May 27, 2010

Natural Security in the National Security Strategy

The big headline of the national security strategy, to me, is the major role conferred upon natural resources issues, for example reducing oil dependence, addressing climate change and food security. This NSS sets a proper path for ensuring American power in the long term: toward the intersection of natural resources and national security.

It is new to give natural resources challenges such a prominent role in mainstream U.S. strategic planning, as this National Security Strategy does. As such, mapping out new plans and ways of doing business to accommodate issues surrounding energy, climate, food and demographics is likely to be a taller task than for more traditional elements represented in this strategy.

At its heart, this document gets right that addressing energy, climate change, scarcity and environmental concerns can provide useful tools for engagement, for building governance and economic strength in partner nations, and for national security broadly. However, in many cases this will be more complicated than it may seem. Clean energy and climate change-based engagement with Indonesia, for example, must account for that country’s often contradictory goals of both producing and preserving its natural resources. The United States may wish to form cooperative relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan to address water, energy, food and demographic stresses, but China is swiftly moving to do the same. This strategy’s objectives of managing supply chains and maintaining access to scarce commodities, if not planned carefully, could also lead to minerals policies that run counter to its emphasis on human rights, transparency in trade and rule of law. This, to me, is one of the worrisome phrases within the document:

America – like other nations – is dependent upon overseas markets to sell its exports and maintain access to scarce commodities and resources. Thus, finding overlapping mutual economic interests with other nations and maintaining those economic relationships are key elements of our national security strategy (emphasis mine).

Yes, these relationships should be key, but this is too close to the realm of Carter Doctrine for my taste. My worries are tempered by the much stronger weight given to domestic innovation and domestic economic growth throughout the strategy. These relationships are often necessary, but can also lead to complacency in questioning their utility and negative side effects for other U.S. security interests over time. Commodities networks are often tied to illicit activities that work against U.S. goals.

Perhaps what I like most about the NSS is that it validates the very purpose of our program here at CNAS: we believe that natural resources issues will be major factors in shaping the future world, and we need to understand that future in order to secure U.S. interests and those of our allies. To give just a few:
•    “The global economy is being reshaped by innovation, emerging economies, transition to low-carbon energy, and recovery from catastrophic recession.”
•    “Profound cultural and demographic tensions, rising demand for resources, and rapid urbanization could reshape single countries and entire regions.”

And equally on the solutions side, the document states: “At the center of our efforts is a commitment to renew our economy, which serves as the wellspring of American power.” Important aspects identified as areas of U.S. economic strength are “enhancing science and innovation” and “transforming our energy economy to power new jobs and industries.” Developing a domestic clean energy economy is mentioned over and over through the strategy, for its utility in creating jobs, mitigating climate change, and serving as a topic of engagement and international collaboration.

As soon as we have a searchable document, we will do a word count on natural security terms. The sheer number of times climate change is mentioned is worth comparing to that of other security issues. The NSS is also heavy on energy, followed by food security (albeit with the term “food security” never really defined).

There is a ton of natural security fodder in here, so we will be commenting in media and on a rolling basis here. Let us know what you think too - comment below!