The old security, defined by the Cold War, was based on containment of communism. It was almost always described in military terms—the size of the defense budget, the range of nuclear missiles, the numbers of planes, ships, and tanks. And during that period, that definition made some sense.

But even during the Cold War, those with a broader perspective defined national security as security of our borders, a sound dollar, and the confidence of the people in their government. If we apply that definition to the United States in 2011, we are profoundly insecure. Our borders are not secure. The dollar is weak. And too many Americans have lost confidence in their government.

Replacing containment of communism with “war on terrorism” too narrowly defined America’s role in the new world of the twenty-first century. It was a way to avoid the new realities of globalization, the information revolution, the failure of states, and the changing nature of conflict. To deal with this new world, and to define a greater and more positive role for our nation in this revolutionary age, we must create a new security framework.

Our future security must be based first and foremost on the most capable military forces in the world, military forces shaped, sized, equipped, and trained for an era where conflict will more likely involve stateless nations, nonstate actors, and unconventional warfare. There are institutional structures seeking to perpetuate a Cold War military. But those who have experienced combat in Afghanistan and Iraq know our military structures must be adapted to the conflicts of the twenty-first century, which more closely resemble eleventh-century combat with the Assassins than twentieth-century conflict involving the massed armies of nation-states.

But the new security acknowledges that this transformed military capability depends on a productive economy. We cannot continue to borrow money from the Chinese and others to pay our troops. We must become much less dependent on debt and borrowing and more dependent on our own productivity. Today, however, we cannot have a productive economy without an educated and healthy workforce. Several years ago, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century stated that, “Aside from a weapon of mass destruction detonating in an American city, we can think of nothing more dangerous to our national security than the failure properly to manage investment in education, especially in science, math, and technology.”

Likewise, a workforce that is unhealthy is a danger to our economy and our national security. Proper health care for all is an obligation of a humanitarian nation but it is also critical to that nation’s security.

The new security will also recognize, as senior retired military officers have reported, that significant climate change can become a genuine threat to global stability and therefore to our security and the security of our allies. The consequences of climate change—tens of millions of coastal inhabitants migrating to higher ground, the disruption of crop yields worldwide—must be prevented in the interest of our new security.

It is in no one’s interest to spread weapons of mass destruction further. This is not just a concern for the United States. This is a concern for every nation that values peace and its own survival. We have a start with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But nations of good will must expand its inspection and sanction powers and support its efforts more uniformly. Curbing the spread of these catastrophic weapons and preventing their proliferation will be central to our new security agenda.


Ben Haley
A sign, leftover from the Cold War, marks the location of a nuclear fallout shelter in Seattle.

The new security will deal with the threat of viral pandemics, the possibility of the loss of millions of lives at home and abroad from rampant viruses. Neither we nor other nations are prepared to prevent this. Our security interest requires us to immediately network the public health systems of advanced nations to quarantine outbreaks, distribute mass inoculations speedily, and develop systems of instant global communication and data sharing.

Stable nations of the world must have better shared capabilities to stabilize fragile nations or to properly manage their reorganization in our collective security interest. Collapsing nation-states endanger the stability and security of entire regions, especially where ethnic identities reach across national boundaries and ties of race, culture, and religion draw people from multiple countries into conflict.

U.S. security will also depend on our ability to use skilled diplomacy to engage emerging regional powers in addressing shared security threats. China has a profound interest in curbing a North Korean nuclear capability. India has a strong interest in Pakistan’s stability, especially since they both have nuclear arsenals. Russia can play a larger role in constraining Iran’s ambitions and shares other security concerns, such as combating terrorism, with us.

Diplomacy will also provide an essential security tool as we must persuade oil-importing nations to share the burden with us of guaranteeing the security of oil distribution systems. Here again, the U.S. has almost exclusively assumed a security burden that should be and could be shared with others who have an equivalent interest in the free flow of oil. At least a half dozen nations, if not more, are substantial importers of foreign oil and have more than adequate military forces to contribute to its secure distribution.

A new diplomacy is necessary, one based on principle, not Cold War expediency. Expediency says: the enemy of our enemy (regardless of his policies) is our friend. The new diplomacy must be transparent and principled. Among our principles are these:

  1. The use of force is a last resort—not a first resort.
  2. We should anticipate crises rather than react to them.
  3. Globalization requires international cooperation.
  4. Where we have interests in common with friendly nations, we will seek their help in promoting and protecting those interests.
  5. While respecting national security, all facts will be revealed to Congress and the people regarding our dealings with other nations.
  6. Our foreign policy will be consistent with our Constitutional principles and values.
  7. Our interests should not deviate from our principles.
  8. We are a republic—not an empire.

Additional factors in a definition of the new security could be listed, but the point is clear. Our security is no longer one dimensional. It cannot be guaranteed by military means alone. And it requires cooperation with other nations that share our values and share our security concerns.

Our military will require resetting, rebuilding, and reform to address a twenty-first-century security environment. But we must also include the productivity of our economy, the education and health of our workforce, repair of a damaged climate, prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, prevention of the spread of dangerous diseases, management of failed and failing states, and burden-sharing of security concerns in our understanding of the new security in a new century. If we continue to rely on old security thinking and programs, we will be weaker rather than stronger, at greater rather than less risk.


Gary Hart

Former U.S. senator Gary Hart served on the Armed Services committee, was a founder of the Congressional Military Reform caucus, and is currently chair of the American Security Project. He is chair of...

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