Remarks on the Obama Administration's National Security Strategy

Hillary Clinton
The Brookings Institute
Washington, DC

Well, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity to come here to Brookings to talk about the National Security Strategy. I appreciate Strobe's very kind words about this strategy, because certainly, an enormous amount of attention has been paid at the highest levels of the Obama Administration over the last 15 months. And it is our attempt to try to integrate many of the various aspects of national security. One of our goals coming into the Administration was to do exactly what Strobe said, to begin to make the case that defense, diplomacy, and development were not separate entities either in substance or process, but that indeed they had to be viewed as part of an integrated whole and that the whole of government then had to be enlisted in their pursuit.

So I am very pleased that I have this opportunity. There are so many old friends and important thinkers and talkers about American foreign policy who are here today along with members of the diplomatic community, and we're very pleased to see all of you.

This is a comprehensive national security strategy that integrates our strengths here at home, our commitment to homeland security, our national defense, and our foreign policy. In a nutshell, this strategy is about strengthening and applying American leadership to advance our national interests and to solve shared problems. We do this against the backdrop of a changed and always changing global landscape and a difficult inheritance: two wars, a struggling economy, reduced credibility abroad, international institutions buckling under the weight of systemic changes, and so much more.

Our approach is to build the diverse sources of American power at home and to shape the global system so that it is more conducive to meeting our overriding objectives: security, prosperity, the explanation and spread of our values, and a just and sustainable international order.

Now, obviously, the world that we confront today has changed. This is a comprehensive National Security Strategy because we believe that we have to look at the world in a much more comprehensive way. The pace and nature of interconnection, economic interdependence, new technologies - all of those have in some ways brought the world, I would say, superficially closer together, but in other ways demonstrated the intensity of the demand on the United States to be able to respond and lead.

The type and number of actors with influence - emerging powers, non-state actors - we saw this in a very clear way in Copenhagen when President Obama and I worked to create a mechanism of some sort that would justify the gravity of the challenge was face and the extraordinary efforts that so many nations and non-state actors had put in to the lead-up to Copenhagen.

We see a world in which great power is exercised by primarily one nation, but there are many other existing and emerging powers. And yet it is not so much about the conflicts between powers, but the new and complicated threats that underscore and drive much of the interaction between powers in the world today: terrorism, proliferation, climate change, cybersecurity, energy security, and many other forces at work in our world.

But there are also huge opportunities, new modes of cooperation, new capacities to improve lives, some tangible efforts to bridge great gaps in understanding both through the media and through diplomacy. We are in a race between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration, and we see that every day. And part of our challenge is to define American leadership in relevant terms to the world of today and tomorrow, and not merely looking in the rearview mirror, which makes it very hard to drive forward.

So in a world like this, American leadership isn't needed less, it's actually needed more. And the simple fact is that no significant global challenge can be met without us.

I often say that we are standing alone when it comes to military and economic strength that is unmatched, but there is so much more to what we are attempting to both manage and direct and even, in some cases, solve in the long list of problems that we encounter. Meeting the challenges calls for innovation, adaptability, the power to project values, the capacity to convene and connect broad coalitions of actors. This is actually a very important American comparative advantage. So we are now less powerful, but we need to apply our power in different ways. We are shifting from mostly direct exercise and application of power to a more sophisticated and difficult mix of indirect power and influence.

So smart power is not just a slogan. It actually means something. It certainly meant something to me when I started using it. And I think it is gradually being picked up as a fair descriptor of what we are undertaking.

We have to balance and integrate all of the elements of our power, starting with the so-called three Ds - defense, diplomacy, and development - but also including our economic power and the power of our example. We need to have strategic patience and persistence, because indirect applications of power and influence take time. Now, every diplomat of any historical experience knows that. But the kind of slow, patient diplomacy that is necessary for the vast majority of problems that have been faced in diplomacy, going back in history, is so much more difficult today.

I mean, think about some of those critical moments that we look back at with admiration when breakthroughs occurred. How hard is it now to imagine doing that with Twitter, with blogs, with 24/7 media coverage so that the necessary ingredients of building some level of trust, to understand opposing points of view, to have the luxury of time, even if it's just days and weeks, to think through approaches, that has all been telescoped. I've told a number of friends and colleagues that the intensity of the diplomatic enterprise is so much greater than it was even when I observed it and, to some extent, participated in it back in the ‘90s. It's just a constantly accelerating mechanism that requires people to act often more quickly than the problem deserves. Yet that is the world in which we find ourselves. And so therefore, we have to adapt to it and we have to understand what it will take to meet the requirements of the times in which we find ourselves. And we need partners. We need partners to help us tackle these shared problems.

I said at the Council on Foreign Relations last year that two inescapable facts define our world. First, that no nation can meet the world's challenges alone. And second, that we face very real obstacles that stand in the way of turning commonality of interest into common action. Thus, leadership means overcoming those obstacles by building the coalitions that can produce results against those shared challenges. It means providing incentives for states who are part of the solution, whether they recognize it or not, enabling them and encouraging them to live up to responsibilities that even a decade ago they would never have thought were theirs, and disincentives for those who do not.

We have a systematic strategy for cultivating partners that can be called upon to help us address global challenges. First, energizing and updating our alliances. I came from two of our strongest allies, Japan and South Korea, over the last several days. And my very first trip as Secretary of State was to Asia, to those countries as a way of energizing those alliances, and we've done much on that since, building robust strategic dialogues with emerging centers of influence.

There's too often kind of a dismissal of dialogue or of creating some ongoing diplomatic framework in which to discuss a whole range of issues. I happen to be a big believer. I think that deepening our engagement with key countries like Russia, China, India and others gives us a better understanding and also to our counterparts. It also puts the relationship on a broader framework than just the usual hotspot, crisis, emergency that then marshals everybody's attention. And we have seen how just in this last year, using those dialogues has helped to address some serious common problems, but it has also helped to keep the relationship on an even keel going forward.

We have, as you know, built on the work of prior administrations with respect to China, and now have probably the biggest exchange of government officials and sharing of insights that we have ever had, not only with China, but probably with any country. We took over 200 American Government officials to Beijing for the second round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. And a lot of the work that was done is never going to get into a headline, but it is significant.

Two quick examples: We signed the first-ever agreement where American experts will work with their Chinese counterparts in developing the natural gas industry in China, which holds promise. Why is that important? Well, for China, having indigenous, independent energy sources is good news for them; for us, having China have indigenous, independent energy sources is good news for us. Because we see then a shift away from energy dependence in parts of the world that obviously influence their foreign policy. You have to keep your factories running and the lights on, and there are certain places in the world that provide that. Then that's going to influence how you treat your engagements with those countries.

Secondly, we did a lot of talking about development. China is present very heavily in Africa, in Latin America and other parts of Asia doing development work, much of it tied to economic interests, but not exclusively. And we actually began to have a conversation for the first time about how we can better understand what they're doing, be more transparent with what we're doing, and look for ways to work together.

With India, which starts next week, it is the first time ever we've had a ministerial strategic dialogue. There have been interactions, of course, at many levels. Strobe famously was our point person in the Clinton Administration. But we want to develop connections not only between high-ranking diplomats, as Strobe was, but also between people working on higher education, people working on clean water, people working on women's empowerment. And that is exactly what we intend to do.

We are investing in developing countries that we believe are reaching the tipping point, such as Ghana and Tanzania, to help create new capable partners. The President's speech in Ghana last year was a real clarion call to countries in Africa to think about their potential differently and to build institutions to move from the rule of men to the rule of law. And so we want to work to create more success stories.

We're reaching beyond states to build partnerships with the private sector, NGOs, academia, and I've spoken quite a bit about 21st century statecraft. So we're building partnerships between technology and citizen empowerment in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. We're looking to bring in our private sector to be a partner in solving problems so that our recently announced initiative, Feed The Future, is picking out certain countries that we will invest heavily in to try to make their agricultural sectors more productive so that they are then better able to feed themselves. And we're looking to private sector partners to assist us on that.

I also was in Shanghai on this past trip at the Shanghai Expo, and certainly seeing in many respects the extraordinary historical moment that China is enjoying. And China interacts with us not just government to government, but private sector to private sector, and we want to enhance more of those interactions. So, one of my announcements was sending a hundred thousand more students under the Obama Administration's outreach to China in the next four years. So, we're looking for ways that create those person-to-person connections.

We're building strategies to strengthen our engagement with regional institutions - NATO, ASEAN, OAS - and to reform global institutions. The G-20 is the principal example of that in this last year. And we are working on the regional architecture in Asia. I gave a speech a few months ago in Hawaii talking about what that regional architecture with the United States firmly embedded in it will look like. And we're working to make sure that our administrations in our country obviously change over time.

But we believe that there are certain commitments, as we saw in a bipartisan basis to NATO, that need to be embedded in the DNA of American foreign policy and not sort of beginning and ending in fits and starts. The engagement has to remain constant. There was a feeling that the United States had turned away from Asia, and none of our friends wanted that to be the fact. So we can't allow this very big complex world that is so demanding to have the United States absent anywhere.

We're giving adversarial nations a clear choice through dual-track approaches, and we are looking to turn a multi-polar world into a multi-partner world. I know there is a critique among some that somehow talking this way undercuts American strength, power, leadership. I could not disagree more. I think that we are seeking to gain partners in pursuing American interests. We happen to think a lot of those interests coincide with universal interests, and certainly, our interest in effectuating better outcomes for people around the world.

And my view is that we are trying to use every single tool in our tool kit, because universal values lie at the core of who we are, so they must lie at the core of what we do. We seek to solve problems because we're committed to global progress that promotes dignity and the opportunity for everyone to live up to their God-given potentials. Values matter to our national security. That should go without saying, but it needs to be not only repeated, but perhaps emblazoned as a set of principles that are guiding us. Democracy, human rights, development are mutually reinforcing and they are deeply connected to our national interests.

Now, there are, however, different approaches to how we act on those human universal values. Sometimes, there's a clarion call, which I attempted to do in the speech I gave about internet freedom, to put that on the agenda of the world, not just of the State Department. And sometimes, it's discreet diplomacy because we're not interested in just scoring points and getting headlines. We're actually interested in changing conditions, changing attitudes, changing laws, changing people's lives for the better.

Now, development and women's rights are two examples of where results and values converge. It's the right thing to do and it's the smart thing to do. And we see that everywhere. Even in my own staff, I sometimes see a few of my young male staff members' eyes roll when I go into women's rights for the 967th time. But I do that not only because I believe it passionately but because I know from every bit of evidence we've ever done about the connection between development and democracy that women are the key to both, that changing conditions that enable women to attain more influence, more empowerment - through education, through health care, through jobs, through access to credit - literally changes the map of how people think about themselves, what they expect from their government. And we are going to continue to promote that as a very core interest of the United States.

Now, this is a strategy about results. We ask ourselves all the time, have we contributed in a tangible way to global progress that improves security, widens the circle of prosperity, advances universal values, and helps to build a just and sustainable international order? Or on a more specific basis, have we secured nuclear materials? President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit was an extraordinarily important historic event because for the first time nations came together to talk about what every leader says is the overriding threat to humanity but which we have honored more in the breach than in actions taken.

Have we improved the material conditions of people's lives through effective development? As we are coming into the final lap of our first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and the President's PSD on development, we want to be held accountable. We believe that if we're going to be committed to development, we're going to have to ask the American taxpayers to help pay for sending somebody else's child to school or providing somebody else's mother maternal healthcare, we'd better be able to show results.

Because that really brings me to the final point. I appreciated Strobe's really strong endorsement of our process, and I hope as you study the product as well, some of the sort of headlines coming out of it. But perhaps the most important takeaway is that the United States must be strong at home in order to be strong abroad. We have to lead with confidence. We have to have the conditions in effect in our own country where we are able to project both power and influence.

And I don't think it is a surprise to anyone to be told that when President Obama came into office last year in the midst of such a very dangerous economic crisis, with America's economy in precarious position, there was a big question mark: What does this mean? What are other countries going to do as America is economically in a very difficult situation? And I'm happy to report that a year later, thanks to the economic policies that were pursued by the President and endorsed by the Congress, despite all the political to-and-fro about them, we are in a much stronger economic position than we were. And that matters. That matters when we go to China. That matters when we try to influence Russia. That matters when we talk to our allies in Europe. That matters when we deal with our own hemisphere or when we think about what we can do to help influence events for the better in Africa.

And so a lot of this national security strategy for the first time talks about the challenges we face here at home: our own deficit, our debt, the counterterrorism strategies. John Brennan gave a speech about that aspect of the National Security Strategy, talking about some of the changes that have been made in this Administration.

So we are very committed to pursuing this strategy in all of its many component parts, but we think that the sum of the parts adds up to a whole that is a strong endorsement of American leadership and America's defining role in the 21st century. We recognize completely the difficulties in today's world of pursuing and achieving that kind of position. But we believe that we have the strongest possible hand to play because we represent the United States of America and the people of this country, their resilience, their entrepreneurial spirit, their patriotism, and their core fundamental values. And that, more than anything, is what we bring to our work in the world today.

Thank you very much.

Hillary Clinton is U.S. Secretary of State.

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