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13/06/2010 | National strength for security

Editorial

U.S. President Barack Obama has long emphasized the necessity of getting his country's house in order if it is to play the global role that it sees as appropriate. That focus explains his seeming preoccupation with domestic issues. In his mind, domestic reform is the crucial stepping stone to a credible and sustainable foreign policy. That logic animates the National Security Strategy (NSS) that Mr. Obama unveiled May 27.

 

While demonstrating more continuity with previous strategies than his supporters would like — or his detractors will credit — the new NSS is remarkable for its emphasis on domestic policy in the creation of viable strategy.

By law, every U.S. administration is required to articulate a National Security Strategy. Not surprisingly, the last two such documents, released in 2002 and 2006, put the fight against terrorism at the core: The 2006 edition began with the declaration that "America is at war." Instead, Mr. Obama's analysis concludes that the fight against radical extremism is "only one element of our strategic environment."

Realism dominates the new strategy; this document deals with the world "as it is" and not as Washington may wish it to be. It acknowledges that the extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the "devastating economic crisis" have limited U.S. capabilities. In his introduction to the strategy, Mr. Obama explained that "The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone." The inability to understand the limits of U.S. power — a subtle dig at his predecessor's strategy — only weakens the nation: "Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power."

This focus on national strength explains the document's emphasis on building a strong economy. That effort rests on several pillars: better education, a stronger, more efficient health care system, reducing the national debt, a clean energy industry and more scientific research.

Recognizing the United States' limits and the complexity of the 21st-century global order, the NSS puts engagement high on its list of priorities. While many in the U.S. still believe that it is the "indispensable nation" — even if they do not use that phrase — they also acknowledge the need to strengthen international norms and institutions, while reaching out to emerging powers such as China, India, and Brazil.

The NSS notes the shift from the Group of Seven to the G20 as the key instrument of international economic decision making amid this diffusion of power. Allies play a key role in helping the U.S. shoulder the burdens of international leadership, but it is clear from the NSS that old privileges may be shrinking. Washington is looking for partners prepared to share responsibilities, no matter who they may be.

Differences from previous strategies are clear. The continuities are also plain. Every U.S. president would insist on maintaining "the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades." And while the Obama NSS makes no mention of the strategy of "preemption," which came to characterize the Bush administration, it also notes that "the United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally," while also seeking "to adhere to standards that govern the use of force."

Like the Bush administration, the new strategy identifies the threat from weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, as "the gravest danger to the American people and global security." In application, however, the new administration breaks with its predecessor by emphasizing the twin pillars of disarmament and counterproliferation.

In keeping with its broader conception of national strength — which, in truth, previous national security strategies also embraced — the Obama strategy identifies a wider range of threats than in the past. The war on terrorism is replaced by a war against al-Qaida and its affiliated groups, a more focused target. In practice, though, this more "discriminating" approach has angered many as civilians are killed by drone strikes against leading figures of these terrorist organizations.

The document also lists natural disasters, climate change, dependence on foreign energy, cyber-attacks and pandemic diseases as threats to the U.S. homeland. Highlighted for the first time is the growing number of domestic militant groups and the danger they pose.

The new NSS strategy recognizes that today's world is much changed from that faced by previous administrations. Power has taken new forms and is found in new places — as have new threats. The NSS acknowledges the limits of U.S. power. It seeks to identify new dangers before they materialize and to stop them.

This document explains in detail to America's partners the thinking of this administration, how it will react to new challenges and what it expects from them. Japan would do well to articulate a national security strategy of its own. The exercise would serve the government, the nation and its partners well.

Japan Times (Japón)

 


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