, as referenced by the NSS’ sub-chapters, but he has failed to see emerging financial technologies as the answer to security concerns he seeks to address. 

The shortcomings of the new NSS might best be portrayed by the opening line of the sub-chapter entitled “A Competitive World,” which says: “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world.” Perhaps the best strategy for securing our nation and its interests isn’t found in our response to challenges, but in our proactive approach to engage the future with America’s characteristic forward-thinking ambition.

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