Mapping the New US National Security Strategy

The 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) for the United States just came out at the beginning of this month and while I won’t delve into any sort of detailed review of the document, I would like to point out a couple of things that I appreciated seeing in the document.  I also want to show a quick attempt at building a “strategy map” for the NSS, something that is far easier for the average reader to examine and absorb.  And while documents like the NSS, which are very political and very public statements, have their fair share of justified critiques (see the end of this post for one such critique), they still ostensibly inform a number of downstream planning documents and because of this any improvements in communicating them should be, I think, welcomed.

The first thing I liked seeing appeared on page 3 of the NSS, a phrase that I think accurately reflects both reality and the explicit intellectual challenge that a number of planning and policy folks are sincerely trying to wrestle with, namely, the complexity and interdependence of the world: “In an interconnected world, there are no global problems that can be solved without the United States, and few that can be solved by the United States alone.”

The second thing I appreciated seeing popped up on page 4, where the NSS presented what is essentially Joseph Nye’s formulation of the evolving nature of power in the world.  Here the NSS articulates and separates the twin shifts of power transition and power diffusion.  These two are distinct phenomena yet are often conflated in a variety of recent planning and foresight publications.  For those interested in reading more about Nye’s ideas on the future of power, see below for his book of the same name.

And now for the draft strategy map.  I tried to throw together something that would provide a quick visual reference for the major components of the document.  I also built the map on a basic ends-ways-means framework that should be intuitively familiar to most planning and policy folks..  Needless to say with something crammed with so many references and details that the strategy map leaves at a lot of details for which people may be looking.  Still, I think the map offers a useful reference for the full document.

NSS 2015 v0.1

Please note the asterisked element in the map: Uncertainties.  These do not appear in the NSS and are placeholder additions from me.  Over the years I’ve come to be a believer in strategies acknowledging not just a traditional ends-ways-means construct, but also specific risks and broader uncertainties.  Thus did I throw in some sample uncertainties that I think should accompany the NSS.

2015 National Security Strategy

White House Press Post

“Don’t Expect Too Much from Obama’s National Security Strategy

The Future of Power by Joseph S Nye, Jr.


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