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SEEKING A NATIONAL STRATEGY:
A CONCERT FOR PRESERVING SECURITY
AND PROMOTING FREEDOM
The Phase II Report on a
The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century
April 15, 2000
U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century
Thinking about Strategy
This Commission's Phase 1 report
e must disenthrall ourselves," said
Abraham Lincoln, at a time of much greater peril to the Republic than we face today. As the times are new, said Lincoln, “so we must think anew.” At the dawn of this new century, the nation faces a similar necessity. No concern of American society is more in need of creative thinking than the future security of this country, but in no domain is such thinking more resistant to change. The very term “security” suggests caution and guardedness, not innovation. We know that major countries rarely engage in serious rethinking and reform absent a major defeat, but this is a path the United States cannot take. Americans are less secure than they believe themselves to be. The time for reexamination is now, before the American people find themselves shocked by events they never anticipated.
ahead: a tide of economic, technological, and intellectual forces that is integrating a global community, amid powerful forces of social and political fragmentation.4 While no one knows what the mix of these trends will produce, the new world coming will be dramatically different in significant respects. Governments are under pressure from below, by forces of ethnic separatism and violence, and from above, by economic, technological, and cultural forces
any government's full control. We are witnessing a transformation of human society on the magnitude of that between the agricultural and industrial epochs—and in a far more compressed period of time.
Such circumstances put a special premium on strategic wisdom, particularly for a country of the size and character of the United States. In this Commission's view, the essence of American strategy must compose a
During the last half century, the national security strategy of the United States was derived largely from, focused on, and committed to the containment of Soviet Communism. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the dramatic transformation of world politics resulting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union two years later, our leaders have been searching for a unifying theme to provide a strategic framework appropriate to current and future circumstances. That search has not been easy.
The U.S. Commission on National Security/ 21st Century has been tasked with thinking anew about America's national security for the next 25 years. In this report, we suggest the strategic precepts that should guide the formulation of U.S. strategy, and then take a fresh look at U.S. national interests and priority objectives. On that basis, we propose the framework of a new national security strategy. This report is intended to contribute to a new consensus on national security strategy to carry the United States forward into a challenging future.3
1 This Commission, established to examinc comprehensively
how this nation will ensure its security in the next 25 years, has a threefold task. Phase I, completed on September 15, 1999, described the transformations emerging over the next quarter-century in the global and domestic U.S. security environment. Phase II, concerning U.S. interests, objectives, and strategy, is contained in this document. Phase III, which will examine the structures and processes of the U.S. national security apparatus for 21st century relevancy, will
be delivered on or before February 15, 2001. 2 in the interest of brevity, this Commission has compressed con
siderable discussion and detail into this document. Further discussion of the implications of several main themes in this report will be presented in the Commission's Phase III
findings. 3 This report is built upon a consensus involving all members of
the Commission, but not every Commissioner subscribes
with equal enthusiasm to every statement contained herein. 4 See New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century
(Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, September 15, 1999).
U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century
American strength—social, military, economic, and technological_will not sustain themselves without conscious national commitment. Assuring American prosperity is particularly critical; without it, the United States will be hobbled in all its efforts to play a leading role internationally.
balance between two key aims. The first is to reap the benefits of a more integrated world in order to expand freedom, security, and
prosperity for Americans and for others. But, second, American strategy must also strive to dampen the forces of global instability so that those benefits can endure. Freedom is the quintessential American value, but without security, and the relative stability that results therefrom, it can be evanescent. American strategy should seek both security and freedom, and it must seek them increasingly in concert with others. Hence our title: A Concert for Preserving Security and Promoting Freedom.
The United States faces unprecedented opportunities as well as dangers in the new era. American strategy must rise to positive challenges as well as to negative ones. Working toward constructive relations among the major powers, preserving the dynamism of the new global economy and spreading its benefits, sharing responsibility with others in grappling with new transnational problems—this is a diplomatic agenda that tests American statesmanship and creativity. As in the late 1940s, the United States should help build a new international system in which other nations, freely pursuing their own interests, find it advantageous to do so in ways that coincide with American interests.
Strategy and policy must be grounded in the national interest. The national interest has many strands—political, economic, security, and humanitarian. National interests are nevertheless the most durable basis for assuring policy consistency. Gaining and sustaining public support for U.S. policy is best achieved, too, when American principles are coupled with clearly visible national interests. Moreover, a strategy based on national interest, properly conceived, engenders respect for the interests of others.
Since it cannot bear every burden, the United States must find new ways to join with other capable and like-minded nations. Where America would not act itself, it retains a responsibility as the leading power to help build effective systems of international collaboration. America must therefore overcome its ambivalence about international institutions and about the strength of its partners, questioning them less and encouraging them more.
The maintenance of America's strength is a long-term commitment and cannot be assured without conscious, dedicated effort. If America does not make wise investments in preserving its own strength, well within 25 years it will find its power reduced, its interests challenged even more than they are today, and its influence eroded. Many nations already seek to balance America's relative power, and the sinews of
U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century
benefits and burdens must govern. industrial, scientific-technological that underResisting the “CNN effect" may be one of lie America's political, economic, and military the most important requirements of U.S. position in the world. policymaking in the coming period.
Critical U.S. national interests include the Finally, America must never forget that continuity and security of those key internationit stands for certain principles, most al systems, energy, economic, communicaimportantly freedom under the rule of tions, transportation, and public health (includlaw, Freedom is today a powerful tide in ing food and water supplies)on which the the affairs of mankind, and, while the lives and well being of Americans have come to means chosen to serve it must be tempered depend. It is a critical national interest of the by a realistic appreciation of limits, it is not United States that no hostile power establish "realism” to ignore its power. At the same itself on U.S. borders, or in control of critical time, if America is to retain its leadership land, air, and sea lines of communication, orrole, it must live up to its principles consis- in today's new world.in control of access to tently, in its own conduct and in its rela- outer space or cyberspace. It is a critical nationtions with other nations.
al interest of the United States that no hostile hegemon arise in any of the globe's major
regions, nor a hostile global peer rival or a hosThe National Interest in a New
tile coalition comparable to a peer rival. The Century
security of allies and friends is a critical nation
al interest of the United States, as is the ability The first of these precepts is the most to avert, or check, the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction into the hands of actors hosrity strategy must find its anchor in U.S. nation
tile or potentially hostile to the United States. al interests, interests that must be both protected and advanced for the fundamental well
Significant U.S. national interests include bcing of American society. We define these
the deepening and institutionalization abroad of interests at three levels: survival interests, with
constitutional democracy under the rule of law, out which America would cease to exist as we
market-based economics, and universal recogniknow it; critical interests, which are causally
tion of basic human rights. The United States one step removed from survival interests; and
also has a significant interest in the responsible significant interests, which importantly affect expansion of an international order based on the global environment in which the United
agreed rules among major powers to manage States must act. There are, of course, other
common global problems, not least those national interests, though of lesser importance involving the physical environment. It is a sig. than those in the above three categories.
nificant national interest of the United States that
there be economic growth abroad, to raise the U.S. survival interests include America's
living standards of the poorest and to mitigate safety from direct attack, especially involving
economic and political conflict. It is a significant weapons of mass destruction, by either states or national interest of the United States that interterrorists. Of the same order of importance is national terrorism and criminality (including the preservation of America's Constitutional
illicit drug trade) be minimized, but without order and of those core strengths-educational, jeopardizing the openness of international eco