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Pentagon Strategy Aims to Block Internal Threats to Foreign Forces

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page A02

A new national defense strategy issued by the Pentagon calls for greater U.S. military efforts to keep foreign nations from becoming havens for terrorism or being undermined internally by such additional threats as insurgency, drugs and organized crime.

While U.S. forces have long helped to bolster foreign militaries through a variety of assistance programs, the new emphasis on aiding them against internal threats marks a significant departure from the traditional focus on guarding against potential cross-border aggression.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, with Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman, speaks during a town hall meeting on defense strategy at the Pentagon. (Heesoon Yim -- AP)

At a Pentagon briefing yesterday, defense officials made it clear that the revised strategy, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved earlier this month, reflects the Bush administration's priority -- since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- on taking preventive action around the world to block potential attacks or limit dangerous situations from mushrooming into worse crises that would require even greater U.S. military involvement.

"One of the key strategic messages that the secretary is giving the department through the National Defense Strategy is that people should be thinking not simply how to react to events -- when those events have already become big problems or wars -- but what kinds of actions do we want to take now to help shape an international environment so that problems are less likely to become crises," Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon's undersecretary for policy, told reporters.

Just how the Pentagon's plan will translate into new international missions -- and what changes it will require in U.S. forces and weapons -- will be a major subject of a broad defense review getting underway at the Pentagon, officials said. The review, held once every four years, serves as the basis for subsequent decisions on the types of troops and armaments fielded by the Pentagon.

The move to enhance U.S. military influence abroad also raises questions about the extent to which greater U.S. military involvement would be welcomed in foreign countries or seen as an infringement of national sovereignty.

"We're a bit on the horns of a dilemma," said a defense official involved in the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "On the one hand, we respect the sovereignty of nation states. On the other hand, 9/11 demonstrates that threats to our direct interests can emanate from non-state actors within nation-states. We're trying to square this by working with nation-states that are cooperative so that they can govern themselves and non-state actors cannot pose threats."

As a sign of the heightened importance being given to international cooperation, Pentagon officials said, a number of foreign countries are being invited to participate in the defense review -- a first in what historically has been a closed Pentagon process.

Release of the new strategy document ahead of the review marked another break with past practice. Previous reviews dating back a decade included a debate over strategy. By revising the strategy in advance, Rumsfeld and his senior aides this time have exerted greater guidance at the outset.

A classified "terms of reference" document for the review, signed by Rumsfeld on March 1 along with the unclassified strategy document, sets forth four "core" problems to be addressed, the defense official said.

The first is building partnerships with foreign nations to combat terrorism and other internal threats. The other three are protecting the U.S. homeland; preventing the use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and influencing the choices of countries such as Russia and China that, like the United States, are at a "strategic crossroads."

"These problems are not meant to be all-inclusive of everything the Defense Department does," the official said. "But if you were to think about the problems that keep the senior leadership awake at night -- where we want to focus greater attention -- it's in these areas."

Much of the new strategy strikes themes previously stressed by the administration, including the unconventional and unpredictable nature of present-day threats, the need for an "active defense," and the "transformation" of the armed forces into more agile, deployable units.

Pentagon officials in the past also have underscored the need for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and expressed concern about the potential for "failed" states or "ungoverned" territories becoming havens for terrorist activity. But the new strategy makes this a central focus, officials said.

"The United States and its allies and partners have a strong interest in protecting the sovereignty of nation states," the document says. "In the secure international order that we seek, states must be able to effectively govern themselves and order their affairs as their citizens see fit."

In contrast to the 20th century, the document adds, where security threats arose from aggressive action by powerful states, "great dangers" now "may arise in and emanate from relatively weak states and ungoverned areas."

"The U.S., its allies and partners must remain vigilant to those states that lack the capacity to govern activity within their borders," the document says.

Feith, asked to identify specific regions warranting priority attention, appeared hard pressed to come up with a list.

"I don't think that the world gives us the luxury of picking areas," he said. "We have interests all over the world."

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