Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The NSS: A pretty good assessment of today‘s global operating environment

I was dismissive of the White House’s new National Security Strategy document, saying that these documents are always churned out and seem to have no effect, and really are more list of aspirations than blueprints of an implementable strategy. My smart CNAS colleague Abe Denmark responded that I was reading it the wrong way. I ...

whitehouse.gov
whitehouse.gov

I was dismissive of the White House’s new National Security Strategy document, saying that these documents are always churned out and seem to have no effect, and really are more list of aspirations than blueprints of an implementable strategy. My smart CNAS colleague Abe Denmark responded that I was reading it the wrong way. I think he may be right.

By Abraham Denmark
Best Defense intelligence directorate

[You] are perhaps expecting too much from a National Security Strategy. This is not an ends, ways and means strategy — it’s a high-level statement that describes the government’s view of the international security environment and identifies U.S. interests, priorities, and objectives.

Part of this is because the government does not have absolute control over how it spends its money. It cannot give priorities lined up with initiatives lined up with budgets, because the legislative branch has a say. The White House can only describe our operating environment and how it plans on securing U.S. national security within that context.

I would argue that it actually does this quite well. It recognizes (much more than previous NSS’s I’m aware of) that we face significant fiscal and economic constraints, and that this will limit our ability to do all things we would like. Identifying our economic challenges IS an important recognition of our limitations…

It also recognizes that the security challenges we will face (proliferation, terrorism, failing and failed states, economic security, food security, climate change, contested global commons, medical security) will require more than a unilateral military response, but will necessarily involve alliances, coalitions, partnerships, and a whole-of-government approach. Identifying these challenges is not a “bold claim,” it’s a fact.

Indeed, I would argue that this is the first 21st century NSS. It recognizes the complexities we face, that the old ways of doing business are unsuitable, and that U.S. military power alone is insufficient to sustain our national security.

This is a good foundational strategy document.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1