National Security Network

A 21st Century National Security Strategy

Print this page
Report 27 May 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security national security


Today, the White House is releasing the 2010 National Security Strategy.  This document sets a coherent strategy and framework for the administration's national security objectives as well as a roadmap for how to attain them. The strategy's five pillars were first communicated by President Obama in his speech at the West Point commencement this past weekend.  These are the very principles with which he has been governing since taking office.  Rather than addressing such challenges through radical doctrines or ideologies, the President's pillars rest on what James Fallows described as a "return to the best and most sustainable tradition of post-World War II American foreign policy." While there remains work to be done, the administration has made concrete and meaningful progress towards addressing the security challenges of the 21st century.  

The Administration has made progress on promoting:

  • Security: Broadening our understanding of security. 
  • Prosperity: Projecting influence abroad by tending to the sources of American strength at home.
  • International Order: America must shape the 21st century, not resist it.
  • Values: America's strength and resilience is based in on living in accordance with the values we were founded upon.
  • Broadening of Capabilities: Advancing American interests depends on all elements of national power, not just military.


"This Administration has no greater responsibility than protecting the American people. Furthermore, we embrace America's unique responsibility to promote international security-a responsibility that flows from our commitments to allies, our leading role in supporting a just and sustainable international order, and our unmatched military capabilities." ~2010 National Security Strategy

Broadening our understanding of security.  The National Security Strategy states: "The threats to our people, our homeland, and our interests have shifted dramatically in the last 20 years."

Anticipating 21st century threats. As the U.S. rebalances its foreign policy approach away from purely military solutions, it increasingly faces an altered national security landscape.  To prepare for this reality, the Obama administration begun several initiatives anticipating the challenges of the 21st century, including establishing the CIA center for climate change and national security, appointing a cyber security coordinator to craft government policy for the threats of the digital age, and linking its nonproliferation policy to the nexus of loose nuclear material and terrorism.

Disrupt, Dismantle, and Defeat al Qaeda and its violent extremist affiliates.  The administration's approach for dealing with terrorism has been comprehensive, resting on substantial investments in our homeland security; strengthened partnerships abroad; interrogation, detention, and trial policies befitting a powerful nation; and successful military and law enforcement action against hundreds of al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates. The administration's record speaks for itself: more al Qaeda fighters and affiliates killed or captured than in 2008; enhanced global respect for the U.S.; strong public confidence in the administration's handling of counterterrorism. 

Reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.  In addition to putting effective, international pressure on states like Iran and North Korea, the United States has signed a New START agreement that challenges other states to follow suit and reduce their nuclear weapons; clarified our nuclear posture to strengthen our security and heighten the consequences for proliferator states; and lead initiatives to curb the threat of nuclear terrorism and lock down all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide. Such actions help to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and further isolate Iran. 

Increasing cooperation with international partners. Following the failed attack by the underpants bomber, a report issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described how "foreign partners are often the first line of defense" against terrorism. The Obama administration has strengthened a range of partnerships from Europe to India to Yemen in order to combat extremists.

Building strong partners.  The Administration's unprecedented public addresses to the peoples of the world - particularly the Arab and the Muslim worlds - rejected the clash of civilizations narrative that dominated the previous administration.  The Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship brought together hundreds of business and social entrepreneurs from more than 50 Muslim Majority countries in an effort to support those working to change and better their own societies from within.  The Obama administration has also broadened its approach to foster cultural, educational and business exchange.  The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) has been an important part of the Obama administration's efforts on this front. 

Correcting course in the wars.  Since taking office the administration worked to correct the course on America's multiple wars.  The administration's efforts to end the Iraq War have kept American on schedule to depart.  And when the president took office, Afghanistan and Pakistan were in a downward spiral.  But the president led a comprehensive review of the political, military, humanitarian and regional issues and for the first time since 2001, the U.S. has a strategy with clear goals that envisions an end-state to American military involvement there.


"Our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home... Simply put, American innovation must be a foundation of American power.  Because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy." ~ President Obama, West Point, 5/22/10

To project influence abroad, the U.S. must tend to the sources of American strength at home. 2010 National Security Strategy: "The foundation of American leadership must be a prosperous American economy. And a growing and open global economy serves as a source of opportunity for the American people and a source of strength for the United States."

Leading the way out of the global financial crisis.  President Obama headed a global response to the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. He signed a major economic stimulus on the 29th day of his presidency; successfully built a G20 consensus on a coordinated response based on financial assistance, regulation and free trade. With economic recovery and job creation essential to the U.S.'s ability to project power abroad, encouraging signs of economic improvement over the past year indicate that the administration's policies have been critical to maintaining and enhancing America's foreign policy interests.

Investing in a clean energy economy.  The Obama administration tripled government spending on clean energy programs in its first year, with the goal of doubling the amount of renewable energy in three years. It also approved the country's first offshore wind farm to begin the transition from dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Strengthening America's infrastructural backbone. Investing in our domestic infrastructure benefits the United States' preparedness to handle external security threats.  The Obama administration has allotted $57 billion of the stimulus package to infrastructure development, ranging from highway improvement to high-speed rail development. It has also enhanced funding for the types of innovation that will help protect the U.S. from such threats as nuclear weapons, infectious diseases, cyber attacks and terrorism.

Preparing for tomorrow's world through investment in education and innovation. Education is critical for America's global competitiveness and for the prosperity on which our security is based. In 2010, the Administration announced that it would seek up to a $4 billion increase in education funding. This builds on the substantial investments it made in education, science and technology by allotting over $100 billion dollars to programs in this area through the stimulus package.

Securing the well-being of Americans through comprehensive health-care reform.  For years, soaring health-care costs burdened the U.S. economy, without translating into greater well-being for many Americans.  By achieving comprehensive health-care reform, the Obama administration will contain costs and improve lives, with concrete benefits for our prosperity and security.

International Order

"[W]e have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation. We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by your side in Afghanistan and around the globe.  As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.  This engagement is not an end in itself.  The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times..." ~ President Obama, West Point, 5/22/10

America must shape the 21st century, not resist it.  President Obama's National Security Strategy: "Even though many defining trends of the 21st century affect all nations and peoples, too often, the mutual interests of nations and peoples are ignored in favor of suspicion and self-defeating competition.  What is needed, therefore, is a realignment of national actions and international institutions, with shared interests."

Rebalancing and reviving global economic governance.  In response to the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, the new administration rallied with partners around the world - including countries that have previously been left out of such discussions - to rebuild the global governance structures.  This international effort helped ward off a devastating depression and regained trust and respect for American leadership around the world.

Redefining diplomacy on the nuclear agenda.  President Obama's hosting of the unprecedented Nuclear Security Summit resulted in concrete achievements towards addressing the threat from nuclear terrorism.  In addition, he has supported the broader nonproliferation regime by signing onto the new START agreement with Russia.

Reengaging the United Nations.  The Administration and Congress moved to restore relations with the UN - paying off arrears, re-funding its support for family planning and returning the post of UN Ambassador to a Cabinet slot.  Obama then challenged others, in his address at the United Nations General Assembly and his Nobel Peace Prize speech to match his administration's effort at global cooperation.   The commitment has paid off with renewed international commitment to block nuclear weapon or technology transfers and increased international aid and civilian commitment to Afghanistan and Yemen.

Engaging through regional organizations.  From Europe to Asia to the Americas, president Obama has returned from regional summits with concrete deliverables - new NATO troops for Afghanistan - and reinvigorated cooperation on North Korea, Congo and other tough issues.


A "fundamental part of our strategy is America's support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding.  We will promote these values above all by living them -through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it's hard; and through our commitment to forever pursue a more perfect union." ~ President Obama, West Point, 5/22/10

America's strength and resilience is based on living in accordance with the values we were founded upon. President Obama's National Security Strategy: "The United States believes certain values are universal and will work to promote them worldwide... The United States was founded upon a belief in these values. At home, fidelity to these values has extended the promise of America ever more fully, to ever more people.  Abroad, these values have been claimed by people of every race, region, and religion... And nations that embrace these values for their citizens are ultimately more successful - and friendly to the United States - than those that do not."

Combating terrorism by bringing terrorists to justice. From creating instruments that reflect our values for interrogating terrorist suspects to bringing terrorist to justice through through the criminal justice system, the administration has brought the fight to the terrorists by using a powerful instrument in our arsenal: law and justice.  Experts agree, a counterterrorism policy can only be effective if it is in line with our values.  As one former GOP Congressman said, what terrorists fear most is "justice, democracy, the rules of a free society." 

Limiting executive privilege and increasing transparency.  In stark contrast to his predecessor, President Obama not only respected the traditional oversight mechanisms that maintain our system of checks and balances, he strengthened them.  In a largely unnoticed move late last year, the administration reformed the declassification process declaring that no records can be classified indefinitely.  Additionally, the administration has released secretive memos from the Bush administration and imposed stricter guidelines on the use of state secrets.  While these are positive steps to fulfilling Obama's promise to "watch over the watchers," there still remains room for progress. 

Recognizing Congress as a co-equal branch of government.  Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra said of the Bush administration in August 2008: "As far as this administration is concerned, the best oversight is no oversight." However, over the course of the past year, the Obama presidency has kept with the guiding principle to consult closely with the Congress through such acts as including Congress in the Afghan strategy review and working with bipartisan partners on the Hill for much needed reforms to the defense budget.

Reestablishing America's commitment to human rights.  Embracing its role as a global leader, over the past year the United States has demonstrated to the world it is once again a leader on human rights.  From joining the controversial United Nations Human Rights Council to the possibility of joining the International Criminal Court the Obama administration has sought to promote global governance on human rights by working from within rather than simply criticizing from the outside.

Broadening of Capabilities

"As we build these sources of strength, the second thing we must do is build and integrate the capabilities that can advance our interests, and the common interests of human beings.  We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts; and development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves." - President Obama, West Point, 5/22/10

Advancing American interests depends on all elements of national power, not just military. President Obama's National Security Strategy: "To succeed, we must update, balance and integrate all of the tools of American power and work with our allies and partners to do the same."

Restoring the neglected instruments of American power: Diplomacy and development. The United States needs to use all elements of national power to pursue its interests, which means that the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development must be as strong the Pentagon. The Administration views this commitment as essential, evidenced by this year's 16.1%  increase in funding for the State Department and USAID from 2009 to 2011. To increase U.S. capacity in diplomacy and development, the administration is adding more than 600 Foreign Service Officers to the State Department and USAID.

Adopting a 21st century approach to resourcing the military. President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have spearheaded a difficult, but essential effort to reform the defense budget so that the United States could better address the threats it faces in the 21st century. Late last year, the President signed a defense budget that rebalances resources to meet the security challenges of the new century and cuts billions of dollars from unnecessary and wasteful programs that either fight the wars of the past or are pointless for the soldiers of today.  All evidence suggests that they will continue this ambitious project of reform, identifying new opportunities for savings and laboring to contain out of control overhead costs.

Improving the safety and resilience of the Homeland. The White House has worked to reform our homeland security apparatus to enhance the resilience of the U.S. By integrating the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council, the administration has broken down the artificial barriers that unhelpfully distinguish between developments overseas and security at home. The administration has also created new, flexible institutions, like the High Value Detainee Interrogation group to further enhance homeland defenses and intelligence sharing capabilities to keep America safe. 

What We're Reading

North Korea has cut off a naval hot line used to prevent clashes on its disputed sea border with South Korea, and the South conducted a large naval drill in a show of force.

Afghan officials said they were investigating reports that a leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, may have been killed in fighting in the remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

With the death toll at nearly 50 from four days of gun battles between Jamaican police and forces of drug kingpin Christopher Coke, officials think he may have fled the country.

Britain released the maximum number of nuclear weapons it has: 225.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned member states against slashing their defense budgets too much, saying economic growth relies on security.

Vice President Joe Biden has said the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will proceed on time.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been sworn into office again, following his controversial win in last month's elections.

The euro experienced gains as China denied rumors that it would move its foreign currency reserves out of the embattled European currency.

A Sufi group known as Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, is posing the strongest challenge yet to Somalia's ruling al-Shabab militia; the group potentially offers an alternative strategy for the United States and its allies in the struggle against al Qaeda-backed groups in the country.

The Israeli government said it will stop a convoy of cargo and passenger ships filled with supplies that are headed to Gaza to break a blockade imposed by Israel in 2007.

Commentary of the Day

Spencer Ackerman argues that the new National Security Strategy shows President Obama is focused on sustaining-not restraining-American power.

Fred Kaplan explains that North Korea's sinking of the Cheonan isn't a one-off of aggression; the tension has been building for years.

An anonymous writer says if Thailand made it legal to talk freely about the monarchy, the government would open itself up to needed democracy, growth, and the respect of its citizens.