U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY: Framing an Authentic Preemptive Strategy in the 21st Century

By Schmidt, Todd | Military Review, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview
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U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY: Framing an Authentic Preemptive Strategy in the 21st Century

Schmidt, Todd, Military Review

AS THE UNITED STATES considers, adopts, and implements preemptive national security policy for the 21st century, it is important to ensure that we maintain a broad policy that not only keeps America secure, but also demonstrates a realistic and moral approach to solving national security challenges-challenges that can no longer be answered by the cold war policies and paradigms of containment, détente, and peaceful coexistence. A genuinely preemptive strategy shouldn't just "defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants"; it should attack the causes and conditions that give rise to terrorists and tyrants. Our "gravest dangers to freedom" do not come from "the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology"; they come from the crossroads of ignorance and poverty.1

National security policy in the latter half of the 20th century changed dramatically. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it moved from addressing a bipolar, international power struggle between NATO-allied countries led by the United States and Warsaw Pact countries led by the former Soviet Union, to assuming U.S. hegemony. Geopolitical fault lines that had defined international politics seemed to melt away.2 The first Gulf War set the precedent for a benevolent superpower leading an international coalition against tyranny. With Operation Iraqi Freedom, however, that paradigm was soon replaced by the precedent of a unilateral superpower leading a "coalition of the willing." Many historians now believe that the bipolar, international security framework of the cold war provided a more stable, secure, and predictable strategic framework. But living in the past is not an option.

Interestingly, some students of international relations see a new paradigm forming in the 21 st century that bears some resemblance to the cold war. For example, former Iranian President (1997-2005) Mohammad Khatami postulates that the world order is morphing, once again, into a bipolar struggle. In this instance, the struggle will entail a global conflict between NATO-allied countries led by the United States and Islamic-based, theocratic states.3 Similar hypotheses in elite foreign relations circles suggest that the new security paradigm will probably pit the haves against the have-nots, or, as Samuel Huntington has posited, civilization against civilization. Either way, the great clash will not be between states.4 Even our own president, George W. Bush, seems to refer to the U.S. "War on Terror" as being a "war of ideas," not a contest between states.

If the world order has indeed changed in any of these ways, the implications for how the United States formulates its forward-looking national security policy will be profound. Containment, détente, and peaceful coexistence will not work. To ensure its long-term national security, America will have to remain decisively engaged, with the full understanding that in a global economy its security and prosperity are both directly and indirectly linked to the most remote regions of the world. A national security policy best disposed to meet this challenge must be considered in the guise of "enlightened self-interest" and human security; in effect, we must broaden our past definition of national security to meet the challenges and threats that lie ahead.

I am proposing here that we build the future framework of U.S. national security policy around a new paradigm: "human security." First, however, we must understand where the term "human security" comes from. Some would argue that justification for a policy based on human security is a priori rational. Through our study of history and our most recent national experiences, we see that the concept can also be proven a posteriori.


Following the fall of the Wall, a community of political scientists, academics, and leaders of international governmental organizations and nongovernmental/humanitarian assistance organizations began to talk about changing the way "we" think about national security.

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U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY: Framing an Authentic Preemptive Strategy in the 21st Century


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