American National Security Policy

American National Security Policy

Authorities, Institutions, and Cases

John T. Fishel

Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2017, 284 pages

Book Review published on: August 4, 2017

There are some subjects (e.g., astrophysics or neurosurgery) in which most people will not venture an opinion unless they are both educated and experienced in the field. There are other subjects, equally complex, in which many people possessing only a scant understanding will nevertheless hold forth loudly and at length. Foreign policy falls into this category. One attractive feature of John Fishel’s American National Security Policy is that its opening section emphasizes the rigorous education most specialists in international affairs require. That instruction, as Fishel observes, is generally based upon the concept of international realism, the historically grounded view that conflict in the world is inevitable. Yet, while conflict among states and other international actors cannot be eliminated, realism holds that it can be mitigated by expertly employing realist tenets “tempered by American liberal values.”

The second section of the book discusses various “constraints and enablers” that influence U.S. policy makers in the performance of their national security responsibilities. Fishel’s coverage begins with the U.S. Constitution “where the legal authorities for national security policy begin” and moves on to such critical pieces of legislation as the National Security Act of 1947, the 1973 War Powers Resolution, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Fishel offers a succinct assessment of each of these documents, after which he turns to describing the national security organizations to which they gave rise, as well as changes each organization has experienced over time. His institutional list includes the State and Treasury departments from the beginning of the Republic; the proliferation of post-World War II organizations such as the National Security Council, the Department of Defense (which combined the long-standing Department of War and Department of the Navy), and the Central Intelligence Agency; and, finally, more recent additions such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The operational character of these organizations and the dynamism with which they interact today is addressed in chapters on “The National Security Council Process” and “Defense Planning Systems.”

Having acquired the basic information needed to comprehend the framework of U.S. national security policy, the reader is treated in the third section to succinct, insightful, and occasionally controversial overviews of eight case studies of the process in action—Panama, 1987-1989; Iraq, 1990-1991, 2002-2011; Somalia, 1992-1993; Haiti, 1993-1995; the Balkans, mid-1990s; and Afghanistan, 2001-2007, 2007-2016. While U.S. Armed Forces were deployed in each case, the military factor was never viewed in isolation from diplomatic, political, economic, personal, psychological, and other national security elements inherent in the event.

Fishel’s concluding observations pull the book’s insights together and reinforces a compelling point: American National Security Policy should serve as both an essential introduction and a standard reference work for civilians and officers seeking to understand the laws, institutions, procedures, and historical imprints governing the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs.

Book Review written by: Lawrence A. Yates, Overland Park, Kansas