- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Here my CNAS colleague Kristin Lord, who knows more about public diplomacy than I ever will, points out something that hasn’t been noticed about the Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy document.
By Kristin Lord
Best Defense bureau chief, public diplomacy operations
The Obama Administration wants you to help implement its new National Security Strategy.
That is a little-noted but forceful undercurrent of the new strategy, which calls for the United States to “take advantage of the unparalleled connections that America’s Government, private sector and citizens have around the globe.” These connections, the document observes, will not only help America to address specific challenges such as cyber security and pandemic disease, they are a powerful and “cost-effective way of projecting a positive vision of American leadership.” “Time and again,” the national security strategy observes, “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.” Indeed, the National Security Strategy calls explicitly for engagement with the private sector and civil society no fewer than 27 separate times and devotes five complete paragraphs to the topic.
This emphasis is not only unprecedented in the short history of national security strategies, it is surely correct. The number of ways America engages the world every day dwarfs the contacts of our government or military — and, with all deference to our armed forces and civil servants around the world — that is a good thing. Engaging broad networks of private and non-profit organizations to help build stronger ties between America and the world is therefore a smart way to have wide influence. Moreover, these organizations are typically apolitical and have their own credible and appealing ties to foreign populations. It is easy for scientists to find common ground with other scientists, journalists to find shared interests with other journalists, and mayors to identify with other mayors who — regardless of what language they speak — all need to get the garbage picked up. Moreover, it is baldly impossible to address effectively issues like cyber security or transforming the energy economy or stopping the spread of biological weapons without the active collaboration of the private sector. The Obama administration, in short, has it right.
But here’s the rub. I’m not at all convinced that the administration — or many others for that matter — really know how to best engage vast numbers of private and non-profit actors to accomplish what are extremely complex tasks with enormous implications for national security. For all the talk of mobilizing the private sector, I wonder how many people in our government truly understand what the private sector actors have to offer and how to incentivize them to cooperate with both the government and, often, their own competitors. Based on countless conversations with private sector representatives, I wonder how often government officials have the knowledge or bandwidth they need to truly take advantage of the valuable information or assistance they get from corporations when it is offered.
Thus, if the administration wants to develop a true strategy to implement its ambitious national security agenda, it must first figure out how — in practical terms — to mobilize private companies, universities, nonprofit organizations, professional societies, philanthropic organizations, medical institutions, and individuals in pursuit of the national interest. And if America wants a government that works, it should be ready to answer that call.
The PRISM through which the WH views privacy; An award for Mabus; An “out member” gets a second star; Five vet charities termed “the worst”; Sonenshine on public diplomacy; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |