The US National Security Strategy

July 1, 2010 — Dr. Peter Feaver and Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld joined us for a discussion on the recently released Obama National Security Strategy. Dr. Feaver served as Special Advisor for Strategic Planning and Institutional Reform on the National Security Council Staff under the Bush Administration from 2005-2007. Dr. Kleinfeld is a co-founder of the Truman National Security Project and currently serves as its CEO and President.

Dr. Kleinfeld began by describing how the Obama 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) was put together. She contextualized the process in terms of the Obama Administration’s considerations on the ground, such as the wars we are fighting and the global economic crisis. She then highlighted the goals and priorities of the Obama 2010 NSS, consistent with the Administration’s goals at large. Specifically, she identified rebuilding the economy, concentrating on Al Qaeda, strengthening alliances, reinforcing American values, and forwarding the triad of democracy, development, and human rights.

Dr. Feaver extended the discussion to an overarching comparison between the Obama 2010 NSS and the Bush 2006 NSS. He first shed light on how national security strategies are actually constructed, explaining the differences between bottom-up and top-down approaches. Juxtaposed with the strategies of his two predecessors, the Obama 2010 Strategy is more top-down than the Clinton 1994 Strategy, and more bottom-up than the Bush 2006 NSS. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, at times amounting to a tradeoff between reflecting the President’s voice in a tightly bound uniform text or embodying a less uniform, but wider range of voices and issues from experts representing various parts of the Administration.

The President also takes into consideration the multiple audiences to a Strategy, including the country’s allies and enemies, the domestic and international public, and the very government officials charged with carrying out the goals of the Administration. Since it is a public document, any NSS must be careful not to falsely assign importance to issues of little significance to the Administration, while still protecting against excessive revelation.

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].


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