New Global Dangers by Michael Brown
Excerpt from Policy Lessons
Policymakers (also) need to reconsider the ways security problems are conceived and how security problems should be framed.
First, many policymakers still define security in narrow terms, giving undue weight to interstate conflicts and the military dimensions of security problems. Policymakers should develop broader security agendas that give appropriate weight to the full range of interstate, intrastate, transnational, military and nonmilitary challenges that are unfolding today. The policy lesson is to think inclusively about the security agenda.
Second, if security problems are complex, multidimensional and interconnected, it follows that security policies should be multifaceted. Unfortunately, policymakers often favor simple, single-factor policy approaches; they hope that a single silver bullet will solve complex policy problems. This is another example of wishful thinking. The main policy lesson here is that complex, multidimensional security problems do indeed require multifaceted policy responses- often involving a combination of diplomatic, political, economic and military elements. This is often challenging conceptually and politically, but it is nonetheless necessary.
Third, a related lesson is that many contemporary security problems are not amenable to simple military action. Indeed, military responses often turn out to be inappropriate, ineffective, and even counterproductive. The use of military force often appears to be a panacea, but this is all too often illusory. Problems that have nonmilitary roots will almost always require a range of nonmilitary policy responses, even if military actions are a part of the equation as well.
Policymakers should keep in mind several general policy lessons about the international dimensions of contemporary security problems and the international dimensions of suitable policy responses.
First, many security problems in the twenty-first century will cross national borders and cut across regions. Some will be truly global in scope. It will be beyond the capability of any one actor- even a superpower such as the United States- to tackle these problems on its own. National leaders who try to tackle these problems unilaterally will fail; national interests will correspondingly suffer. Therefore, one of the most basic principles of security policy in the twenty-first century will be multilateralism: transnational security problems will require multilateral policy responses.
Second, multilateral initiatives will require leadership. Although the United States will not be able to lead on every issue at every junction, it will continue to be the world’s most powerful country for the foreseeable future. U.S. leadership – in identifying problems, devising strategies, forming coalitions, providing resources and taking actions- will therefore be key. If U.S. political leaders play a more energetic and effective global leadership role, many national, regional and international security challenges will become more manageable. If U.S. leaders are unwilling, disinclined, or unable t play this role, a wide array of security problems will become increasingly formidable.
To be more effective, U.S. officials need to develop a better appreciation of what international leadership entails. Since the end of the Cold War and cutting across both Democratic and Republican administrations, the prevailing U.S. approach to international problems has been to set a U.S. course and assume that others will ultimately follow- willingly or grudgingly. Complaints about American presumptuousness and arrogance have consequently become increasingly common. U.S. officials would be wise to appreciate that true leadership is based on true consultation. It is not enough for Washington to inform others of what it intends to do. The United States needs to consult with allies, friends and others about goals, strategies, and actions. And above all, Washington needs to make a genuine effort to take the views of others into account. The United States clearly has the capacity to undertake unilateral actions in the international arena, but it will be able to lead only if it listens.
This leads to a third set of lessons. Those who seek to forge or sustain multilateral initiatives should seek to keep several operations guidelines in mind. For starters, multilateralism cannot be turned on and off and on again. Building multilateral patterns of cooperation takes steady, sustained engagement. The United States, which often suffers from international attention deficit disorder, will have to pay continual attention to the maintenance of multiple international coalitions. A related guideline is that multilateralism is not an a la carte proposition. The United States cannot champion multilateralism when it is convenient for Washington to do so and slight it the rest of the time. The United States must be prepared to engage on issues across the board. In addition, multilateralism is a two way street. The United States must be willing to give as much as it gets. Indeed, one would hope that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful country would be inclined to give more than it gets.
Most of these policy lessons are simple and commonsensical: act early, think ahead, plan for the long haul, avoid simple conceptual schemes and simple policy responses, recognize the limitations of military actions, and recognize the need for multilateral initiatives.