A slightly delayed post of the new National Security Strategy that was published last month. The Strategy, mandated by Congress every year brings academics something to talk about at conferences, but other than that it’s largely ingored, with some notable expections.
Obama’s first NSS is a mix of realism and idealism, not unlike Bush 43, despite what the New York Times says. As Walt says, “a report whose first page says ‘to succeed, we must face the world as it is.’ It then goes on to say that ‘we need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier time.'”
The cover letter to the NSS says that “the burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone”. This is a continous thread throughout the whole document. However at the very end of the cover letter, it says “in a young century, whose trajectory is uncertain, America is ready to lead once more”. Now, maybe its just me but, leadership must in some sense mean, most if not all, of the weight falling on your shoulders. Either your a leader and you take all that brings or your not and you don’t which means that you give up the mantle of being a leader.As Walt neatly sums it up,”The main novelty in the report is its attempt to acknowledge the limits of American power while continuing to extol the virtues of U.S. primacy and global leadership.”
It apparently recognises that power “in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game”. However this is part of the problem – world politics is always fundamentally a zero sum game. Of course there are times when this is not strictly true but the overarching theme is one of you lose and I win – or indeed vice versa.
Another notable comment is where it mentions that “International institutions must more effectively represent the world of the 21st century, with a broader voice—and greater responsibilities—for emerging powers, and they must be modernized to more effectively generate results on issues of global interest”. ]I’m guessing he’s referring to the proposed expansion of the UN Security Council, but the UNSC is already next to worthless and any expansion would just make any further issues that should get support from other powers. Also how is he going to square the circle of giving them greater representation as well as more responsiblities?
However more like his predcessor, rightly or wrongly, Obama belives “efforts to advance security and prosperity are enhanced by our support for certain values that are universal.” This is quickly followed by the claim that “The United States rejects the false choice between the narrow pursuit of our interests and an endless campaign to impose our values. Instead, we see it as fundamental to our own interests to support a just peacearound the world—one in which individuals, and not just nations, are granted the fundamental rights that they deserve.”
It says that “challenges hold out the prospect of opportunity, but only if the international community breaks down the old habits of suspicion to build upon common interests.” Surely this is on the naive side of idealism, how can the international community not be suspicious of each other when power competition is rife and instability everywhere?
The NSS says the the fundmental interests of the US are:
*Security: The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners.
*Prosperity: A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity.
*Values: Respect for universal values at home and around the world.
*International Order: An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges.
One of the headings in the NSS is “Disrupt, Dismantle, and Defeat Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World”. Talk about ambitious. Walt makes the point that “it is hard to identify any area of the world or any particular issue-area where the Obama administration intends to do less”.
Obama happily buys into the War on Terror label of Bush 43 when he says clearly that “We are at war with a specific network, al-Qa’ida, and its terrorist affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies, and partners.”
The strategy says that “The United States seeks two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security, acceptance, and rights for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestine with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people”. Again this follows on from what Bush said, but not Clinton who never explicitly advocated a two state solution.
“Many years of refusing to engage Iran failed to reverse these trends; on the contrary, Iran’s behavior became more threatening. Engagement is something we pursue without illusion.” How is this the case when Obama says he will limit when e uses nuclear weapons, when everyone knows that it’s just for the media? I guess the real question is engagment with who, the regime, the Green Movement?
One of the headings later on is “Practicing Principled Engagement with Non-Democratic Regimes:” surely an oxymoron as either theirr is engagement or not? Principles are irrelevent, indeed they must be, the world is regretably too dangerous for such overt principles.
Walt says that the NSS, “despite the nods to greater balance in our foreign policy and the need to restore fiscal solvency, the report continues to reflect the ‘pay any price and bear any burden’ mind-set that is characteristic of American liberal internationalism.”
Interestingly, he notes that “Meanwhile, ‘adversarial states’ (i.e., those who don’t follow our rules) will face 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.’ This is no different than Bush’s belief that ‘you’re either with us, or against us,’ but it is a lot more long-winded.”
What is notable are the similarities between Bush and Obama, who despite having different temperament and backgrounds, seem to fundamentally agree on the broad strokes of US foreign policy.