National Security Strategy (United States)

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The National Security Strategy (NSS) is a document prepared periodically by the executive branch of the government of the United States for Congress which outlines the major national security concerns of the United States and how the administration plans to deal with them. The legal foundation for the document is spelled out in the Goldwater-Nichols Act. The document is purposely general in content (contrast with the National Military Strategy, NMS) and its implementation relies on elaborating guidance provided in supporting documents (including the NMS).

Purposes of the NSS Report

The stated intent of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation is broadly accepted as valid for effective political discourse on issues affecting the nation's security--the Congress and the Executive need a common understanding of the strategic environment and the administration's intent as a starting point for future dialogue. That said, however, it is understood that in the adversarial environment that prevails, this report can only provide a beginning point for the dialogue necessary to reach such a "common" understanding.[1]

The requirement of producing this report along with the budget request leads to an iterative, interagency process involving high level meetings that helps to resolve internal differences in foreign policy agendas. However, “this report was not to be a neutral planning document, as many academics and even some in uniform think it to be. Rather it was … intended to serve five primary purposes.” [2]

1) Communicate the Executive’s strategic vision to Congress, and thus legitimize its requests for resources. 2) Communicate the Executive’s strategic vision to foreign constituencies, especially governments not on the US’s summit agenda. 3) Communicate with select domestic audiences, such as political supporters seeking Presidential recognition of their issues, and those who hope to see a coherent and farsighted strategy they could support. 4) Create internal consensus on foreign and defense policy within the executive branch. 5) Contribute to the overall agenda of the President, both in terms of substance and messaging. [3]

Where the incoming executive team has not formulated a national security strategy, such as an after an election in which foreign policy and defense were not important campaign issues, the process of writing the report can be of immense importance:

Few things educate new political appointees faster as to their own strategic sensings, or to the qualities and competencies of the "permanent" government they lead within executive bureaucracies, than to have to commit in writing to the President their plans for the future and how they can be integrated, coordinated and otherwise shared with other agencies and departments. The ability to forge consensus among these competing views on direction, priorities and pace, and getting "on board" important players three political levels down from the president is recognized as an invaluable, if not totally daunting, opportunity for a new administration. [4]

Counterinsurgency objective

In order to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to the National Security Strategy of 2010, the United States needs to engage in a large amount of interagency cooperation and communication with the Muslim population in Afghanistan and throughout the world.[5] The objective of the National Security Strategy is to create a stable situation for the world, including those countries struggling with insurgencies. “The most effective long-term measure for conflict and resolution is the promotion of democracy and economic development."[6] In order to promote democracy and economic development communication with the civilian population of the host-nation is essential. The Stability Operations Field Manual states that success depends on a U.S. ability to build local institutions and in the establishment of a legitimate permanent government, which builds trust between the citizens and the counterinsurgency personnel."[7] The National Security Strategy establishes the interagency coordination in order to conduct useful public diplomacy to secure the population in the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Previous national security strategies

The National Security Strategy issued on September 17, 2002 was released in the midst of controversy over the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war which is contained therein.[8] It also contains the notion of military pre-eminence that was reflected in a Department of Defense paper of 1992, "Defense Policy Guidance", prepared by two principal authors (Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby) working under then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. The NSS 2002 also repeats and re-emphasizes past initiatives aimed at providing substantial foreign aid to countries that are moving towards Western-style democracy, with the "ambitious and specific target" of "doubl[ing] the size of the world's poorest economies within a decade." [NSS 2002, p. 21].

The Bush doctrine emerges in the context of moving from the old Cold War doctrine of deterrence to a pro-active attempt to adjust policy to the realities of the current situation where the threat is just as likely to come from a terrorist group such as al-Qaeda as from a nation state such as Iraq or Iran.[9]

The document also treats AIDS as a threat to national security, promising substantial efforts to combat its spread and devastating effects.

The 2010 national security strategy

On May 26, 2010, the second most recent National Security Strategy was issued by President Barack Obama.[10] The new Strategy was referred to by United Nations ambassador Susan Rice as a "dramatic departure" from its predecessor.[11] The Strategy advocated increased engagement with Russia, China and India.[12] The Strategy also identified nuclear non-proliferation and climate change as priorities,[13] while noting that the United States's security depended on reviving its economy.[14] The drafters of the new Strategy made a conscious decision to remove terms such as "Islamic radicalism", instead speaking of terrorism generally.[15]

The 2015 national security strategy

On February 6, 2015, the latest National Security Strategy was issued by President Barack Obama[16] to provide "a vision and strategy for advancing the nation’s interests, universal values, and a rules-based international order through strong and sustainable American leadership." [17]


  1. Snider, Don M. (March 1995). ' THE NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY: DOCUMENTING STRATEGIC VISION Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute. 
  2. Snider, Don M. (March 1995). ' THE NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY: DOCUMENTING STRATEGIC VISION Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute. 
  3. Snider, Don M. (March 1995). ' THE NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY: DOCUMENTING STRATEGIC VISION Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute. 
  4. Snider, Don M. (March 1995). ' THE NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY: DOCUMENTING STRATEGIC VISION Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Strategic Studies Institute. 
  5. "National Security Strategy 2010" (PDF). United States Government. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  6. Caldwell, Lt. General William B. "Stability Operations Field Manual FM 3-07" (PDF). United States Army. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  7. Caldwell, Lt. General William B. "Stability Operations Field Manual FM 3-07" (PDF). United States Army. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  8. National Security Strategy 2002
  9. See External Links reference to H.R. 282.
  10. National Security Strategy 2010
  11. Sanger, David E.; Baker, Peter (May 27, 2010). "New U.S. Security Strategy Focuses on Managing Threats". New York Times. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  12. MacAskill, Ewen (May 27, 2010). "Barack Obama sets out security strategy based on diplomacy instead of war". The Guardian. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  13. DeYoung, Karen (May 27, 2010). "Obama redefines national security strategy, looks beyond military might". Washington Post. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  14. Luce, Edward (May 27, 2010). "Obama doctrine hinges on economy". Financial Times. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  15. Rajgahtta, Chidanand (May 28, 2010). "Obama rids terror lexicon of 'Islamic radicalism'". The Times of India. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  16. National Security Strategy 2015
  17. National Security Strategy 2015 Factsheet

External links

In the media