President Obama’s National Security Strategy
(NSS), released last week
, reinforces a commitment to the whole of government approach to defense, and highlights the diffuse challenges facing the United States, including international terrorism, globalization, and economic upheaval.
Following the lead of the Quadrennial Defense Review
released earlier this year, the NSS for the first time since the Clinton years
prominently features non-traditional security concerns such as climate change, population growth, food security, and resource management
Climate change and pandemic disease threaten the security of regions and the health and safety of the American people. Failing states breed conflict and endanger regional and global security… The convergence of wealth and living standards among developed and emerging economies holds out the promise of more balanced global growth, but dramatic inequality persists within and among nations. Profound cultural and demographic tensions, rising demand for resources, and rapid urbanization could reshape single countries and entire regions.By acknowledging the myriad causes of instability along with more “hard” security issues such as insurgency and nuclear weapons, Obama’s national security strategy takes into account the “soft” problems facing critical yet troubled states – such as Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Somalia – which include demographic imbalances, food insecurity, and environmental degradation.
Not surprisingly, Afghanistan in particular is highlighted as an area where soft power could strengthen American security interests. According to the strategy, agricultural development and a commitment to women’s rights “can make an immediate and enduring impact in the lives of the Afghan people” and will help lead to a “strong, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan.”
The unique demographic landscape of the Middle East, which outside of Africa has the fastest growing populations in the world, is also given intentional consideration. “We have a strategic interest in ensuring that the social and economic needs and political rights of people in this region, who represent one of the world’s youngest populations, are met,” the strategy states.
Some critics of that strategy warn that the term “national security” may grow to encompass so much it becomes meaningless. But others argue the administration’s thinking is simply a more nuanced approach that acknowledges the complexity of today’s security challenges.
In a speech on the strategy, Secretary of State Clinton said that one of the administration’s goals was “to begin to make the case that defense, diplomacy, and development were not separate entities either in substance or process, but that indeed they had to be viewed as part of an integrated whole and that the whole of government then had to be enlisted in their pursuit.”
Compare this approach to President Bush’s 2006 National Security Strategy, which began with the simple statement, “America is at war” and focused very directly on terrorism, democracy building, and unilateralism.
Other comparisons are also instructive. The Bush NSS mentions “food” only once (in connection with the administration’s “Initiative to End Hunger in Africa”) and does not mention population, demography, agriculture, or climate change at all. In contrast, the 2010 NSS mentions food nine times, population and demography eight times, agriculture three times, and climate change 23 times – even more than “intelligence,” which is mentioned only 18 times.
For demographers, development specialists, and environmental conflict specialists, the inclusion of “new security” challenges in the National Security Strategy, which had been largely ignored during the Bush era, is a boon – an encouraging sign that soft power may return to prominence in American foreign policy.
The forthcoming first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review by the State Department will help flesh out the strategic framework laid out by the NSS. It is expected to provide more concrete policy for integrating defense, diplomacy, and development. Current on-the-ground examples like USDA embedding in Afghanistan, stepped-up development aid to Pakistan, and the roll-out of the administration’s food security initiative, “Feed the Future,” are encouraging signs that the NSS may already be more than just rhetoric.
Update: The Bush 91′ and 92’ NSS also included environmental considerations, in part due to the influence of then Director of Central Intelligence, Robert Gates.
Sources: Center for Global Development, CNAS, Los Angeles Times, State Department, USAID, White House, World Politics Review.
Photo Credit: “Human, Food, and Demographic Security” collage by Schuyler Null from “Children stop tending to the crop to watch the patrol” courtesy of flickr user isafmedia, “Combing Wheat” courtesy of flickr user AfghanistanMatters, and “Old Town Sanaa – Yemen 49” courtesy of flickr user Richard Messenger.