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New Strategy Touts Soft Power


The Obama administration has finally released its long awaited national security strategy. The 52-page document correctly identifies economic power as the foundation of U.S. national power and calls for a greater focus on economic growth, reducing deficits and rebalancing the instruments of statecraft away from the current over-reliance on the military.

The new strategy advocates coalition building and acting in concert with and through international organizations such as the U.N. and NATO. It also puts heavy emphasis on the instruments of “soft power,” diplomacy, global partnerships and economic development.

“When we overuse our military might, or fail to invest in or deploy complementary tools, or act without partners, then our military is overstretched, Americans bear a greater burden, and our leadership around the world is too narrowly identified with military force,” it says.

“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone – -indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power,” Obama writes in the introduction. “Our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home,” He calls for greater investment in education, scientific research and green industries.

It identifies the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the single greatest security challenge, “particularly the danger posed by the pursuit of nuclear weapons by violent extremists and their proliferation to additional states.” The U.S. is leading the global effort to secure loose nukes and is pursuing “new strategies” to protect against biological weapons.

While ensuring the viability of the nuclear deterrent, the administration is also working to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it calls the “foundation of nonproliferation.” The strategy says Iran and North Korea will be held accountable for violations of their international obligations to disarm.

The strategy also identifies attacks on computer networks in cyberspace as one of the most serious national security challenges. “Our digital infrastructure, therefore, is a strategic national asset, and protecting it—while safeguarding privacy and civil liberties—is a national security priority.” It calls for more spending on people and technology to increase the resilience of critical government and industry networks.

The strategy identifies Afghanistan and Pakistan as the frontlines of the global fight against terrorism, “where we are applying relentless pressure on al-Qa’ida, breaking the Taliban’s momentum, and strengthening the security and capacity of our partners.” It also calls for attacking terrorist sanctuaries in Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

It also calls for boosting economic development and diplomatic “expeditionary capacity” and updating national security institutions for the 21st century.

The strategy, in a return to classic Clausewitzian terms, calls for the use of soft power before the military is called in:

“While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction. When force is necessary, we will continue to do so in a way that reflects our values and strengthens our legitimacy, and we will seek broad international support, working with such institutions as NATO and the U.N. Security Council.

The United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests, yet we will also seek to adhere to standards that govern the use of force. Doing so strengthens those who act in line with international standards, while isolating and weakening those who do not. We will also outline a clear mandate and specific objectives and thoroughly consider the consequences —intended and unintended—of our actions. And the United States will take care when sending the men and women of our Armed Forces into harm’s way to ensure they have the leadership, training, and equipment they require to accomplish their mission.”

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