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Introduction: Strategies and National Security

Let us begin by explaining what we mean by the words "security strategy or "national security strategy." This is important because the word strategy is used in many different ways. National security strategy refers to a "nation´s plan for the coordinated use of all the instruments of state power—nonmilitary as well as military—to pursue objectives that defend and advance its national interest." 1

All countries have a security strategy, either implicitly or explicitly. Implicit strategy is what we mean by observing any country as it interacts with its security environment, that is, with other countries and forces that might threaten it or interfere with its objectives. The game of describing a country´s implicit strategy is open to all players. For example, there is general agreement that during the Cold War (roughly the period between the end of World War II and 1989), implicit US security strategy centered on deterrence of the Warsaw Pact. Since the end of the Cold War, however, there is less agreement on US national security strategy. You will learn here what the US government says its security strategy is, and you can judge for yourself.

Explicit strategy, which is our concern here, is something else. It refers to public, authoritative declarations of the manner in which a country intends to achieve its security objectives within the international security environment. These are "official" strategies published by government. You may think of explicit strategy as strategy with a capital S, as compared to implicit strategy, which is strategy with a small s. "Capital S" strategy refers to a specific government document(s), while "small s" strategy refers to governmental decisions and actions designed to implement its published strategy.

Explicit strategy is found in government documents, which may have various titles. For example, after experimenting with such titles as "A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement," and "A National Security Strategy for a New Century," the US has settled (since 2002) on a straightforward title for its national security strategy, i.e., The National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS). Slovenia uses a similar approach, calling its strategy the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Slovenia. In 2004, Japan issued two strategy papers that, taken together, make up its security strategy. One is titled The Council on Security and Defense Capabilities Report, the other the National Defense Program Outline. Australia´s 2005 security strategy was called Australia´s National Security: Defence Update 2005, Canada chose Securing an Open Society: Canada´s National Security Policy while the Russian Federation titled its strategy Russia´s Military Doctrine. Many countries use the simple term, White Paper

Learn by comparing

This module will help you understand US national security strategy, from its development within government to its policy content. You will find it helpful to compare what you learn about US security strategy with security strategy in another country, perhaps your own. Before going any further in this module, you are encouraged to select a country and find its national security strategy. If your country has published such a document, you can use it for this purpose, but you can also use the security strategy of any other country that you chose.

To find a security strategy to compare with the US version, click the link here. ( You will find a list of "white papers" there, by country, in alphabetical order. Pick one, print it out or save it as a digital document so you can think about it and refer to it while you work your way through this module.

Why are explicit strategies different from implicit strategies and what difference does that make to us?

You might think that a country´s official, published strategy would be in close agreement with what that country is actually doing, strategically, in the world. Strategy in theory should be, in this view, identical to strategy as practiced. But is it? Perhaps so. However, as one expert observes, "[a]s in most of life, the levels of theory and practice in strategy are not always aligned." 2  The NSS cannot be aligned with the views of all the strategy experts because their interpretations themselves do not all agree.

Also, implicit strategy is likely to be much more complex than explicit strategy, as the realities of implementing security policy encounter the many assumptions contained in declaratory policy. Finally, there is the fact that explicit strategies concern goals. They tell the world what a government hopes and intends to do, strategically. Whether or not it succeeds in this is another matter, more closely related to implicit strategy.

Why focus on official, declaratory strategy, what officials say about strategy, rather than the "real thing," i.e., what countries actually do in the world of security strategy? The answer is simple. As noted above, what countries actually practice in terms of security strategy is the result of government use of its defense forces, and the apparent motives involved. Those motives can be interpreted in different ways, depending upon who is doing the interpreting. Thus we are not likely to be in complete agreement on a country´s implicit strategy, at least in the short term.

However, if a country has a single document (or two) stating its strategy (even if it is done in the most general terms, which is common), we can all focus on the same information. We can discover which players are the most important in developing that strategy and what process they use to put it together. We can then examine the product of their work, that is, the security strategy itself, and observe some of the problems involved in this process as well. Such problems can sometimes be as revealing and important as the strategy itself. These four topics—Players, Process, Products and Problems—form the core of this module on US National Security Strategy.

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