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U.S. National Security Policy: In Search of a Balance

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On September 17, 2002, the White House, under cover of a letter from President
Bush, issued a thirty-page document entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States." Its "Overview" states:

The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests. The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. Our goals on the path to progress are clear: political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity.

To achieve these goals, the United States will:

  • champion aspirations for human dignity;
  • strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends;
  • work with others to defuse regional conflicts;
  • prevent our enemies from threatening us, our allies, and our friends, with weapons of mass destruction;
  • ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade;
  • expand the circle of development by opening societies and building the infrastructure of democracy;
  • develop agendas for cooperative action with other main centers of global power; and
  • transform America's national security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century.

These goals are admirable. Many of the means proposed for achieving them -- each of which is developed in a separate chapter of the document -- have been features of U.S. policy for the past half-century or more.

John Steinbruner is Director of the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Carl Kaysen is David W. Skinner Professor of Political Economy Emeritus in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Martin B. Malin is Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences's program on Science, Technology, and Global Security.

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