“We are, what I would call, very non-linear thinkers,” said U.S. Navy Captain Wayne Porter about the white paper he co-authored with U.S. Marine Colonel Mark Mykelby, “A National Security Narrative
,” launched by Woodrow Wilson Center President Jane Harman at the Center in April. “We’re almost incapable of restricting ourselves to defense and security in isolation from a much larger perspective,” he told Dialogue TV
“I think maybe that’s why Admiral Mullen has kept me around – I can offer a perspective that maybe he wouldn’t get from conventional strategists or from conventional planners,” said Porter, who served three out of four tours with the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a special assistant for strategy.
Dialogue host John Milewski sat down with Captain Porter and Robert Litwak, director of International Security Studies and vice president for programs at the Wilson Center, for a discussion about the white paper – published under the pseudonym “Mr. Y” (echoing George Kennan’s seminal “X” article) – and its contention that the United States should move away from an outmoded Cold War-era model of containment, deterrence, and control towards a “strategy of sustainability.”
The narrative has been well received, Porter said: “I think there is an appreciation that it’s a very complex strategic environment that we live in now and that maybe we need to re-look at all of the tools that we could use as a nation to pursue our enduring national interest.”
Inflection Points in History
“The timing of such conversations is cyclical,” said Litwak. “The original ‘X’ article emerged from the end of the Second World War and the advent of the Soviet threat, which required a new conception of international relations that Kennan articulated, as well as the National Security Act of 1947 to line up the U.S. government with this new environment.”
There have also been periods of concern about American decline. “I think what one sees in the current era are both of those trends coming together,” Litwak said:
The system is changing – it’s a debatable proposition that the United States is in decline – but we see in the international system rising powers, notably China, as well as transnational trends that are beyond the sovereign control of any single state, which have called into question the nature of the international system…as well as a sense that…there’s something qualitatively different about this recession than the typical economic, cyclical recession and that has to do with the domestic sources of American strength.These conditions, as well as the source of argument – coming from the military – combined to give particular resonance to the piece, Litwak said.
The Information/Globalization Age
“I think the thing that has changed materially to us is that the information age has brought about an awareness that our environment is completely interconnected,” Porter said. “There’s a complexity to this that can’t be analyzed linearly, that has to have new tools applied.”
“I’d honestly characterize it as significant as the Enlightenment in the 1600s,” he said.
“Certainly we’ve thought in silos and debates have been too often compartmentalized,” Litwak said. “One of the strengths of this piece is that it is truly synthetic – working across the continuum of instruments of power – and talks in a really powerful way about how hard power…has its place, but that the non-military dimensions of American power have been neglected.”
But, Porter said, it’s important to focus on being proactive, rather than reactive:
The thing that bothered us most about the strategies that we see every day in our jobs on our side of the river and across the river is that they are almost universally based on anticipating and countering known risk and threat, and our sense is that we have entered an age in which we need to overcome that sense of fear and seize the opportunity to shape the environment of the future as opposed to simply being resilient to it.As Litwak points out, Secretaries Gates (now former) and Clinton – in the form of the Quadrennial Defense Review, Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and numerous speaking engagements – have both called for closer integration between State and Defense, more resources for non-military levers of power, and more holistic concepts of security. But unfortunately the greater integration called for in these documents remains unrealized.
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