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A New U.S. Narrative?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Y Paper: America Needs a New Narrative for the 21st Century: 

Complex, Resilient, with Deeds and Words that Match Our Values


A Story to Transcend Our Divisions

In a complex interconnected world, the U.S. should be the strongest competitor and the greatest source of credible influence, which requires we invest less in defense and more in our sustainable resources-people, infrastructure and the environment.

That's the vision two high ranking active duty military officers propose in "A National Strategic Narrative"a paper presented recently at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for ScholarsPrinceton, NJ. Ann-Marie Slaughterprofessor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, said the authors, who identify themselves as "Mr. Y," offer a blueprint for understanding the changes America faces in the twenty-first century. Professor Slaughter wrote a preface for the paper, and the center hosted a panel discussion with scholars who discussed its implications.

"America emerged from the twentieth century as the most powerful nation on earth," the paper says. "But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy. The new century brought with it a reminder that the world, in fact, is a complex open system-constantly changing."

Dr. Slaughter says the national strategic narrative, unlike the highly specialized national security strategy, addresses very basic questions, such as where we want to be in the world and how we get there. "We need a story," she writes, "that will transcend our political divisions, orient us as a nation, and give us both a common direction and the confidence and commitment to get to our destination." The narrative developed after World War II was that the U.S. was the leader of the free world, against the Communist world, and that we invested in containing the Soviet Union while becoming as prosperous as possible ourselves. That narrative is no longer applicable.

The Y article examines five major transitions for today's world.

  • Rather than trying to control a closed system-as the post WWII narrative suggests-we need to try to influence an open system that is constantly disturbed and disrupted by unpredictable external events and phenomena.
  • Rather than trying to contain any other country or ideology, we need to "focus on sustaining ourselves in ways that build on our strengths and underpin credible influence." For credible influence, the paper says, we need to model the behavior we want from others, and close the gap between our words and our deeds.

  • American foreign policy needs to transition from deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition. The authors say we can "modernize our military and cut the spending tools of the twentieth century." Willingness to compete, they write, requires a new narrative on trade and investment in the skills, education, energy sources and infrastructure to make our products competitive.

  • We need to adopt positive sum global politics and economics, which means seeing common interests as well as threats, and recognizing that the rise of some does not necessarily mean the decline of others.

  • The Y paper calls for the National Security Act of 1947 to be replaced with a new National Prosperity and Security Act. The overhaul would recognize that today's security "lies as much in our prosperity as in our military capabilities," and that we need a new blueprint to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in an interconnected world. The Y paper suggests such an act would provide policy changes to support the innovation and entrepreneurialism that can "sustain our qualitative growth as a people and a nation."

Read the paper hereListen to the panel discussion, hosted by Center Director Jane Harmon and moderated by columnist and author Thomas Freidman.

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