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  • The National Defense Authorization Act Restricts All funding for Confucius Institutes
  • Creation of Cyber Institute Partnerships with “Strategic Foreign Language Proficiency” Focus
  • Armed Forces to be Evaluated on Critical Language Shortfalls
  • New Initiative for Higher Education Institutions Involved with Foreign Talent-Recruitment Programs

Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed into law the John S. McCain Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2019, which authorizes $719 billion in appropriations and set policies for the Department of Defense and related activities for FY 2019, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is annual, must-pass legislation that expresses Congressional intent for national security policy in the Department of Defense.

There are four sections in the FY19 NDAA which are relevant to languages and international education; these are summarized and analyzed below.

Anticipated Shortfall of Critical Language Proficiency in Armed Forces

Sec. 1263 requires that the Secretary of Defense to evaluate the “operational requirements” for military members “possessing foreign language expertise in critical languages, including Chinese, Korean, Russian, Farsi, and Arabic.” The Secretary will then have six months to submit a report to the House and Senate defense committees on critical language shortfalls within the military.  

The purpose of the report would be to highlight the critical language gap within the Armed Forces. It is unclear if the Secretary will include other critical languages apart from those explicitly named. This provision continues the attention to language shortfalls seen in many previous NDAA bills.

Cyber Institutes with a Foreign Language Focus

Addressing concerns surrounding foreign cybersecurity threats, Sec. 1640 instructs the Secretary to establish “Cyber Institutes” at IHEs. Each Cyber Institute must include “programs of targeted strategic foreign language proficiency training” that are “tailored to current and anticipated readiness requirements.”

Cyber Institute selection will favor IHEs with the capacity to provide students with “programs designed to develop early interest and cyber talent through summer programs, dual enrollment opportunities for cyber, strategic language, data science, and cryptography related courses.”

This section recognizes that America’s adversaries may well have the capability to conduct cyber operations in other languages, and that national readiness in cyber must include language.

Restrictions on DoD Funding at Colleges and Universities with Confucius Institutes

Originally proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx), Sec. 1091 prohibits IHEs from using defense funds towards Chinese language programs with a Confucius Institute, absent a waiver from the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. However, for IHEs that host or have hosted a Confucius Institute, this authorization bill does not affect funding for other programs, including programs in languages other than Chinese, or other DoD-funded events or activities at the IHE.

These restrictions come after several years of warnings from Democrats, Republicans, government agencies and non-partisan organizations that the program, funded by Hanban, an affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Education, is a propaganda arm of the Chinese government. Recently, the CIA released part of a classified report warning that Hanban offers “‘strings-attached’ funding to academic institutions,” and “reward[s] pro-China viewpoints and coerce[s] Western academic publications and conferences to self-censor.” In July 2018, the National Association of Scholars counted 103 currently operating Confucius Institutes in the United States.

While JNCL-NCLIS takes no position on the allegations raised in the CIA report and elsewhere, we note that the waiver process provides two options for continuing DoD-funded Chinese language programs at IHEs with Confucius Institutes. For both, the IHE must certify to the Undersecretary of Defense that no Confucius Institute personnel are involved in teaching or administering the program. Then, either the IHE provides documentation on the relationship of the IHE to the Confucius Institute and the Hanban, or the Undersecretary declares that the program is essential to national security.

JNCL-NCLIS is monitoring this closely, and is in communication with the relevant DoD offices overseeing Chinese language programs as well as the lead organizations implementing programs such as the Language Flagship, Startalk, and others. Insofar as the NDAA has just been signed by the President, it is still to early to assess the impact of this section of the bill.

A Foreign Talent-Recruitment Watch List?

More broadly, this NDAA also seeks to counter foreign attempts at stealing innovative technologies from research institutions.

Sec. 1286, the result of a bipartisan amendment, requires the Secretary of Defense to establish “an initiative to work with academic institutions that perform defense research and engineering activities.” The initiative is tasked with raising awareness of “undue influence” within universities, preventing theft of technologies, and tracking individuals in IHEs that have participated in “foreign talent-recruitment programs.” These programs, typically sponsored by foreign governments, seek to recruit American faculty to work overseas.

The initiative also creates a collaborative forum to engage universities in discussion to determine effective means to address issues involving national security. Also included is a regulation that programs that knowingly violate or obstruct the initiative risk losing DoD funding.  

An earlier version of this Sec. explicitly named Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea; no specific entities are named in the approved bill. Congress has given deference to the DoD to execute the initiative as well as to define a “foreign talent-recruitment program.” This is the result of an active campaign by Higher Education associations to ensure a deliberate and consultative process.

Once the initiative is launched, the Secretary will have four months to produce a preliminary briefing on its progress, and then a full year to produce a more extensive progress report including compliance guidelines for IHEs.


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