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Project aims to ‘kindle debate’ on U.S. national security

From the Oct. 16, 2006, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Inspired by the legacy of Cold War foreign policy giant George Kennan, Princeton scholars have undertaken an ambitious effort to set a new course for America’s national security in a time of diverse, mounting threats.

The Princeton Project on National Security — a sweeping, bipartisan initiative led by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs — has crafted a long-term strategy for dealing with critical issues facing the United States: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, instability in the Middle East and East Asia, global pandemics and energy (see recommendations).

After more than two years of work and contributions from more than 400 academics, policy-makers and other leading thinkers, the Princeton Project last month released its final report, “Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century.” The report will be presented to policy-makers and other audiences across the country and internationally.

The project’s co-directors — Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Wilson School, and G. John Ikenberry, the Albert Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs — will deliver a public presentation at Princeton at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in 16 Robertson Hall.

“John and I hope this report will kindle debate on a comprehensive, forward-looking approach to American national security,” Slaughter said. “We feel very strongly, as did most of the participants in the project, that the United States is being reactive rather than proactive. We hope this report will inject concrete ideas into the debate to spur both the administration and those in Congress to start thinking much more comprehensively about a national security strategy.”

Ikenberry said, “These dangers arise against a background of enormous shifts in the landscape of the international system. It is time to unite our country and our allies, while dividing our enemies — rather than the other way around.”

Finding inspiration

Slaughter said the Princeton Project was born at a February 2004 conference on campus celebrating the legacy of Kennan, a Princeton alumnus and distinguished diplomat who in the mid-1940s articulated the strategy of “containment” that became the foundation of American policy toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“I thought that no one person could do now what George Kennan did in the 1940s, but that if we used Princeton’s convening power and brought together academics, government officials, think tank experts and spread our net wide enough, then we could do this collectively,” Slaughter said.

Unlike in Kennan’s era, when the Soviet Union loomed as America’s greatest national security threat, the participants in the Princeton Project faced the challenge of devising a strategy to address multiple dangers.

“We went in looking for one concept like containment that would guide the national security strategy,” Slaughter said. “What we found, which did surprise us, is that there can’t be one concept in response to a particular threat because there is not just one big threat. Instead what you need is a positive vision that will allow you to build the capacity and the cooperation mechanisms to address multiple threats at once.

“We came out of our first meeting — and this deepened over the life of the project — convinced that threats that once would not have been under the rubric of national security really have to be today,” she said, citing bird flu as an example. “If you define national security as something that could kill millions of Americans and completely disrupt the way we live our lives, then avian flu is as big a threat as a nuclear strike on a city.”

Reaching broad audiences

The Princeton Project report was released Sept. 27 in Washington, D.C., at an event that featured remarks from two U.S. senators, Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joseph Biden. Slaughter and Ikenberry also have met with staff members of several U.S. senators and have presented the project’s recommendations at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“We have received a lot of positive response, particularly to the idea that this is bipartisan and that it is an effort to think big and think comprehensively,” Slaughter said.

“There are many national security strategies put out by think tanks that tend to be focused on one political party,” she said. “What is really distinctive about this is the length of time spent, the range of people involved and the really serious effort to grapple with the whole range of issues that we need to face to make us safer.”

Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst for CNN and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, said, “The Princeton Project is the most comprehensive and systematic effort in recent years to formulate a national security strategy for the 21st century.” Bergen was co-chair of the Princeton Project’s working group on state security and transnational threats.

Numerous events are being planned to present the Princeton Project report to a broad range of audiences in this country and overseas. A talk is scheduled for Oct. 30 at the American Academy of Berlin, and an event in Asia, possibly in Beijing, is being planned for January.

The Princeton Project team expects to return to Washington after the November midterm elections “as Congress comes back and is able to look at issues rather than campaigns,” said Slaughter. Discussions also are under way with congressional representatives about organizing Princeton Project events in their home districts. In addition, Slaughter hopes to arrange a visit to the United Nations next year to discuss the report.

Getting fresh perspectives

The Princeton Project initiative, which was formally launched in May 2004, involved input from an international collection of contributors, led by honorary co-chairs — and Princeton alumni — George Shultz, secretary of state under President Reagan, and Anthony Lake, national security adviser to President Clinton. Participants included scholars and students from Princeton and other universities as well as leading figures from government agencies, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, public and private corporations, and media outlets.

In addition to Slaughter and Ikenberry, the project staff included executive director Elizabeth Colagiuri, a Wilson School graduate alumna, and senior researcher Thomas Wright, a Wilson School lecturer. Colagiuri oversaw the project’s operations, which included: seven working groups focused on topics including grand strategy, transnational threats and economics; nine conferences covering themes such as the preventive use of force and the role of the private sector; and 17 commissioned papers on the collapse of a nuclear-armed state, the implications of anti-Americanism and other key issues.

Colagiuri said the project benefited from the perspectives of its array of contributors — from statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, to “next-generation” thinkers such as Suzanne Nossel of the Security and Peace Initiative, Adam Posen of the Institute for International Economics and Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Trying to bring all of these people together in ways that would generate fresh thinking on U.S. national security was definitely a challenge, and I think we succeeded, which is what made this an exciting initiative,” Colagiuri said. “Each of these people has their own work in their own fields, but to bring them into these combinations through the working groups and conferences, to get them to think outside of the box about what national security is going to look like in this century — that’s where this project was unique.”

Princeton junior Evan Magruder, a Wilson School major, worked as an undergraduate research assistant on the project, helping gather information on topics such how different world leaders have defined national security. He also assisted with some of the conferences.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to a number of scholars who had made the trip to Princeton to work on the project,” Magruder said. “It was a real treat to hear what these people had to say. … I hope that the Princeton Project on National Security will merit serious discussion among our current leaders.”

The Princeton Project on National Security was supported by the Wilson School, the Ford Foundation and David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, a global investment firm. The final report and roster of contributors can be found on the project’s Web site.

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