National security v2.0

Posted: Mar 20, 2006 12:05 AM

Three weeks ago, I wrote about George W. Bush's September 2002 National Security Strategy and examined how it has stood up over time. Last week, the White House released an updated version of the National Security Strategy -- almost twice as long, and with much more specific material on many issues.

Those who are looking for a confession of error or a change of course will be disappointed. The March 2006 National Security Strategy -- call it NSS 2.0 -- reiterates much of the earlier document. NSS 2.0 repeats the doctrine of pre-emption: The United States "will, if necessary, act pre-emptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense."

But NSS 1.0 also called for working with other countries and international institutions when possible, and NSS 2.0 provides much more detail on how this has been done -- the May 2003 Proliferations Security Initiative, supported by more than 70 nations; the AIDS initiative in Africa; the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate with Australia, China, Japan and South Korea. Note that here the administration is not limiting itself to working through pre-existing multinational organizations, where action may be blocked by others and whose bureaucracies are often hostile to the United States. Instead, it has been building coalitions of the willing to address particular problems.

Even more than NSS 1.0, NSS 2.0 emphasizes the importance of democracy. "The advance of freedom and human dignity through democracy is the long-term solution to the transnational terrorism of today." It notes carefully that democracy means more than just elections, and that elections do not always turn out as we like. It accepts the victory of Hamas as legitimate, but adds that it also has consequences: So long as Hamas sponsors terrorism and rejects Israel's right to exit, the United States will not pressure Israel to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," reads NSS 2.0. Seemingly caught in mid-stride, the document cites the negotiations of the European Union three and Russia with Iran and states, "This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided." Military confrontation? You might infer that from other sections of the document. But the emphasis in this part is on the undemocratic character of the mullahs' regime. "Our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing."

Reaching out to the people of Iran. This is the policy Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been talking about and, it seems, implementing -- at long last. For too long this administration has seemed to regard its message as self-evidently appealing and easily accessible. NSS 2.0 takes a more realistic view. It blames Islamist terrorism on, among other things, "subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation. Terrorists recruit more effectively from populations whose information about the world is contaminated by falsehoods and corrupted by conspiracy theories."

But people won't get accurate information if we don't supply it. To do that, NSS 2.0 calls for "transformational diplomacy," including "actively engaging foreign audiences" and "enlisting the support of the private sector." We did this successfully in the Cold War, but have not done such a good job lately. It looks like the administration is aiming to do better.

Foreign policies do not always turn out as expected. There is less emphasis in NSS 2.0 on Latin America and Europe, and more on East Asia and South Asia, where U.S. policy has made advances unseen in 2002. NSS 2.0 is downright downbeat on Russia. "Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," it reads. "Strengthening our relationship will depend on the policies, foreign and domestic, that Russia adopts."

The gauntlet is also laid down to China. "As China becomes a global player, it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfills its obligations and works with the United States and others to advance the international system that has enabled its success."

Sept. 11 prompted George W. Bush to make "the most fundamental reassessment of American grand strategy in over half a century," historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote of NSS 1.0. Bush put his own particular stamp on that policy -- the relentless insistence that promoting democracy is our prime goal. NSS 2.0 provides some course corrections, but retains the same overall outlook and emphasizes democracy promotion even more strongly. However beleaguered he may be in current polls, Bush has produced a foreign policy framework that promises to be enduring.