National Security Strategy, United States

National Security Strategy, United States

The National Security Strategy (NSS), as its name suggests, is a document outlining the blueprint for national security envisioned by the president of the United States. It has been issued, on a more or less annual basis, by each administration since Congress mandated its issuance in 1986, but prior to the September 2002 NSS of George W. Bush, the strategy report was little more than a statement of existing policy. The 2002 NSS, however, was not merely the first statement of its kind by a new administration, it was the first statement of national security strategy in a new era.

Early History of the NSS

From the time of President Richard M. Nixon in the early 1970s, it was routine for chief executives of the United States to issue statements of policy as it related to national security. The issuance of these statements became law in 1986, when Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act. This legislation, which represented the fourth major reorganization of the U.S. Department of Defense since World War II, mandated that the White House present Congress with an annual statement of national security policy.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act was an expression of longstanding congressional frustration with the executive branch when it came to making clear executive policy on national security. Congressional leaders never doubted that a consistent national security strategy existed, as U.S. Military Academy political scientist Don Snider observed in Foreign Policy, but by requiring the White House to make its policy explicit, Congress would have an opportunity to exert greater influence on that strategy. The Goldwater-Nichols Act would also have the effect of asserting greater civilian control over the military.

NSSs under Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Congressional frustration with presidential administrations in the matter of national security strategy was a phenomenon that had little to do with political party lines. Even when the same party controlled both the Oval Office and Congress, as University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato noted in Foreign Policy, the relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill tended to be more competitive than cooperative. The history of the NSS has tended to reinforce, rather than overturn, that background of competition between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

The NSSs submitted by the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and William J. Clinton usually did little more than simply restate policies then in effect. They were often bland, inciting little discussion on Capitol Hill or elsewhere, and some seemed more like promotional brochures on administration policy than carefully reasoned documents of national security. In 1994, an angry Senator Strom Thurmond, one of those involved in passing the Goldwater-Nichols Act, complained that the reports "seldom met … expectations."

Thurmond also noted that reports tended to be late, if presidents even bothered to submit them at all. For his first NSS, Clinton and his aides went through 21 drafts before finally submitting it, a year and a half after the due date. George W. Bush failed to submit his NSS on the due date, June 15, 2001, and in any case, events three months later would have rendered that NSS moot. As it was, Bush did not finally submit his first NSS until September 2002—and when he did, its tardiness was the least of its controversial aspects.

The 2002 NSS. Bush's 2002 NSS was an extraordinary document in the fact that it provided the blueprint for the new era that began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as a framework for U.S. action resulting from those attacks. It is a detailed document outlining an aggressive, but idealistic foreign and military policy. At the time the 2002 NSS was published, it appeared that the United Nations (U.N.) would support Bush's plans to force Saddam Hussein of Iraq to comply with U.N. demands regarding disarmament—a support that evaporated when the moment of truth came—but in any case, Bush's NSS makes little mention of the U.N. or other international organizations. In fact, the preamble lists the U.N. along with other groups of much smaller stature, suggesting that the administration was already beginning to chart a course separate, if necessary, from the U.N.

The 2002 NSS recognizes that the United States carries unique responsibilities as the sole remaining dominant superpower and would guarantee peace, freedom, and prosperity to those who agreed to pursue those aims. In its pages, it outlines an eight-part strategy, in both general and specific terms, for defeating terrorism and tyranny, encouraging global trade as a means to prosperity, fostering freedom and respect for human life, helping to build democratic institutions and free societies, spurring economic and infrastructure development, building cooperation for peace with other nations, and reforming American national security institutions to meet those challenges.



Gaddis, John Lewis. "A Grand Strategy for Transformation." Foreign Policy no. 133 (November/December 2002): 50–57.

Hirsch, Michael. "Bush and the World." Foreign Affairs 81, no. 5 (September/October 2002): 18–44.

Lucia, Christine. "Counterproliferation at Core of New Security Strategy." Arms Control Today 32, no. 8 (October 2002): 30.

Rice, Condoleeza. "Anticipatory Defense in the War on Terror." New Perspectives Quarterly 19, no. 4 (fall 2002): 5–8.


The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. < > (March 18, 2003).


Bush Administration (1989–1993), United States National Security Policy
Bush Administration (2001–), United States National Security Policy
Clinton Administration (1993–2001), United States National Security Policy
National Preparedness Strategy, United States
NSC (National Security Council)
President of the United States (Executive Command and control of Intelligence Agencies)
Reagan Administration (1981–1989), United States National Security Policy
September 11 Terrorist Attacks on the United States

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