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date: 27 January 2022

Foreword: U.S. National Security for the Twenty-First Century

Foreword: U.S. National Security for the Twenty-First Century

General James L. Jones

The United States’ national security used to be defined by the long twilight struggle against communism and the Soviet military threat. Security was expressed in the calculus of comparative troop strength, weapons count, and nuclear throw-weight. National security today is a far deeper and broader concept than it was during the last half of the twentieth century. Our chief challenge no longer emanates from a competing military power or discredited communist ideology. Instead, it is how America can cope with a series of threats that are exponentially more diverse and complex than those in the bipolar world we left behind when the Cold War ended. The challenge facing the United States today is whether our economy can continue to generate the prosperity that is needed to provide for our security and that of our friends and allies; whether we can maintain our global leadership in a dangerous world that still needs us and wants us to lead; and whether we can seize the pivotal opportunity of our age to drive human progress and forge a more peaceful world order—the true cornerstones of America’s security.

At the same time, the U.S. national security establishment must find ways to deal with specific threats to those goals. These include weakening and failing states all around the world triggering a proliferation of political and economic refugees that negatively impact the wellbeing and security of our partners and allies; metastasizing terrorist and criminal enterprises combined with widening access to massively destructive weapons; the ongoing battle for hearts and minds between the forces of modernity and the retrograde agents of intolerance; and a spectrum of world-altering natural resource threats touching upon access not only to strategic minerals and energy but even to food and clean water.

These threats are synergistic and extreme and go beyond the challenges that can be posed by a near-peer state competitor, the familiar Cold War conventional, symmetric threat posed by a single entity on the other side of a well-defined border. The realities of the twenty-first-century international system demand a far deeper conception of national and international security. We face nimble adversaries and all of us will have to confront fast-moving crises—from conflict and terrorism to new diseases and environmental disasters. Meeting, mitigating, and defeating these challenges requires a new (p. xxiv) and expanded understanding of national security that moves beyond the traditional military and diplomatic challenges to encompass components relating to proliferation, climate and energy, economic security, cyber security, the illegal trafficking of humans, narcoterrorism, the role and influence of nonstate actors, and maintaining the sinews that facilitate global economic integration. The asymmetric and unpredictable nature of the present-day world requires a national security mindset that is less reliant on reaction and far more focused on anticipation and prevention; one that centers on disarming the root causes and major multipliers of conflict and instability; and one that, in the long run, is much less expensive than what we practice today.

Global stability is no longer defined solely by the ability of nations to deploy and defeat, but rather by our capacity to engage and endow—to meet human needs, sustain economic growth, and turn promise and opportunity into jobs and a higher quality of life.

Isolation is not an option for a superpower. The United States must learn to function in a multipolar environment and in one where it cannot wall itself away from the world. Borders are not meaningless, but they are certainly not as important as they used to be in terms of confronting and containing the threats that face us. America must remain forwardly engaged and active in world affairs and must do so using not only the military and diplomatic instruments of statecraft but a wider range of tools and options. No nation, no matter how powerful, can tackle these challenges alone.

A new and different national security environment requires a new framework for conceptualizing the challenges and how the U.S. government needs to respond. The institutions and approaches that we forged together through the twentieth century are still adjusting to meet the realities of the twenty-first century. I offer the following four principles as guidelines for further transformation.

First, the battle plan must recognize that stability in the twenty-first century is a complex ecosystem—an integrated symphony of security, development, and good governance, rooted in the rule of law. Any one element of the triad absent the others is unsustainable. That means our foreign engagement and assistance programs must be synthesized to cultivate these three coefficients in concert. Within the U.S. national security establishment, it is time for partnership and symphony to replace parochial stovepipes and knee-jerk reactions that too often characterize our current approach.

Second, U.S. national security strategy must recognize that food, energy, and water insecurity pose threats to stability. Lack of access to these resources, whether from mismanagement or inequitable distribution, is a major driver of poverty, conflict, and extremism. Our diplomacy, policies, practices, and innovations must promote wise stewardship of the natural systems—including a hospitable climate—required to sustain human well-being and so diminish the drivers of conflict and instability that threaten our security and those of our allies and economic partners.

Third, this new approach to national security must engage the whole of the U.S. interagency, the whole of society—meaning government, nongovernmental organizations, and private enterprise—and the whole of our alliances, particularly NATO, to deliver (p. xxv) security, development, and governance support and assistance that improves lives, expands investment, and promotes self-sufficiency.

Finally, it must integrate the public and private sectors. No amount of foreign assistance can substitute for the transformational power of economic growth and entrepreneurship, which is fueled by private-sector investment. Our foreign assistance strategy and programs must place greater emphasis on catalyzing and supporting economic growth and opportunity. Development and foreign direct investment do and must complement one another. Greater security and development will mean stronger markets. And stronger markets will bring greater stability. In this new era of human development, entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators are as fundamental to geopolitical stability as politicians, generals, and diplomats; and trade and investment agreements are as instrumental to world order as defense pacts.

We have to transform U.S. global engagement—get it in step with the evolving nature of security. Yes, our armed forces will remain a central pillar of our national security portfolio, but they must be part of a more sophisticated tool kit.

A new framework, in turn, requires an updated national security apparatus. Forty years ago, national security was really the province of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, who, along with the National Security Advisor, dominated the National Security Council process. Everybody else was essentially a spectator. In contrast, the National Security Council of the twenty-first century needs to be a much broader organization that brings in everyone who has responsibility for national security under this expanded definition. A growing number of agencies are coming to play more important roles in the national security enterprise.

Finally, since this is a handbook dealing not only with national security challenges but also with how the national security process is and ought to be organized, let me speak to the question of structure.

Every president gets a National Security Council and process that he or she wants. Priorities may differ from chief executive to chief executive. Every president will have his or her own style. In the case of President Barack Obama, we had a national leader who thrived on dialogue and wanted to hear opposing views, debate, and discussion around him—and so his national security system reflected this preference.

No matter who the president is, however, the National Security Council, as the central coordinating organ of the U.S. national security process, must be able to react to numerous things simultaneously on a daily basis, and it must also be able to think out into the future at least six months to a year ahead of time, if not more, to be able to anticipate and see the waves that are coming our way.

This process has to be agile; it has to be fairly quick, because the volume of work that comes in has a certain pace to each day. But part of the challenge is to make sure that the system and those working within it line up the strategic issues in order of priority importance. Not every issue can go directly to the president for a decision.

Where the National Security Council is at its best is when we have multiple claimants on issues, and so it provides the forum whereby a full airing of the major topics of our day can be done in an organized way and at the appropriate level. In my experience, (p. xxvi) sometimes a working group can solve the problem, and you can get consensus, but sometimes an issue has to go up to the Deputies Committee, which can focus on it at a higher level and make sure that all claimants are represented. Sometimes you have to go to the level of the Principals, and sometimes the president will have to come in and personally chair an entire National Security Council to arrive at the decision that he wishes to make.

The United States must manage coordination across an increasing number of agencies. The National Security Council must therefore function as a strategic integrator by doing several things. One, by ensuring that dissenting views are heard and considered throughout the policymaking process; and two, by monitoring policy implementation to ensure that agencies are coordinating effectively in the field, and that the president’s priorities are being carried out in practice.

But the U.S. system cannot become ossified, and past practices may not always be optimal in the future. There is no fixed model that can capture the world in all of its complexity. What is right today may change four or eight years later. So the U.S. national security system must adapt to evolving challenges. There are traditional priorities that we will continue to address. But we must also update our outlook and sometimes our organization to keep pace with the changing world.

Getting national security right is critical, because, for the foreseeable future, American leadership will be critical for the cause of global security, development, and stability.