Friday, July 11, 2008

House Armed Services Committee: Skelton on America’s Strategic Context

House Armed Services Committee

Ike Skelton, Chairman

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2008

Skelton on America’s Strategic Context

Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) today delivered the second in a series of speeches in the U.S. House of Representatives concerning the need for a comprehensive strategy to advance U.S. interests:

“Yesterday, I rose to speak about the need for America to embark upon a process to develop a comprehensive strategy to advance U.S. interests in the world. Today, I rise to continue that theme; I want to take the conversation a little further. A strategy, as I said last night, describes the way we employ all elements of national power to advance our critical interests. Ultimately, determining these critical interests depends upon the place America occupies in the world. What do we see as our role? Who do we want to be and how do we want to interact with the rest of the globe’s inhabitants to get there? That is the fundamental question, of course, but we are not ready to answer it yet.

“Instead, we must first consider the domestic and global contexts within which we must act. As our vision of where we want to go evolves, we must have an ongoing dialogue about the effort and the sacrifices we are willing to make. We must also look at the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be, and we must acknowledge that much of the world does not necessarily see us as we would see ourselves. And we must look clear-eyed beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. Only with that understanding can we determine where we want to go and how we want to get there. But as this vision develops, we must keep in mind that it is no good if we cannot provide the means to achieve it, nor is it useful if it is not a realistic fit with the rest of the world.

“The global environment is ever changing. While we cannot control the sea swell of change, we must prepare ourselves to navigate those waters. Regional power is shifting; some large nation states, such as China, India, Brazil to name a few, are ascending and verge on global power status. Russia may already be there, again. Do their interests conflict or coincide with ours? Is their rise a challenge to oppose or an opportunity to engage? Some of our traditional security arrangements may fade in importance as others take on new meaning. But nation states are not our only concern. It is clear that a number of trans-national issues will challenge us while others may provide positive potential. Fundamentalist terrorism and the proliferation of dangerous weapons are obvious examples of serious challenges, of course, but what about climate change, the fragility of increasingly connected world financial markets or the outbreak of pandemic disease? These are challenges that present themselves without any malicious intentional human action.

“The point here is that the world around us bears significant scrutiny because it represents the context that binds whatever strategy we choose. This is not to say that we cannot strive for an ideal – we can and we should. It is how this nation was formed. The ability to conceive a vision that is breathtaking in scope and heartbreaking in its beauty is America’s gift to the world. But while the goal may be the ideal, our understanding of our environment and our selection of the means to reach it must be firmly rooted in realism.

“With that thought I will close but I would like to point out that this is an ongoing theme within the Armed Services Committee. Our Oversight and Investigations subcommittee is currently holding a series of hearings on these topics, and the Full Committee will do so later in the year. In my next speech addressing these issues, I will talk about the need to return to the fundamentals of strategic understanding – a return to Sun Tzu, to Clausewitz, to strategic thought rooted not in slogans but in enduring principles.”

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