Review: Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

5 Star, Diplomacy

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Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Starting Point for 21st Century Security Strategy Dialog,

October 2, 2000
David L. Boren
I know of no finer collection of relevant views on our current and prospective foreign policy challenges. In the foreword to the book, William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, observes that “A reappreciation of government is also in order.” He clearly articulates both the range of challenges facing us (most of them non-military in nature), and the disconnect between how we organize our government and how we need to successfully engage.His bottom line is clear: we are not spending enough on the varied elements of national security, with special emphasis on a severely under-funded and under-manned diplomatic service.

From Gaddis Smith and Walter Mondale to Sam Nunn and Robert Oakley, from David Gergen to David Abshire to David Boren, from Kissinger to Brzezinski to Kirkpatrick, in combination with a whole host of lesser known but equally talented practitioners, capped off by comments from five Directors of Central Intelligence, this books sets a standard for organized high quality reflection on the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Most interestingly, there is general consensus with David Abshire's view that we are in a strategic interregnum, and still lacking for a policy paradigm within which to orchestrate our varied efforts to define and further our vital interests.

David Gergen clearly articulates the shortfalls in our national educational, media, and political patterns that leave the vast majority of Americans ignorant of our foreign interests and unsupportive of the need for proactive engagement abroad. Reading this book, I could not help but feel that our national educational system is in crisis, and we need both a wake-up call and a consequent national investment program such as occurred after the first Sputnik launch.

David Boren is clearly a decade or more ahead of most current commentators in his call for a new paradigm, for a new analytical framework, for the internationalization of American education across the board. I am reminded of the quotation from early America: “A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry.” Interestingly, he cites Daniel Boorstein's caution that we must not confuse information with knowledge, and in the next sentence notes: “I watched during my term as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while the CIA greatly increased its information, its raw data, but became overwhelmed and unable to separate the important from the unimportant.”

I would itemize just a few of the many, many useful insights that this book offers:

1) Diplomacy is the sum total of familiarity with the role, knowledge of the component parts of the overall national security policy, and the ability to design and implement comprehensive policies that achieve the national objectives;

2) Politicians and policy-makers are losing the ability to think objectively and act with conviction…they are too dependent on short-term domestic polling and opinion;

3) (Quoting Donald Kegan): Power without the willingness to use it does not contribute to world peace;

4) We must strengthen the domestic roots of national power if we are to have a sound strategy;

5) Future of U.S. education and strength of U.S. family unit will quite simply determine whether U.S. can meet the economic challenges of the 21st Century;

6) Our domestic insecurity and domestic violence-and resulting foreign perceptions and disrespect for our competence at home-reduce our effectiveness overseas;

7) U.S. is its own worst enemy, with declining attention to foreign policy matters;

8) Weapons of mass destruction are our only substantive vital interest today;

9) Hunger, pestilence, and refugees within Africa will affect all nations;

10) Corruption has replaced guerrilla movements as the principal threat to democratic governance;

11) Commerce rather than conflict will be the primary concern of 21st century foreign policy;

12) The environment joins trade and commerce as an essential objective for foreign policy;

13) Long-term non-military challenges, and especially global financial markets, require refocusing of our security perspectives;

14) Asia will edge out Europe as our primary trading partner;

15) China in Asia and Turkey in the West are linch-pin nations;

16) NATO will survive but we must take care not to threaten Russia;

17) The UN is not very effective at peacekeeping operations-it is best confined to idea exchanges;

18) Our military is over-extended and under-funded but still the best in the world;

19) For the cost of one battalion or one expensive piece of military equipment, one thousand new Foreign Service officers could be added toward preventive diplomacy;

20) Lessons from the Roman empire: its decline results in part from a loss of contact with its own heartlands, a progressive distancing of the elite from the populace, the elevation of the military machine to the summit of the power hierarchy, and blindness in perceiving the emergence of societies motivated by nationalism or new religious ideologies; and

21) We may need a new National Security Act.

If I had one small critical comment on the book is would be one of concern-concern that these great statesmen and scholars appear-even while noting that defense is under-capitalized-to take U.S. military competence at face value. I perceive a really surprising assumption across a number of otherwise brilliant contributions to the effect that we do indeed have all that we need in the way of information dominance, precision firepower, and global mobility (strategic lift plus forward presence)-we just need to use it with greater discretion. I do not believe this to be the case. I believe-and the Aspin-Brown Commission so stated-that we lack effective access to the vast range of global multi-lingual open sources; that our commitment to precision munitions is both unaffordable and ineffective (we ran out in 8 days in the Gulf, in 3 days in Kosovo); and that we fail terribly with respect to mobility-naval forces are generally 4-6 days from anywhere, rather than the necessary 24-48 hours. This book is a very fine starting point for the national dialogue that must take place in 2001 regarding our new national security strategy.

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