"Where is the United States going in the world?", asks the introduction to a blockbuster of an article published quietly in early April by two officers currently serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It discusses America’s strategic narrative for the 21st century and, interestingly, stringently downplays the importance of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
The officers' argument is summed up by Anne Marie Slaughter in the introduction as
we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.
Capt. Wayne Porter, USN, and Col. Mark Mykleby, USMC, are calling for a new “National Prosperity and Security Act” to replace the National Security Act that has served us since 1947.
Though I started drafting this a few days ago, I think it's particularly relevant now that Bin Laden is dead. That boogeyman is gone; how do we move on to a more sane foreign policy?
In 1947, a State Department officer named George Kennan wrote an anonymous article in Foreign Affairs Journal under the pseudonym “X.” He argued that US policy towards the Soviet Union should be one of “a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment.” This concept became a key component of America’s military foreign policy, and Kennan himself became known as father of the containment doctrine. Ironically, Kennan later mused that he had not meant for the US to pursue primarily a military policy towards the Soviets, rather than a political and diplomatic strategy. He had not meant to imply at the time that he saw the Soviets as primarily a military threat. On CNN, in 1996, he said ruefully, that it
all came down to one sentence in the "X" Article where I said that wherever these people, meaning the Soviet leadership, confronted us with dangerous hostility anywhere in the world, we should do everything possible to contain it and not let them expand any further. I should have explained that I didn't suspect them of any desire to launch an attack on us. This was right after the war, and it was absurd to suppose that they were going to turn around and attack the United States. I didn't think I needed to explain that, but I obviously should have done it.
Where the 1947 article largely created the framework for America’s political and military objectives for the second half of the 20th century, the very recent article named “A National Strategic Narrative” by “Mr. Y” discusses what will ensure America’s success in the 21st century. Mr. Y is an obvious allusion to the original article, and is a call by Porter and Mykleby for change in how we view national security. The entire article is a must read, but I'll try to highlight a few of their positions here. Go read the full piece - accessible through Foreign Policy as a pdf.
The current review in Foreign Policy states,
The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, under-investing in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.
Mr Y notes,
[In the 20th century, we believed] that our environment was a closed system to be controlled by mankind – through technology, power and determination – to achieve security and prosperity. … We failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy.
Today, we find ourselves in a very different strategic environment…. The challenges and opportunities facing us are far more complex, multi-nodal, and inter-connected than we could have imagined in 1950.
Containment no longer works. Instead, we must move from containment towards ‘sustainment’ – or, better said though less cleverly, sustainability. We need to move from power and control to strength and influence, from the defensive posture of exclusion to inclusion and engagement. Our strategy needs to start at home.
Mr. Y has three major suggestions to create this strategy:
1. We must invest first in ourselves – our youth’s education, science, technology, and the infrastructure to support sustainable sources of energy and food production – in order to compete internationally and regain the moral ground to influence other nations. We must realize that competition is good for us, and that there needn’t be just one global leader.
2. We must take a 'whole nation' approach to both domestic and foreign policy, including development and diplomacy along with defense, and including all governmental departments in a wholistic approach to sustainability.
3. We must cultivate and wisely - sustainably - use the natural resources we've been given - "We cannot export 'smart power' until we practice 'smart growth' at home."
We cannot isolate our own prosperity and security from the global system. We must embrace global competitiveness, not be defeated by it.
The narrative says much more - it speaks to the need to address our long term strategic ecology and environment, rather than to be reacting to immediate, and relatively minor threats.
I'm interested that the military has been, often, the loudest voice of reason in this political debate. They clearly see that water will be the most coveted resource in the 21st century and that climate change will be the greatest threat; they're investing in mobile renewable energy technologies to replace oil; etc. The top thinkers of the US military - Eisenhower's strategic brain trust folks - are offering us pretty clear ideas on how to proceed; let's make sure the military industrial complex - and their Congress critters - don't interfere with this compelling, peaceful vision.