Academic journal article Strategic Forum

The U.S. Role in Global Security: The Mayo Clinic, Not the Emergency Room

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

The U.S. Role in Global Security: The Mayo Clinic, Not the Emergency Room

Article excerpt


While many different proposals have been put forward outlining a post-Cold War security identity for the United States, most do not characterize an American role in terms of either excessive activism or dangerous isolationism. However, some basic concepts are fundamental to outlining a practical middle path between those two poles:

* Although many factors will influence America's decisions about when, where, why, and how to use military force, national interests should have greater significance than either altruistic motives or crusading impulses.

* Absent a threat to national interests, strategic policy will be constrained by a persistent desire among Americans to remain the premier global power while also demonstrating a growing reluctance to bear the costs of being a global gendarmerie.

* The United States must take advantage of its leadership position through various alliances, coalitions, and international organizations. The interests of allies, the roles they wish to play, and their military capabilities, as well as a mature understanding of the capabilities and roles of international organizations and other transnational forces, should be important considerations in the formulation of U.S. strategy.

* There is only one hard and fast geostrategic rule that stands the test of time: political actors will almost always assume roles and responsibilities that reflect their interests and capabilities. States or international organizations which live beyond their means or act in a way that outstrips their interests cannot sustain military commitments.

* Because the United States cannot lead in every facet of global security, a new role must be fashioned. The "Mayo Clinic" role envisages America atop a hierarchy in which the members of a cooperative system assume complementary roles that match their roles to interests and capabilities. This system, representing good management principles as well as sound leadership, frees the Nation to concentrate on the more consequential military tasks of global security in which only it can lead, and yet offers unique and decisive U.S. support for the lesser tasks of regional and local security.

There is an old Taoist proverb which claims that to accomplish a series of daunting tasks, you must know who you are, what resources you have at your disposal, and the order in which you should take on the tasks. In a global security arena--that calls on the United States to deter rogue states in the Persian Gulf and East Asia, balance the growing power of China, hedge against events going sour in Russia, lead and conduct all manner of humanitarian interventions in failed or failing states, lay down a security shield over key global systems, protect the homeland against attack, and prepare for future challenges--this proverb remains sage advice.

Who You Are

America's search for a post-Cold War security identity has produced a wide-ranging and fascinating debate that often resembles swinging for a pinata. Not only is every contestant equally disadvantaged in knowing where the pinata is or what it looks like, but everyone is armed with the same stick with which to swing away. Given the wide range of "answers" provided, no one observer or school of thought can be said to have a great advantage over the others in searching for this elusive target. Thus far the contest has seen clashing civilizations, reluctant sheriffs, tempted superpowers, coming anarchies, agile strategies, benevolent hegemonies, unipolar movements, multipolar movements, pasts as prologues, America coming home, history ending, imperatives of leadership, and every variant of neo(add movement here)ism imaginable. The debate has shifted the template of political camps as they relate to foreign affairs, and, against a background of relative disinterest on the part of the body politic, provided a rich vein of ideas, plans, and visions.

Nonetheless, the practical necessities of governing narrow the choices considerably and the public policy world is left to deal with fairly pragmatic alternatives that represent a middle road somewhere between the poles of isolationism and excessive activism. …

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