Chuck Hagel: A National Security Strategy for the 21st Century

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ASP Board Member and former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has a fantastic piece in the Post today. In it he lays the case for a new American national security paradigm, based in the realities of the 21st century rather than the habits of the 20th, and calls for a reevaluation of our mission and ambitions in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The U.S. response (to 9/11), engaging in two wars, was a 20th-century reaction to 21st-century realities… No country today has the power to impose its will and values on other nations. As the new world order takes shape, America must lead by building coalitions of common interests… Addressing (today’s) threats will require a foreign policy underpinned by engagement — in other words, active diplomacy but not appeasement. We need a clearly defined strategy that accounts for the interconnectedness and the shared interests of all nations. Every great threat to the United States…also threatens our global partners and rivals. Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only “winning” or “losing.” Iraq and Afghanistan are not America’s to win or lose.”

This strategic vision largely echoes ASP’s 2008 report, A New American Arsenal. Some excerpts that ring especially true with Hagel:

(21st century) U.S. national security policy has not kept pace with rapidly changing threats to American interests. Globalization has quickened, but the United States has not built alliances or institutions to protect and advance American security. Terrorists have expanded their reach and lethality, but the moral authority of the United States is at an all-time low. Changes in the Earth’s climate are more evident every day, but the United States has failed to act, alone or with allies, to avoid disaster…America needs a new national security vision for this new era…Only by developing real analysis and thoughtful answers can a genuine foreign policy consensus be rebuilt for a dangerous and decisive age. Only then will America again marshal all her resources—military, diplomatic, economic, and moral — to meet the challenges of a complex world.”

In his article, Hagel’s focus is on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I find his ideas most striking in the context of nontraditional, transnational security threats. Like climate change. Poverty. Economic collapse. Resource scarcity. As we have seen in the past ten years – and will see in the coming decades – the worst threats facing the United States and our greater international stability will not involve marching armies or fingers hovering over launch buttons. Rather, our enemies will be the environmental destruction wrought by human-accelerated climate change starving and displacing entire populations; intractable poverty driving the desperate and disenfranchised to armed insurgency; continued violence in countries struggling to adapt to globalized modernity and changing demography; regions brought to the brink of war over control of depleted natural resources. There will be no clear-cut aggressors to fight nor blame to lay in the conflicts of our near future. The roots and causes of conflict will be as interconnected and far-reaching as their consequences.

On this new globalized battlefield, the U.S. will have to learn that “global collaboration does not mean retreating from our standards, values or sovereignty” and that “winning” is no longer a rational foreign policy objective.