Susan Rice articulates a brave new way of approaching global stability

Susan Rice delivered a blockbuster speech titled A New Course in the World, a New Approach at the UN at New York University. Excerpts don’t do it justice, but these few graphs articulate an important and profoundly new way of viewing international relations. (NB a link to her full speech is not yet available. I’ll post the link as soon as it goes online.)  Here’s the link.

In summary, Rice says that the at the United Nations and in other bilateral and multi-lateral efforts, the Obama administration will undertake a concerted effort to strengthen the will and capacity of states around the world to deal with common security threats.  She says:

The reach, scale, and complexity of 21st-century security challenges put unprecedented demands on states and the entire infrastructure of international cooperation we helped build after 1945. If ever there were a time for effective multilateral cooperation in pursuit of U.S. interests and a shared future of greater peace and prosperity, it is now. We stand at a true crossroads. We must move urgently to reinvigorate the basis for common action. The bedrock of that cooperation must be a community of states committed to solving collective problems and capable of meeting the responsibilities of effective sovereignty.

A fundamental imperative of U.S. national security in the 21st century is thus clear: we need to maximize the number of states with both the capacity and the will to tackle this new generation of transnational challenges. We need a modern edifice of cooperation, built upon the foundation of responsible American leadership, with the bricks of state capacity and the beams of political will.


Building the capacity of fragile states is a major part of our work every day at the United Nations, since the UN is leading the charge in many of the toughest corners of the world. At its best, the UN helps rebuild shattered societies, lay the foundations for democracy and economic growth, and establish conditions in which people can live in dignity and mutual respect. I have seen first-hand how the UN delivers—in Haiti, where peacekeepers flushed deadly gangs out of the notorious Cité Soleil slum and are now training a reformed Haitian police force. I have seen it in Liberia, where the UN Development Program supports impressive efforts to teach literacy, computer, and trade skills to jobless ex-combatants. I have seen it in Congo, where the UN made it possible to hold the first democratic elections in the country’s history.

It is not enough simply to build up the corps of capable, democratic states. We need states with both the capacity and the will to tackle common challenges. As we have been reminded in recent years, we cannot take that will for granted, even among our allies. The simple reality is: if we want others to help combat the threats that concern us most, then we must help others combat the challenges that threaten them most. For many nations, those threats are first and foremost the things that afflict human beings in their daily lives: corruption, repression, conflict, hunger, poverty, disease, and a lack of education and opportunity.

When the United States joins others to confront these challenges, it is not charity. It is not even barter. In today’s world, more than ever, America’s interests and values converge. What is good for others is often good for us. When we manifest our commitment to tackling the threats that menace so many nations; when we invest in protecting the lives of others; and when we recognize that national security is no longer a zero-sum game, then we increase other countries’ will to cooperate on the issues most vital to us.

Rice billed this speech as building upon major addresses by Defense Secretary Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitan, Secretary of State Clinton, Counter-Terrorism Chief John Brennen, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  Each of those previous addresses were remarkable for the fact that each respective secretary and official laid out a clear vision of how their various departments can work more cooperatively with other government agencies to advance common security interests.  The Pentagon calls this a “whole of government” approach.  In New York today, Rice took the concept one step further and articulated what could be called a whole of governments approach to common security threats. 

To a large degree, this approach recognizes a global phenomenon that as a public intellectual Rice was among the first to articulate.  Non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, climate change endemic poverty, are problems that nearly every government in the world has a stake in redressing. What the world lacks, however, are coherent mechanisms that helps other governments help themselves, and in so doing help create a more secure world. 

In New York today, Rice took a big step in laying the intellectual foundation for filling that gap.   I eagerly await the implementation of her vision.