Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The 2008 National Defense Strategy

This Year’s “National Defense Strategy” prints out at 28 pages, but if you are meticulous or just want to save trees), you quickly discover that only 23 pages (including the front and back covers), have text on them. Others have noted the “hand of [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates” in this document. In fact, although I do not have a copy at hand, there are strong echoes of a speech by Gates in western Kansas in which he pitched for more direct involvement and for longer stretches of time of State Department Foreign Service Officers and other federal civilian positions so as to better balance Defense and non-defense expertise overseas.

Gates is quite insistent on the need to develop better balance in foreign relations/affairs and military relations with host country armed forces. But one also gets a feeling that some of the underlying assumptions of the new strategy have simply been redrafted with no real change.

One example: On page 1is the following: “Beyond our shores, America shoulders additional responsibilities on behalf of the word….The United States, our allies, and our partners face a spectrum of challenges including…extremist networks, hostile states…rising regional powers…and a growing competition for resources.”

Where is the traditional notion that sees “challenges” – whose connotations tend to be more negative (i.e., an obstruction) than positive – as opportunities to throw off outmoded assumptions and go after circumstances that need to be resolved?

North Korea and Iran seem to be the last two of the Reagan-era rogue states and merit no mention of any positive steps such as North Korea’s destruction of the cooling tower associated with its nuclear reactor. China is mentioned as an “ascendant state with the potential for competing” with the U.S. As it stands, that statement is totally negative. At one time – and to listen to President Bush today – competition is good; it is what the free market is all about.

The 2008 NDS, while better than its predecessors, still has a way to go to get even a balanced tone – something that, if achieved, might change some assumptions.

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