The White House recently released the Obama Administration’s comprehensive National Security Strategy online. As a sweeping articulation of the administration’s goals in domestic and international policy, the strategy is short on specifics but nonetheless offers insight into the current administration’s operational philosophy in advancing America’s interests. The strategy breaks down into three areas:
Building our Foundation
Obama’s National Security Strategy starts by acknowledging that “our national security begins at home,” and saying that we must “renew the foundation of our strength,” our economy. “Our prosperity serves as a wellspring for our power. It pays for our military, underwrites our diplomacy and development efforts, and serves as a leading source of our influence in the world. Moreover, our trade and investment supports millions of American jobs, forges links among countries, spurs global development, and contributes to a stable and peaceful political and economic environment.”
The administration’s strategy notes underinvestment in areas “essential to U.S. competitiveness” like education, energy, science and technology and health care, and singles out rising fiscal and trade deficits as a long-term risk to U.S. security.
Also, maintaining America’s “moral leadership” is a priority of the administration. “Our moral leadership is grounded principally in the power of our example—not through an effort to impose our system on other peoples..for if we compromise our values in pursuit of security, we will undermine both.”
Pursuing Comprehensive Engagement
Obama’s National Security Strategy seeks to avoid “self-imposed isolation that denies us the ability to shape outcomes” by “reengaging the world on a comprehensive and sustained basis.” According to the report, “engagement begins with our closest friends and allies—from Europe to Asia; from North America to the Middle East,” and the administration plans to focus on “cooperation with other 21st century centers of influence—including China, India, and Russia.”
To America’s self-identified enemies, the strategy offers a choice: “abide by international norms, and achieve the political and economic benefits that come with greater integration with the international community; or refuse to accept this pathway, and bear the consequences of that decision, including greater isolation.”
Also, the strategy prioritizes “engagement among peoples—not just governments—around the world,” a hallmark of the Obama Administration’s foreign and domestic policy. “Time and again, we have seen that the best ambassadors for American values and interests are the American people—our businesses, nongovernmental organizations, scientists, athletes, artists, military service members, and students.”
Promoting a Just and Sustainable International Order
Obama’s National Security Strategy supports a “just and sustainable” international order — “just, because it advances mutual interests, protects the rights of all, and holds accountable those who refuse to meet their responsibilities; sustainable because it is based on broadly shared norms and fosters collective action to address common challenges.”
The report says that in order to fight “common challenges,” like “violent extremism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and a changing global economy,” nations must act “responsibly.” A failure to act responsibly must be met with consequences, including developing “credible and effective alternatives to military action—from sanctions to isolation.” These alternatives “must be strong enough to change behavior, just as we must reinforce our alliances and our military capabilities.
Obama’s strategy dictates that we be “clear-eyed” about factors that have impeded effective international engagement in the past, but predicts that “the polarization that persists across region, race, and religion will need to be replaced by a galvanizing sense of shared interest.”
Time will tell if Obama’s national security strategy will be effective, but the report is a frank examination of the challenges facing America in the 21st Century and a revealing look at how the current administration plans to address them.