National Strategy, Collective Security, and the Global Common

By Hart, Gary W. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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National Strategy, Collective Security, and the Global Common

Hart, Gary W., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The answer we give to three questions will largely determine whether the United States will flourish or decline in the 21st century. First, will we anticipate events or merely react to them? Second, will we form new alliances to address new realities? Third, how rapidly will we adapt to transformational change? These questions share an assumption: the world is changing and it is changing fast. Our national predisposition, however, has been to rely on traditional institutions and policies and to use them to address unfolding history on our own timetable.

We are also inclined to employ a simple, all-encompassing, central organizing principle as a substitute for a national strategy. During the second half of the twentieth century that principle was "containment of communism." After 9/11 it became "war on terrorism." Unfortunately, the period in between, the largely peaceful and prosperous 1990s, was not used to develop a comprehensive strategic approach to an almost totally different new century that was emerging.

One lone effort represents the exception. In January 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century produced a road map for national security for the first quarter of this century. It was almost totally ignored and, one decade later, of its fifty specific recommendations only one--the creation of a Department of Homeland Security--has been adopted.

There are reasons for our lassitude, our false sense of security, and our reliance on reaction. Between 1812 and 2001 our continental home was not attacked. And because we are a large island nation, we have felt ourselves to be invulnerable. Our economic expansion between the end of World War II and the first oil embargo of 1974 created a very large, productive, and secure middle class. We have possessed economic and military superiority for more than half of a century.

For most of our history, strategic thinking and planning, especially on the grand scale, has been an enterprise confined largely to the academy. Instead, our policymakers would deal with events as they arose. Further, as a dominant power in the nation-state era, we could always try to rely on protectionism and tightened borders to keep the turbulent world at bay. No longer. Isolation and a policy of reaction are impossible in the 21st century.


Multiple revolutions will continue to remake the world for decades to come. Globalization--the internationalization of finance, commerce, and markets--is making national boundaries economically redundant. Notice the mounting, unresolved struggles within the Eurozone. Further, information has replaced manufacturing as the economic base of our nation, and it is furiously integrating global networks. Together, globalization and information are eroding the sovereignty of nation-states. And this erosion has contributed to the transformation of war, and the changing nature of conflict.

As the Arab Spring has demonstrated, the state no longer possesses the ability to control the free flow of information. Also the nation-state no longer possesses the monopoly on violence that was the principal product of the Westphalian settlement in the mid-17th century. On September 11, 2001, the most powerful nation on earth could not guarantee the protection of its citizens. A world accustomed to a two dimensional chess board suddenly found that a third dimension had crystalized. Our nation had organized its international relations on the plane of the nation-state. In a heart-beat we are now forced to recognize the new dimension represented by the stateless nation.

In large part because of these multiple political, economic, and social revolutions, a host of new realities characterize the 21st century. These include: failed and failing states; mass south-north migrations; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the rise of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism; the emergence of tribes, clans, and gangs as alternatives to the nation-state; the threat of pandemics; energy interdependence; climate change; and many other new phenomena.

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National Strategy, Collective Security, and the Global Common


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