National Security Planning Overview

There are many different planning processes and initiatives used for national security affairs. The term ‘planning’ has no common definition across the US government, but fundamentally planning involves the process of aligning resources and developing a methodology to achieve goals. Planning can include the development of national strategies and national policy guidance, the development of agency strategic plans mandated by the Government Performance and Results Act, or operational planning.

In general, the US government "plans" for three reasons:

  • To accomplish near-term goals;
  • To prepare for contingencies; and
  • To develop capabilities.
Image of world map with highlighted locations scattered throughout Central America, Africa, Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The starting point for all national security planning is the National Security Strategy. All departments and agencies plan in some fashion to accomplish near-term goals. This type of planning usually results in a budget and the agency's strategic plan. Fewer departments and agencies plan in advance for contingencies or have formal processes to respond to national security crises. Capability development planning also varies widely by department or agency. Of note, the homeland security community also has a comprehensive national planning system under development that will guide interagency planning. (More information on homeland security planning).

U.S. ‘whole-of-government’ planning is increasingly the focus of national security planning initiatives. Even individual agencies responsible for key national security functions are beginning to integrate interagency feedback into their internal planning processes. These initiatives are a recognition that integrated action requires coordination of planning effort.