MADRID: “Time and again in our Nation’s history, Americans have risen to meet — and to shape — moments of transition. This must be one of those moments.” So begins the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, presented before Congress on May 27. As with the politics pursued in the Obama administration’s 16 months of office — dialogue, international commitment, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament — the document’s strength lies in the position that it takes. The Security Strategy is a clear departure from that of its predecessor and offers a wider conception of what national security represents for US President Barack Obama.
In the face of the major challenges of our times, Obama has taken a stand with a comprehensive doctrine. Indeed, the Security Strategy is almost a “National” Strategy. Its thinking goes beyond the dominant, unilateral paradigm of its predecessor and includes a defense of international law. This is particularly noteworthy, given that none of the great treaties to create an international criminal court and a permanent war-crimes tribunal was signed by the US during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Obama’s approach to security is broader as well, proposing the “three Ds” — defense, diplomacy and development — as indivisible parts of a whole. The military dimension of intervention abroad loses its privileged role, making way for the prevention of conflict and for peace-keeping and stabilization missions.
In the fight against terrorism, the Strategy abandons the predominantly military viewpoint underlying the war against terror, and embraces a more significant role for the intelligence services. For the first time, precise reference is made to people liable to be a threat to US security. The US is not waging a war against terrorism; it is at “war against a specific network, Al-Qaeda, and its affiliates.” In this war, information resources are particularly necessary.
In order to guarantee national security, the Strategy is categorical — without giving in to the temptation of isolationism –— in admitting the strategic value of the example and the importance of doing one’s homework first. Obama steers clear both of interventions for humanitarian purposes and of attempting to export democracy by force.
There is no better way of exporting the values of democracy than by strengthening the US internally. Thus, an economic policy that tackles America’s debt and deficit makes up the main portion of the Strategy. Backing competitive education, innovation, technology, energy, and a more efficient and accessible health-care system complements and reinforces Obama’s leadership approach of setting an example with one’s own policies. An important example is removing the US prison at Guantánamo Bay from international limbo –— one of his first initiatives as president.
This approach does not have unanimous support among international experts. The two main criticisms — lack of strategic clarity and less emphasis on the classical concepts of power — point to America’s loss of influence, power, and leadership. But these criticisms reflect an inability to contemplate the current nature of armed conflict, which no longer follows the classical logic of military victory or defeat.
The war in Afghanistan and the complex situation in Iraq have highlighted the importance of a comprehensive approach. Military action cannot be considered the only variable of success. A successful strategy should use civilian means — incidentally a model advocated by the European Union.
We are faced with forging a new long-term policy that affects both states and societies. That task requires patience and strategic perseverance. Change will not occur from one day to the next, but the results obtained in the end will be better and more enduring.
Obama maintains the idea of service to a historical mission for the US: the important job of guaranteeing global security. But, unlike his White House predecessors, Obama’s National Security Strategy recognizes the value of partnerships; attaches greater importance to the civilian dimension as opposed to the military; and stresses the value of dialogue and the need to reinforce international institutions. This is a good sign for a world with different power centers and interests, with resources and legitimacy remaining tied to the nation-state, but in which challenges (climate change, armed conflicts, pandemics, and transnational crime) are global and, therefore, require cooperation among states.
We are in a transition period: international interconnection is increasing, as the global economic crisis has shown, but the management tools and mechanisms to guarantee the smooth operation of governments are still not being shared. Obama’s new National Security Strategy shows a political willingness to back an international order able to tackle these challenges.
The road ahead is not free of difficulties, but the Strategy represents a decisive step towards solving the challenges of the 21st century and preparing us for the world of tomorrow.
Javier Solana, the European Union’s former High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and a former Secretary General of NATO, is President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. This commentary is published by Daily News Egypt in collaboration with Project Syndicate, 2010, www.project-syndicate.org