National Security Objectives


The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act states that the comprehensive national security strategy should include:

  • Worldwide national security interests, goals, and objectives
  • Foreign policy, worldwide commitments, and national defense capabilities necessary to deter aggression and implement the strategy
  • Proposed uses of the elements of national power
  • Adequacy of U.S. capabilities to carry out the national security strategy

The U.S. approach to national security has changed over time, shifting from isolationism, to regional policies, to significant engagment in world affairs after World War II. During the Cold War, U.S. strategy centered around the concept of containment. More recently, the U.S. approach has been shaped by two competing views—multilateralism and unilateralism. The approach, along with objectives and resources, are essential to forming a strategy for national security.

The President provides guidance on national security objectives in various forms. National strategies, executive orders, National Security or Homeland Security Presidential Directives, and even Presidential speeches can be used to convey both strategic vision and policy objectives.

The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act requires the President to transmit to Congress each year a "comprehensive report on the national security strategy of the United States." The National Security Strategy (NSS) fulfills this legislative requirement, but is not typically updated on an annual basis.

In addition to the NSS, the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the National Strategy for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the National Strategy for Homeland Security comprise the key strategy documents that form the basis for subordinate policy guidance, implementation plans, budgets, execution, and assessment of national security activities. The objectives from each key national strategy will be covered in this lesson.

These strategies reflect national interests and provide a framework for subordinate strategies that address particular national security objectives or issues.