Sunday, September 7, 2008

"You really have to embrace the complexity”

The Washington Diplomat has an interesting profile of Anne-Marie Slaughter, co-author of a couple of the grand strategy papers (here and here) I linked to a few weeks ago.

“I always say the 21st century is a really bad time for control freaks. Even for the best leaders and managers it’s more like surfing and balancing. You really have to embrace the complexity.”
Several years ago, Slaughter and a colleague at Princeton, G. John Ikenberry, launched the Princeton Project on National Security, which brought together nearly 400 experts from government, academia, business and the nonprofit sector to analyze global challenges and develop a new conceptual framework for U.S. foreign policy. Under the honorary chairmanship of former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and former Secretary of State George Shultz, the three-year, bipartisan initiative held nine conferences in the United States and overseas and commissioned 17 working papers on critical national security issues.

According to Slaughter, the project was inspired in part by the work done more than half a century earlier by George Kennan, the legendary U.S. diplomat and Princeton professor. His so-called “X” essay in Foreign Affairs in 1947 outlined the main elements of the containment doctrine that would guide U.S. foreign policy for more than four decades.

“In a way, we set out to write a collective ‘X’ article, to do together what no one person in our highly specialized world could hope to do alone. I don’t think that even someone of George Kennan’s caliber could tackle the breadth of issues required to formulate a successful national security strategy today,” Slaughter said.

“One of the things that I took away from this project is that the search for the one big issue that will dominate the 21st century is misguided. You have to embrace complexity or at least accept it,” she added. “That doesn’t mean you don’t have any priorities, but it does mean you have to think about strategy differently. It’s much more about being ready to respond than setting a rigid agenda. There are so many different players and so many different issues.”

Given this complexity, Slaughter believes it is unrealistic to expect the United States to be guided by a single organizing principle for its foreign policy, such as the containment strategy used to confront communism during the Cold War. She strongly endorses the Princeton Project’s assertion that the main goal of U.S. policy should be to seek “A World of Liberty Under Law,” which she says “captures what we are really trying to achieve: open societies operating under the rule of law.”

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