From the Director’s Chair
By: Kathleen Hicks
The international system is shifting in ways not yet fully understood. The well-worn frameworks of “post–Cold War era,” “strategic pause,” or even “the Global War on Terror” are no longer helpful in understanding the role of new powers such as China and India, the expanding reach of militant Islamist ideology, or the growth of major power provocations short of traditional war. Indeed, no single, compelling frame may exist that could capture the complexity and breadth of challenges we face. Critics have been right to point out the failures of the Obama administration to articulate its vision for how the world is evolving along all these dimensions. Yet the administration is not alone: no significant historian, analyst, or politician has done so either, including the administration’s harshest critics.
The time is more than ripe for serious discussion of the dynamics shaping the global order and the role for U.S. leadership and action within that order. Discerning the shifting nature of the international system, and designing an effective set of U.S. security tools within it, are monumental tasks, but they are not unprecedented. It is the same task that faced “the wise men” who helped shape the U.S. approach to world affairs at the end of World War II. Our circumstances today are likewise daunting, requiring a similarly disruptive reexamination of our strategies and capabilities for securing U.S. interests. Even more so than in 1945, this effort will be difficult to accomplish within the confines of government—due in part to the pernicious effect on strategic thinking of a culture of crisis management but also due to the very nature of the challenges and opportunities at hand, the range of which extend beyond the expertise of government to address.
The work of helping policymakers and the public frame an understanding of the international system and of U.S. security interests, objectives, capabilities and tools within it, is at the heart of the International Security Program’s mandate. We are uniquely positioned to bring together a broad, bipartisan cross-section of public- and private-sector stakeholders, from Capitol Hill and the administration to the think tank and academic sectors to the best thinkers in the private sector. We are also advantaged by being part of a larger CSIS family that has world-class expertise in every region of the globe and on trade, economic statecraft, development, energy, and global health. As the United States transitions into presidential campaign season this year, our ISP team will be seeking to help frame the key debates over how American government and society can lead in the highly complex, fast-moving environment of the twenty-first century.