The Cable

Experts call on Obama to put forth new National Security Strategy

In the waning days of the Bush administration, a team of Washington heavyweights compiled a comprehensive analysis of America’s national-security apparatus that said the system was deeply flawed, inefficient, poorly coordinated, and rampant with waste and misallocation. That group, which was guided by several future Obama administration officials, including national security advisor James L. Jones, ...

In the waning days of the Bush administration, a team of Washington heavyweights compiled a comprehensive analysis of America’s national-security apparatus that said the system was deeply flawed, inefficient, poorly coordinated, and rampant with waste and misallocation.

That group, which was guided by several future Obama administration officials, including national security advisor James L. Jones, has sent the White House an update of its work, stating that while preliminary steps are underway, the fundamental structural problems in Washington’s administration of national security policy still remain.

"Momentum for reform is building, but it is largely rhetoric and good intentions," reads the new report by the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR), a congressionally funded group that was begun as the result of a cooperative agreement between the Defense Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"Strategic management of the national security system remains absent and is desperately needed to make it integrated, cohesive, and agile," it continues.

The "Guiding Coalition" that oversaw the PNSR report included heavyweights such as former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, former Amb. Robert Blackwill, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, retired Adm. Ed Giambastiani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, plus Washington players Brent Scowcroft, Thomas Pickering, and Joseph Nye.

James R. Locher III, the project’s executive director and a former assistant secretary of defense, led the project, which criticizes the disjointed stovepipes inside the national-security bureaucracy as leading to the prioritization of crisis management over long-term strategic planning. Turf wars lead agency priorities to outweigh national priorities. Cultural and technological differences prevent communication and information sharing.

The report cites the attacks of 9/11 and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina as examples of the failure of the national-security system. "The system will fail again, at home and abroad, if it is not changed," it reads.

One of the key recommendations put forth is that President Obama should issue a revision of the U.S. National Security Strategy to recognize the changing international landscape. The official National Security Strategy of the United States has not been updated since 2006.

Voices throughout the national-security community in Washington have been calling for such a move for some time, as a foundation on which to base all of the other structural decisions and as a baseline for settling disputes.

"The president should articulate his vision for the NSS of the United States now," wrote the Strategic Studies Institute’s Robert Dorff in an opinion article last month, "That train needs to be moving now or it will never leave the station."

"The president should seriously consider bucking the common wisdom and tackling the national security agenda head-on, even if simultaneously with his ambitious domestic agenda," said Dorff, "Absent bold and early presidential leadership, change in national security policy and strategy is unlikely, and organizational reform impossible."

Last November’s version of the PNSR report included input from now Obama officials Jones, James Steinberg, Michele Flournoy, and Dennis Blair. It declared that "the national security of the United States of America is fundamentally at risk."

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