SARKESIAN, Sam et al. US National Security: Policy makers, Processes and Politics


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US National Security: Policy makers, Processes and Politics.

Místo vydání:



Lynne Rienner Publishers



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For anyone situated in Europe, it would be self-evident that the US has a strongly articulated foreign and security policy. The purpose of it would—at least according to some pundits—also be clear. The US pursues strategic aims around the world, shapes outcomes, and is driven by US interests throughout the international system. What is not so obvious, however, is the assertion held by the authors of US National Security: Policy makers, Processes and Politics that “US national security policy and priorities have become complicated, often ambiguous and even inconsistent—not because of immediate threat of major conventional war but rather the unpredictable, uncertain, and confusing characteristics of the international arena” (p. 3). US National Security policy making is not untouched by this confused and shifting picture of rapidly changing “strategic alliances” and withering multilateralism (in combination with the rise of organizations that are nominally multilateral, but sculpted on securing relative gains in regional settings). It is embroiled in it, struggles with it, and responds to it in complex processes of analyses, decision-making and implementation. And it is not one process, even though the outcome as perceived through the lenses of unipolarity suggests that it is. US Grand Strategy is the often not so common denominator in a complex decision-making process, where principles, analyses and legitimacy interact in a cross-cutting preparatory process that eventually leads to presidential decisions.

As a teaching devise in US foreign and security policy making, the book US National Security: Policy makers, Processes and Politics moves beyond a tedious analysis of decision making procedures in US foreign and security policy. The chapter outlines are cutting across an analysis of the conflict spectrum, the US political system, the national security system and the interagency processes, issues of societal legitimacy and constraints on presidential decision-making prerogatives, and how the process finally ends up in policy-making. The analysis of these processes and principles is a dynamic one, however. As the authors claim, there are no neat paradigms or models that can explain or illustrate how policies are made in the context of domestic and international relations (p. 87). This is instructive for anyone that seeks to study the process, at least in two ways. First, the impression of the US as something remote and distanced from world affairs is balanced by the complexity of which the world’s only superpower makes policies and decisions. The US does not have a “template” for world affairs, and decisions that are made can often run contrary to the principles that are upheld—or rather, the principle is debate, and then resolve, and then debate again. Second, the USA guards its principles of democratic debate and institutional constraints. US foreign and security policy evolves in a setting where transparency, debate and institutional division of power are more than sideshows.

This is illustrated by the fact that the authors themselves do not avoid voicing themselves on issues that potentially could be seen as controversial. Echoing the perennial US debate on the separation of powers, the authors seem to be skeptical to deep-plowing changes in the policy triad, such as the creation of Director of National Intelligence after September 11. Moreover, the book also provides a deep and stringent analysis of the most important reforms in US national security during the last decade. The shifting away from US Department of State as a primary source of policy making, the encroachment of the Department of Defense on fields that State would like to have a larger say in, and the shifting controversies over when and why to use the military forces all show that US policy making is not static, and more than that—it cannot be.

Personally, I found the discussions on the policy triad in US foreign and security policies most interesting. The US system is indeed unique in its complexity, diverse in its interagency process (the coordination of policies between branches of government), and presidential in its implementation of policies. The latter is of primary importance for understanding the effect of policies on the international environment, and the former for the democratic underpinning of these policies. Certainly, presidential policies can circumscribe the policy process by direct appeals to the public and in seeking public legitimacy for fundamental conceptual changes in foreign and security policies. Presidents can, the authors say, in times of crises gain popular support of wide-ranging reforms and turns in foreign and security policies (illustrated by the post 11 September events). Nevertheless, the advisory process, the institutional revision of policies and not least, the continuous evaluation of policies that is conducted in the interagency process, are all fundamental correctives to policies. Moreover, the president also remains the most responsible person in the eyes of the constituencies. This is certainly why the authors (and the US public) do not spend too much attention on the policy process in political parties (of which there are basically two), but even more on explaining, analyzing and debating the process of policy making, and the complex vested interests that characterize this process. Persons that are raised in petty parliamentarianism are easily awestruck by the multivariate process that this is—count me in as one.

Let it be said at once: the 4th edition of this book is a reminder that it still is a seminal work on US policy making processes. There are currently few other books on the market that go so deeply into the interagency processes (the role of the National Security Council as a go-between between the departments and agencies), the transformation of the US military to a whole new set of challenges, the Congressional constraints and limitations on the use of US military power. Hence, it also invites European eyes to read US foreign and security policies in a more nuanced way. If those that defend the term “a multipolar world” by this mean that the EU is something separate and increasingly more “normative” than the US, this is based upon a fundamental misinterpretation of US foreign and security policies. This book corrects that view, not in the sense that EU policy making would be less complex, but in the sense that the perception that US policy processes are simple, is indeed a very simplified perception.

Title in English:

SARKESIAN, Sam, WILLIAMS, John Allen, CIMBALA, Stephen J. US National Security: Policy makers, Processes and Politics.

Title in Czech/Slovak:





Book Review






Obrana a strategie (Defence & Strategy)


University of Defence


ISSN 1214-6463 (print) and ISSN 1802-7199 (on-line)




Volume 10, Number 2 (December 2010)



Received: 15 September 2010

Accepted: 22 October 2010

Published online: 15 December 2010

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