Obama redefines national security strategy, looks beyond military might

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 4:46 PM

In a broad redefinition of U.S. strategic priorities, President Obama has said that the United States must revitalize its economic, moral and innovative strength if it is to continue to lead the world.

Just as it did after World War II, the United States today must shape an international order and system of global institutions that reflect a 21st-century reality in which "America's greatness is not assured," Obama says in a 52-page "National Security Strategy" released Thursday morning.

"As we fight the wars in front of us, we must see the horizon beyond them," he writes in an introduction to the document. "To get there, we must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership -- a strategy that rebuilds the foundation of American strength and influence."

The report is the first that Obama has prepared under a 1986 law requiring the president to present Congress with an annual strategic statement. Most administrations have only sporadically adhered to the requirement; George W. Bush issued two national security strategies during his presidency, in 2002 and 2006.

The document serves to set administration priorities inside the government and communicate them to Congress, the American people and the world. It also is intended as a framework for strategy documents produced by other parts of the government, including the Pentagon's national defense strategy.

Obama's new doctrine represents a clear break with the unilateral military approach advocated by his predecessor after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush tempered that guidance toward the end of his presidency, but the Obama strategy offers "a broad concept of what constitutes our national security," the document says.

Military superiority must be maintained and "the United States remains the only nation able to project and sustain large-scale military operations over extended distances," the document says. But "when we overuse our military might, or fail to invest in or deploy complementary tools, or act without partners," it says, "then our military is overstretched. Americans bear a greater burden, and our leadership around the world is too narrowly identified with military forces."

The strategy cites four "enduring national interests" that are "inextricably linked:" security, prosperity, values and international order.

"One of the things we really wanted to do is to have this document represent the appropriate context of our times," Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said in an interview.

Reiterating international engagement and collaboration as first options against national security threats, themes that Obama has emphasized throughout his 16 months in office, the strategy emphasizes his commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and combating climate change. Obama previewed elements of the document Saturday, when he told the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., that "America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation."

In a choreographed series of events Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the diplomatic elements of the doctrine in a speech at the Brookings Institution, while James L. Jones, Obama's national security adviser, was to explain the strategy later at the Foreign Press Club.

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