Smart power and smart growth: a strategic narrative for the 21st century

April 12, 2011 By John Glenn

A new “national strategic narrative” written by two actively serving military officers* calls for the United States to reorient its national priorities and investments for the 21st century and move from a Cold War posture of “containment” to one of “sustainability.”  Linking America’s security and prosperity to engagement with the world, the authors tie “smart growth at home with smart power abroad.”

The narrative is an ambitious vision that seeks to “frame our National Policy decisions regarding investment, security, economic development, the environment, and engagement well into this century.”  Reorienting U.S. national priorities will require a shift in investments, as “for too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing intensely on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy.”  The authors suggest that today’s interconnected world and global challenges should be seen as opportunities rather than threats to American leadership.  They call for a “whole of nation” approach that integrates security policy across the government and provides for effective public-private partnerships, as well as for re-writing President Truman’s National Security Act of 1947 as a “National Prosperity and Security Act.”

At a launch event at The Wilson Center, Princeton University professor Anne Marie Slaughter called the narrative a “story about where the United States is in the world, and where we want to be, and how we get there.”  Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) agreed with the narrative’s call to reorient America’s place in the world and said he would like the United States double its diplomatic corps and elevate USAID to cabinet-level status, while acknowledging this would be a “heavy political lift.”  He highlighted the current debate on foreign assistance, saying his constituents have misperceptions about what these programs do and how much we spend, that he needs to explain that these programs promote global health and help people the developing world for less than 1% of the federal budget.

Panelists including former-National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, Brookings scholar Robert Kagan, blogger Steve Clemons and columnist Tom Friedman debated the paper’s vision of the world and its recommendations.  While many of the panelists discussed new challenges of globalization today, Kagan challenged the idea the military is less important today or a source of our economic difficulties, referring to traditional “great power” competition in today’s world with China.  He agreed foreign policy debates must be tied to budget debates, but noted defense budgets are not the driving force behind the growing federal deficits.

As the United States approaches presidential elections in 2012, the national strategic narrative offers a provocative starting point for Democrats and Republicans on the role of the United States in the world and the investments to ensure a foreign policy that balances development, diplomacy, and defense and ties America’s economic prosperity at home with the global economy.

* The authors published the article as “Mr. Y” in a nod to George Kennan’s seminal Foreign Affairs article as “Mr. X” after World War II and as a pseudonym for Captain Wayne Porter, USN and Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby, USMC.