American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

October 2003

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In this article (reprinted with permission from the October issue of State Magazine) Secretary Powell discusses the "National Security Strategy of the United States" and how U.S. foreign policy is making progress in fighting terrorism and in other areas. — Assoc. Ed.

The State of Strategy by Colin L. Powell

In the management of U.S. foreign policy, there is no substitute for sound strategy. The President must have a concept that translates an understanding of major global trends into policies that advance American interests and principles.

By strategy, I do not mean "grand strategy" in the classical European imperial sense, because we do not seek a territorial empire. We seek a world in which liberty, prosperity and peace can become the heritage of all peoples. By strategy I do mean implementing the President's vision of a better world through the establishment of policy priorities.

There are many dangers facing the United States, its allies and its friends. There are also many opportunities before us. We would like to forestall every danger and take advantage of every opportunity. But we cannot do everything we wish all at once.

As powerful as the United States is, it is not omnipotent. As we have seen in Afghanistan and in Iraq, too, military victory is not the same as political success. The former may be a necessary condition for the latter, but it is rarely if ever a sufficient one. As wealthy as the United States is, it is not without economic limits. As wise as American leaders may be, they are not omniscient. And the world these days is not easy to understand.

So we must make judgments as best we can, and we must choose our policy focus. It is in making these judgments and choices that strategy comes into being.

President Bush has made choices, and he does have a strategy—presented in full form in September 2002 as the National Security Strategy of the United States. These choices make up a strategy that every member of our State Department team should take to heart.

Unfortunately, the National Security Strategy has often been read selectively. Some have focused to excess on what the document says about preemptive action. As a result, many others who have not read the document suppose that American strategy is mainly or only about preemption. Of course, it is not. The National Security Strategy features eight substantive chapters, none of them devoted to preemption. Only two sentences in one section deal with preemption, and then only in the context of the war on terrorism.

The National Security Strategy does discuss, at far greater length, alliances and partnerships. It describes at length free trade and new American initiatives in economic development assistance. It illuminates the President's determination to promote freedom and dignity in the world, and our efforts to control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It delves into the mounting problem of managing global public health challenges and advances American proposals to solve that problem. It devotes a chapter, too, to managing rela-tions with great powers.

It is natural that recent discussion of U.S. foreign policy be centered on the global war against terrorism. Terrorism hit home on September 11, 2001, and the American people understandably want to know what government is doing about it. But the President's strategy is broad and deep, as it must be to deal both with terrorism and with other national security concerns.

Just as we are succeeding in the war on terrorism, so U.S. foreign policy is making progress in other areas. Relations with Russia, China and India all have improved simultaneously. Despite some bumps in the road, NATO is adjusting creatively to a new era as it retools and expands. Relations with Japan, Australia and other allies have achieved unprecedented levels of cooperation.

In conjunction with our allies, too, U.S. efforts are making progress in moving conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and Northern Ireland toward stable peaceful settlements. American diplomacy has also endeavored to move South Asia away from the brink of confrontation and toward reconciliation.

Not least, through the Millennium Challenge Account, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the President's initiative on HIV/AIDS in Africa, we are confronting head on the challenges of poverty and global public health on a worldwide basis.

The State Department's leadership role in advancing President Bush's foreign policy is central. But it is not enough that our Public Affairs specialists advocate American strategy, at home and abroad. Each of us, every day, in all the professional tasks we perform, must be an ambassador for American strategy. This Department as a whole must be the State of strategy.

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