The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

The Obama Doctrine: A Liberal Approach to National Security

An assignment for my International Relations class…

On May 26, 2010, President Obama released the first National Security Strategy (NSS) of his administration.  The NSS “serves to set administration priorities inside the government and communicate them to Congress, the American people, and the world,” as well as to be “a framework produced by other parts of the government, including the Pentagon’s national defense strategy (DeYoung).” Hailed as a radical change from the previous NSS documents of President Bush,  President Obama’s NSS shows marks a departure from a realist perspective and shows a shift to a more liberal outlook that seeks to make greater use of “soft power”-diplomacy and “a strategy of national renewal and global leadership (Obama)”-than of military strength.

In the NSS, President Obama writes “…we have an interest in a just and sustainable international order that can foster collective action to confront common challenges (Obama 40).” This is a trademark of liberal thought, which holds that “injustice, war, and aggression are not inevitable but can be moderated or even eliminated through institutional reform or collective action (Mingst 76).”  Liberal thought is also influenced by the writings of Immanuel Kant, who believed that international conflict could be avoided “through some kind of collective action (Mingst 77),” and by the idealism of Woodrow Wilson, whose League of Nations-the predecessor to the modern United Nations-“legitimiz(ed) the notion of collective security, whereby aggression by one state would be countered by collective action (Mingst 78).”

Mingst writes , “the  League of Nations illustrated the importance that liberals place on international institutions to deal with war and the opportunity for collective problem solving in a multilateral forum (78).” The “just and sustainable international order” that Obama’s NSS outlines call for international institutions such as the UN to “be more effective (Obama 12),”  and directs that “the United States will need to invest in strengthening the international system, working from inside international institutions…to mobilize transnational cooperation (Obama 13).” President Obama also sees a role for individuals to participate in this new order, and states that “the ability of individuals…to play a positive role in shaping the international environment” has strategic benefits for the United States (Obama 13). This is reflective of historic Greek philosophy, which held that “individuals are rational human beings, able to understand the universally applicable laws governing both nature and human society,” and that their understanding of these laws gave the individual the “capacity to improve their condition by creating a just society (Mingst 77).” Montesquieu held that individual education was imperative to prepare for civil life and to overcome defects in society (Mingst 77); Obama links himself to this Enlightenment-based thought by suggesting that “our own prosperity and leaderships depends increasingly on our ability to provide our citizens with the education that they need to succeed…. (Obama 29).” Liberalism bases itself on the inherent rationality of human beings and “in the unbridled optimism that through learning and education, humans can develop institutions to bring out their best characteristics (Mingst 78),” and Obama’s strength in these beliefs makes up the core of his NSS document.

Many liberals believe that “all war can be eliminated through disarmament (Mingst 78)” and with minimal use of force. In one of the shortest sections of the NSS, Obama mirrors this thought. He writes that the United States “will draw on diplomacy, development, and international norm and institutions to help resolve disagreements, prevent conflict, and maintain peace, mitigating where possible the use of force (Obama 22).” He also places nuclear disarmament as a “top priority”, and states that the United States “will pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” believing that  “[the] active pursuit and eventual achievement [of this goal] will increase global security…and increase our credibility to hold others accountable for their obligations (Obama 23).”

Mingst writes that “during the interwar period, when the League of Nations proved incapable of maintaining collective security, and during World War II, when atrocities made many question the basic goodness of humanity, liberalism came under intense scrutiny (78).” With the rise of non-state terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and the inability of the UN to eradicate them (owing to the UN’s own liberal-based policies that rely more on international “cooperation” than military force), it is most likely that liberalism will fail again as a philosophy of guidance in America’s national security.  An offensive realist (such as myself) would view Obama’s NSS as failing to leverage the strength of the American military and influence to insure the protection of national interests at home and abroad. Realists would argue that Obama’s description of the world as it is (described on pages 1-2 of the NSS) and his admission that with “an unmatched military [and] the world’s largest economy,” the US “will continue to underwrite global security (Obama 1)” lend themselves to bolstering the nation’s power in the absence of an effective (both militarily and economically) international order. It remains to be seen whether Obama’s desire to place American national security in the hands of the larger international community will indeed strengthen the nation or lead to the erosion of our military advantage and the further erosion of our economic strength.



DeYoung, Karen. “Obama redefines national security strategy, looks beyond military might.” 27 May 2010. 12 February 2011 <;.

Mingst, Karen. Essentials of International Relations. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.

Obama, Barack. “National Security Strategy.” 26 May 2010. 11 February 2011.


Written by Coby Dillard

February 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

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