The greatest honor we can pay to those who have given their lives in service to our country’s defense is to limit the number of those who might be required to join them. We can do that by looking over the horizon, anticipating danger, and taking steps necessary to reduce it.
This process is called strategy. And the Obama administration has just provided its first annual National Security Strategy. At least as much as the federal budget, this document defines who we are and the role we are determined to play in the world. If this document misunderstands the times, misinterprets threats, applies the wrong resources, or defies our principles, the ranks of the fallen grow and we become weaker.
The first Obama National Security Strategy will be analyzed for its differences from the Bush strategies. In this regard it differs sharply in at least three major ways: it places great emphasis on the economic and human basis for security; it places diplomacy on an equal footing with the military; and it envisions a global commons of shared responsibilities for the common security.
The economic foundation for our security is formed by education and knowledge, clean energy and energy independence, science and technology investments, and a healthy work force. Innovation, new, more effective ways of doing things, is the source of power. And power translates into security.
Diplomacy, or engagement, is necessary to “mobilize collective action”, create new partnerships, organize a new international order (though the “new” is mentioned only once, possibly out of nervousness caused by the first Bush’s “new world order, respect for “universal rights” (a phrase distinct from Carter’s emphasis on human rights), “greater interconnectedness”, modernization of international institutions, and, possibly most important, the need for the United States to “live its values.”
The U.S. security concerns include: nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security, new biological and cyber threats, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a two-state settlement in the Middle East and engagement with the Muslim world, and developing economic cooperation among the G-20 nations (replacing the traditional G-8). Emphasis is placed on common interests, including climate threats, and collective, not U.S. unilateral, responses.
The Obama strategy’s description of the “strategic environment” encompasses terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, space and cyberspace, fossil fuel dependence, climate and pandemics, failing states, and criminal networks. Militarily this requires conventional “superiority” (however that can be measured), response to asymmetrical threats, a civilian expeditionary capability (sounds like nation-building), and the integration of domestic (homeland) and international security. Our defenses also involve counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, stability operations (preventing failed states), and improvements in “resiience” (the ability to absorb and overcome a systemic failure, whose author is Dr. Steve Flynn).
Key strategic concepts include: the ability to “shape change”, moral leadership, the power of example, living the principles of democracy, and remaining true to our Constitutional ideals and principles. Here is the qualitative departure from the second Bush’s preoccupation with unilateralism, preemption, and expedient suspension of Constitutional principles.
For the author of The Fourth Power: a Grand Strategy for the U.S. in the 21st Century (2004), The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons (2006), and Under the Eagle’s Wing (2008), all of which urged a national strategy based on shared international responsibility for a global commons, threat anticipation and reduction, and security policy based on Constitutional principles, this national security strategy is a very welcome return to the mainstream of America’s role in the world and, at the same time, a realization that the new realities of the 21st century cannot be addressed by military means alone, nor can they be solved by one nation alone.
It is personally gratifying to see so many ideas totally neglected in the past administration now incorporated in our national strategy in a new administration.
A more intelligent strategic approach to security in the next few years will guarantee that fewer crosses will be added at Arlington and fewer young men and women will have the bell toll for them.