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June 03, 2008

On The Subject Of Terminology
Posted by David Shorr

Ilan told us that we need to stop talking about soft power. I want to nominate another potentially powerful concept in need of a new name. One of the paradigm shifts we need in foreign policy is to worry as much about the overall condition of the world -- extreme economic inequality, failing states, ungoverned spaces, identity politics, warlordism, greenhouse gasses -- as we do about overcoming specific threats (read 'bad guys'). These are the underlying cancerous pathologies that determine how many threats we face. Looking at it from a more optimistic vantage, it's about promoting progress and better lives

But how should we talk about this challenge? Obviously people are already talking about prevention, root causes, interdependence, and the futility of going it alone. The Stanley Foundation and US in the World have a useful new communications resource along these lines. But I think the floor is still open for the best way to explain why improved global conditions are a core national security challenge. Progressives have been successful recently in prompting public concern not just about the terrorists out there who want to harm us, but also future recruits. There's a lot more talk now about the dangers of enflaming anti-American sentiment; we need a similar reframing for the overall policy.

The closest I've found to what I'm looking for is a concept from the US military of "phase zero," which precedes the traditional phases of an operation (deter/engage, seize initiative, decisive operations, and transition). Stewart Patrick of Center for Global Development has highlighted the danger that this concept could be yet another element of the problem of the mission creep by which the military's responsibilities are growing and further overshadowing the civilian agencies. At a conceptual level, though, the idea gets close to what I'm after. As I've thought about it, I keep coming back to the idea of "pro-active security" as a way to describe it -- as opposed to REactive, obviously. Other ideas?


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I recommend to anyone interested in considering how the US and its citizens might again (again?) become decent law-abiding world citizens, the new book "Re-Engage! -- America and the World after Bush" by Helena Cobban. It is a short, straight-to-the-point book with specific things we can do about security challenges, global inequality, human rights and climate change.

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