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From National Security to Foreign Policy

When President Obama appointed Secretary of State Clinton and re-appointed Secretary of Defense Gates, he dubbed them members of his “national security” team. I find it troubling that we have moved towards “national security” and away from international relations or foreign policy. Specifically, when the Secretary of State’s position is included on the “national security” team, it implies her only function is in preventing attacks on American soil. It’s not.

National security only focuses on threats. Foreign policy describes all our policies related to the global community including threats but also opportunities for our nation to exploit. Obama should label his team as such.

Words matter and labels dictate how a person or department will act. If the Secretary of State runs the foreign policy team, then she can influence our policies for the entire world--all of our relations with foreign entities. If, as was the case with the last administration, the Secretary of State gets lumped in with the national security team, she will only focus on crisis and threats against our nation. This drastically limits her possibilities and effectiveness in improving the world as a whole, and America specifically. So, for example, when Secretary Clinton visits Africa she is not stopping specific threats to our homeland, she is improving our relations in the world and helping to build a more successful and vibrant Africa. Is this national security? No, it is foreign affairs.
Intelligence agencies should call themselves agents of foreign policy as well. Gathering intelligence is one part of the job, the rest is analysis. Only looking for specific threats on our homeland is not just missing the forest for the trees, it is missing the trees while looking for wolverines. If they analyze economic and cultural developments, identify patterns of change and predict future hot spots and trouble areas, then they are improving the entire foreign policy apparatus. Thus, our leaders can make improved decisions at the legislative and executive levels.
The foreign policy label should not apply to everyone. Clearly the National Security Adviser deserves to be a member of the national security team and the Secretary of Defense belongs as well. We will always need agencies focused on protecting Americans; just not everyone who deals with the people, places and things outside of our borders. But for the Secretary of State, who manages embassies, US AID, and our national policy, her focus is on building good will, and improving America’s relationship with the entire world, not just combating possible enemies and threats.

We should also move away from international relations and towards foreign policy as well. This is simply for the implications of “national” in the international. This change simply acknowledges the power of both supra-national and sub-national organizations. In some ways, the superpowers wield more power now than the Empires of old, and at the same time, single individuals, companies and NGOs can change the course of world events. We live in a flat world.
Perhaps, this whole debate is mere semantics, or political correctness. Those arguments have some merits, but let's be realistic. If you call an executive the Chief Financial Officer, he won’t deal with sales on a day to day basis. The offensive coordinator doesn’t plan kickoffs. If we say that Obama assembled a national security team, he assembled a team to guard from threats. If he assembles a foreign policy team, he is making a team of experts who will improve our relations with everyone outside of our borders.

Names matter.

(A final note on using the terms foreign affairs, foreign policy, global affairs and international relations. Besides little differences--such as international relations referring to states relations specifically and affairs encompassing more than policy--they all generally refer to a broader set of policy guidelines. National security on the other hand, only refers to threats against our homeland. It is a small but important distinction.)

three comments

I think you’re focusing on semantics. All government policies tend to intertwine. Economics policies is related to foreign affairs is related to military affairs is related to intelligence is related to national security, etc.

It is semantics, but they are important. I want my Secretary of State improving the US position in the world, not just worrying about threats. That is why we created a “National Security Adviser,” so they could worry about other things. Putting the SecState under that umbrella is counter-productive.

The DoD used to be called the DoW, but its functions didn´t change much after it got renamed to the DoD. The name was simply changed because having a Department of War sounded to hawkish and agressive in one of the most volatile times in US history.

Names do matter, not necessarily to the inner functions of these positions but rather to how people outside perceive them. Atleast they´re blunt enough to call it what it is and what they are focusing on rather than trying to hide it under the facade of a different name.

Whether they should change both the name and the roles these people are playing is another question completely, and I would have to agree with you that they should have a Secretary of State focusing primarily on dipolomacy and building constructive relationships for the US, not simply looking out for national security threats to the United States.

Whats sad about this is that the gap between a “Superpower” and other normal nations is rapidly shrinking and most intelligence agencies themselves refer to an emerging “multi-polar world”. This is going to have to mean better diplomacy, and an end to the US saying it can make the rules but can break them at will. From China making idle nuclear threats to the US without repurcussions to the US strong arming Pakistan into the GWOT, diplomacy is a must not so the US can retain its spot as top dog, but rather to ensure mutual cooperation in the future between nations, and so that nations may ensure one another´s stability.