Two prominent advisers to the Joint Chiefs of Staff think that the future of U.S. global dominance isn't in more bombs or faster jets. Rather, it's a question of focusing more on making sure we're taking care of the people on the home front, with universal health care; the environment; and the rest of the world, with renewable energy and humanitarian aid. This argument just came out in an influential policy paper that has Washington talking.
Captain Wayne Porter of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Colonel Mark Mykleby, who wrote the paper for the Woodrow Wilson Center, argue that the United States has its policies all wrong. America's greatest national security threats aren't terrorism or foreign armies—they are a crumbling infrastructure at home, the depletion of natural resources, climate change, and an overdependence on what they call "defense and protectionism." Counterintuitively, this paper from special assistants to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, argues that America's best hopes for world leadership lie in classical left-wing tropes of conservation, soft power, and aggressive humanitarian work abroad.
Here are their four biggest (and most controversial) suggestions:
- Turning American foreign aid policies upside down. According to Mykleby and Porter, the United States should be "out-competing the grey and black market, funding research to develop alternate and sustainable sources of energy, adapting farming for low-water-level environments, anticipating and limiting the effects of pandemics, generating viable economies to relieve urbanization and migration, marginalizing extremism and demonstrating the futility of anti-modernism [...] better managing the global information grid." In other words, we should be directing funding toward innovating global solutions, not military technology.
- Massively increased spending on third-world humanitarian projects and aid projects at home for the United States' poor and lower middle-class. First on the list? America's health and educational systems, along with illiteracy and climate change abroad. According to the authors, preserving American global dominance is best served by preventing the conditions for chaos abroad and keeping America's infrastructure and population competitive
- The creation of a "National Prosperity and Security Act" along the lines of the 1947 National Security Act. The 1947 act was responsible for the creation of the Department of Defense and provided the blueprint for the Central Intelligence Agency's early years. Porter and Mykleby's version would be equally heavy-duty, boosting funding to government agencies dealing with environmental issues and sustainability while forcing research agencies to pour big bucks into research into renewable-energy tech.
- Cutting down on military spending, especially for ventures abroad. Porter and Mykleby write that "for too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing intensely on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy." Strange words coming from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This is a policy whose vagueness gives it a good shot at being implemented. Porter and Mykleby work as special assistants to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and have spent over 20 years in service each. To be blunt, strategists for the Joint Chiefs of Staff don't release policy papers through think tanks that argue for drastic changes in government activity without at least unofficial sanction from their bosses.
As could be expected, reaction to the paper is mixed. CNN's Fareed Zakaria thinks its a coded call to shrink the military and the right-wing Heritage Foundation sort of agrees, calling it a "not very assertive" document.
But for people wondering if the military is going soft, Porter and Mykleby's paper was released at an extremely providential time. With Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of highly trained military operatives in an old-fashioned, top secret operation, many of the people who push the levers of the government and military are wondering what comes next. If this paper has its way, it will be "homeland sustainability" instead of "homeland security."
[Image: Flickr user Isafmedia]