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Foreign Policy

Collective Action, Strategic Patience, and U.S. Leadership

Feb 25 , 2015
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

—A Review on Obama’s New National Security Strategy

On February 6, 2015, the Obama administration released the second National Security Strategy report. For the most part, the report reflects Obama’s persistent diplomatic strategic thoughts and policy directions. The new strategy report was divided into four parts: security, prosperity, values, and international order – all of which are the enduring U.S. core interests defined in the 2010 National Security Strategy.

The new strategy continues to show the thinking that President Obama is very cautious in using military force. In fact, it is not only the reflection and correction for Bush administration’s abuse of military power, but also a requirement and manifestation of implementing burden-sharing strategy and military strategy transformation. In February 2012, the United States issued a new military strategy guidance called Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century, which analyzed the current changes in the international security environment and U.S. security threats. Based on the analysis, the guidance clearly stated that the U.S. needed to transform its military strategy, creating a lean, flexible military force able to meet the new security challenges.

Also, it is worth noting that the Obama administration’s “leading from behind” strategy adopted in Libya’s war in 2011 had achieved remarkable results, which made the United States recognize that U.S. can achieve its strategic intentions by strengthening partnerships and cooperation with allies and partners, rather than using large-scale U.S. military power. The strategy is able to share the cost of U.S. hegemony as well as protect the interests of the American hegemony, thus becoming an important feature of the Obama’s international strategy. Similarly, the new National Security Strategy also fully embodies this idea. For example, in the report, President Obama pledged to use collective action, not unilateral action to safeguard the core interests of the United States. He admitted that the U.S. unilateral action played an important role in defending its core national interests against the threat, but stressed the view “when we were to start collective action, we become more powerful.”

Indeed, it is wise for the present U.S. administration to take a cautious national security strategy: for on thing, the United States have not suffered any imminent security threats; for another, the United States has protected its global interests by using a shared responsibility alliance strategy. More importantly, the U.S. economy is experiencing a strong recovery, which is reflected by many indicators, such as unemployment rates, economic growth, consumers’ enthusiasm and confidence. This shows that the Obama administration has made achievements in the rebalance of international strategy and domestic policy. In other words, it is right and rational for the Obama administration to take retrenchment strategy and keep a relatively low-profile position in exchange for more resources in boosting the U.S. economic recovery. The Obama administration knows well the source of U.S. global influence is derived from domestic prosperity. Actually, it is natural and important for the rising state to keep in low profile. It is also essential and critical, sometimes more difficult, for a hegemonic state to maintain restraint.

The U.S. under Obama administration has attained the goal. President Obama pointed out that, “We have to make hard choices among many competing priorities, and we must always resist the over-reach that comes when we make decisions based on fear.” He stressed: “The challenges we face require strategic patience and persistence.” However, this strategy will also need to take some risks. For the United States, the main risk comes from the possibility of lacking confidence in U.S. strength among the allies and partners. Both its Asian ally Japan, and its European allies have maintained a high degree of concern over the Obama’s international strategy, especially when they think they have been facing severe security pressure. Therefore, in the new security strategy, President Obama emphasized that “The United States will always defend our interests and uphold our commitments to allies and partners.”

Of course, all of this can be attributed to one thing, that is, the United States must maintain a strong and sustained global leadership. President Obama is very clear that if there were no support by alliance system, it would not be easy to keep its global leadership. In fact, Obama’s great ambitions to ensure U.S. global leadership has been very impressive, whether in National Security Strategies, or in recent State of the Union. He constantly repeated the slogans like “America must lead”, “The question is never whether America should lead, but how we lead.” Therefore, fundamentally speaking, it is safely concluded that Obama’s new national security strategy is the strategy to pursue, safeguard, and maintain U.S. global leadership.

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