Guiding Principles of Engagement
Both our goals, and the policies we pursue to achieve these goals, must reflect two guiding principles that influence both our national character and legacy: protecting our national interests and advancing our values. Throughout history, all sovereign nations have been guided by protection of their national interests, even if they have defined these interests quite differently. Many countries have also been guided by a desire to advance their values. Few, however, have chosen to advance those values principally through the power of their example instead of the might of their military. Historically, the United States has chosen to let our example be the strongest voice of our values. Both our goals and the policies we pursue to achieve these goals reflect these guiding principles.
Protecting our National Interests
Our national interests are wide-ranging. They cover those requirements essential to the survival and well being of our Nation as well as the desire to see us, and others, abide by principles such as the rule of law, upon which our republic was founded.
We divide our national interests into three categories: vital, important, and humanitarian. Vital interests are those directly connected to the survival, safety, and vitality of our nation. Among these are the physical security of our territory and that of our allies, the safety of our citizens both at home and abroad, protection against WMD proliferation, the economic well-being of our society, and the protection of our critical infrastructures–
including energy, banking and finance, telecommunications, transportation, water systems, vital human services, and government services–from disruption intended to cripple their operation. We will do what we must to defend these interests. This may involve the use of military force, including unilateral action, where deemed necessary or appropriate.
The second category, important national interests, affects our national well being or that of the world in which we live. Principally, this may include developments in regions where America holds a significant economic or political stake, issues with significant global environmental impact, infrastructure disruptions that destabilize but do not cripple smooth economic activity, and crises that could cause destabilizing economic turmoil or humanitarian movement. Examples of when we have acted to protect important national interests include our successful efforts to end the brutal conflict and restore peace in Kosovo, or our assistance to our Asian and Pacific allies and friends in support of the restoration of order and transition to nationhood in East Timor.
The third category is humanitarian and other longer-term interests. Examples include reacting to natural and manmade disasters; acting to halt gross violations of human rights; supporting emerging democracies; encouraging adherence to the rule of law and civilian control of the military; conducting Joint Recovery Operations worldwide to account for our country’s war dead; promoting sustainable development and environmental protection; or facilitating humanitarian demining.
Threats or challenges to our national interests could require a range of responses. Wherever possible, we seek to avert conflict or relieve humanitarian disasters through diplomacy and cooperation with a wide range of partners, including other governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Prevention of crises, through the proactive use of such diplomatic, economic, political and military presence tools, will not only save lives but also will prevent a much greater drain of fiscal resources than its alternative — managing conflict.
Advancing American Values
The protection of national interests is not the sole factor behind the various expressions of U.S. national resolve. Since the beginning of our democracy, our policies and actions have also been guided by our core values — political and economic freedom, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. In keeping with these values, we have lent our encouragement, support, and assistance to those nations and peoples that freely desire to achieve those same blessings of liberty. Pursuing policies that are guided by these values, and the open economic and political processes through which they are typically manifested, will in the long term strengthen international peace and stability, and reinforce the positive aspects of globalization.
Where Interests Meet Values
There are times when the nexus of our interests and values exists in a compelling combination that demands action — diplomatic, economic, or military. At times throughout our history, our survival as a nation has been at stake and military action was the only possible recourse. On other occasions, our survival as a nation has not been at stake but our national interests have nonetheless been challenged. When such challenges to our interests occur in concert with morally compelling challenges to our values, the American people expect their government to take action. During the course of this Administration, we have employed military force only in circumstances in which our national interests were at stake and our values were challenged.
Preserving our interests and values has never been without cost, and every generation has been asked to bear a portion of the price of freedom. From a bridge at Concord over two centuries ago to the air over Kosovo last year, on numerous occasions Americans have been called upon to stand up for their interests, interests which are often inextricably linked with their values.
Today, 250,000 U.S. forces are stationed or deployed overseas to protect and advance our nation’s interests and values — down from a Cold War peak of 500,000. Of this, we maintain a continuous overseas presence of over 200,000 in places like Germany, Japan, and South Korea, while about 30,000 are currently involved in operations. These include nearly 20,000 stationed around the Persian Gulf to contain Iraq, roughly 10,000 in Bosnia and Kosovo, and 1,000 in the Sinai. Other forces, such as those rotationally deployed to the Mediterranean, the Pacific Ocean and the Arabian Gulf, remain involved in routine operations. Our diplomatic corps — the Civil and Foreign Services — also bear an important part of protecting and advancing our interests, often in the furthest reaches of the globe, through embassies, consulates, and missions worldwide.
The Efficacy of Engagement
Our strategy of engagement has allowed us to accrue a range of benefits, including sustained, relative peace, expanded trade and investment opportunities brought by globalization, and a large increase in the number of states that share our democratic values. We have exercised strong leadership in the international community to shape the international security environment in ways that promote peace, stability, prosperity, and democratic governance. We have transformed our alliances and reinvigorated relationships with friends and partners; forged broad relationships with former adversaries; fostered new relations with transitional states; and deterred major hostilities.