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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

National Security Strategy: Mandates, Execution to Date, and Issues for Congress

Catherine Dale
Specialist in International Security

Strategy—together with decision-making, planning and execution, budgeting, and congressional oversight—is a critical component of U.S. government thinking and practice in the arena of national security. In theory, effective national security strategy-making can sharpen priorities and refine approaches; provide a single shared vision for all concerned agencies; clarify the roles and responsibilities of all concerned agencies so that they may more effectively plan and resource; offer a coherent baseline for congressional oversight; and communicate U.S. government intent to key audiences at home and abroad. While there is no single shared view of the boundaries of the concept of “national security,” many would include homeland security, and an array of economic, energy and/or environmental concerns, as well as traditional military affairs.

In practice, the U.S. government—at the levels of both the White House and individual agencies—conducts a wide array of strategic reviews, and issues many forms of strategic guidance. The pinnacle of the national security strategic architecture is the national security strategy, issued by the President. That effort is supported by an array of subordinate quadrennial reviews—the Quadrennial Defense Review by the Department of Defense, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review by the Department of State, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and the Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review issued by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence— as well as a number of subordinate strategies including national defense strategy, national military strategy, national homeland security strategy, and national intelligence strategy. Yet in practice, the strategic architecture is more complex and less coherent than this synopsis might suggest, because these core strategic efforts are joined by a number of one-off strategic reviews and documents, and because timelines, content, and relationships among the various documents have all varied a great deal over time.

Congress has provided statutory mandates for many but not all U.S. government strategy-making activities. In principle, congressional oversight of Administration strategic efforts can help hold the executive branch accountable for both the content and the rigor of its thinking. To the extent that strategy actually shapes policy-making and resourcing, such strategy oversight can be a powerful tool for shaping real-world outcomes. In practice, executive branch compliance with statutory mandates—in terms of both form and content—has been mixed at best in recent history.

This report offers a brief overview of the role of strategy in conducting the business of national security; and it reviews the major statutory and non-statutory mandates for national security activities, addressing both requirements and execution to date. It analyzes key issues that may be of interest to Congress in exercising oversight of executive branch strategy-making, including the frequency of strategy updates; the synchronization of timelines and content among different strategies; the prioritization of objectives; the assignment of roles and responsibilities among relevant agencies; the links between strategy and resourcing; and the value of a competition of ideas.

Date of Report: August 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R43174
Price: $29.95

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