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Visioning for the 21st Century:
A Process for National Security

Dr. Sheila Ronis

After the events of September 11, 2001, there is a need to explore how the United States thinks about its National Security environment at home and abroad, structure its new homeland defense office and develop processes that will enable this new federal agency and the rest of the National Security community to accomplish their objectives for the 21st century. There is also a need to explore how an interagency visioning process could be useful for this endeavor. As a nation, we need a vision of what role we want to play in the world for this century and how that role will affect our ability to defend ourselves and our allies anywhere in the world.

"Visioning for the 21st Century: A Process for National Security" explores a vision of how the broad, systemic relationships in the National Security community need to work together. It further explains why visioning needs to be accomplished holistically. The future global geopolitical environment and internal environment in the United States need to be effectively "shaped." In addition, a new role for the U.S. in the world of the 21st Century needs to be developed.


National Security is frequently viewed as "Parts of a Puzzle." But, as a systems scientist, I am trained to step back into the next larger system and look at the whole; to look at the interdependence of the parts and the links that relate each part of the system to each other.

"Systems are not the sum of their parts, but the product of their interactions," according to systems theorist Dr. Russell Ackoff. So, to understand a system, you don't just break it down into its component parts, you don't just look at the pieces of the puzzle, you must look at the entire mosaic that is created when the pieces fit together. And, you only see the mosaic in the next larger system.

If the system we are looking at is the National Security Strategy of the United States, what is the next larger system? Well, ideally, it should be the holistic, integrated National Strategy of the United States; its foreign policy, economic, diplomatic, military, intelligence, education, health, etc... all of its policies, woven together to create a holistic vision of who we are in the future. Unfortunately, we do not have such a strategy or vision -- nor do we have any mechanism to develop one anywhere within the federal government. We simply do not have a decision making process to develop a long term integrated vision of American involvement and strategies in the world or our strategies at home. How can we possibly be effective at shaping our environment, or developing effective plans for shaping, if we have no way to think through the whole, let alone, make decisions about the world. Can the United States continue to be a world leader if it is always in a reactive mode and never proactive? Can we possibly win a war on terrorism or any other war without this sort of planning?

I think not.

Our current national decision making structure is inadequate and antiquated for the world we are inheriting in the Post Cold War 21st Century.



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