Orchestrating the Instruments of Power: A Critical Examination of the U.S. National Security System

  • Published

Orchestrating the Instruments of Power: A Critical Examination of the U.S. National Security System by D Robert Worley. Potomac Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2015, 449 pp.

Election years bring to light national security issues unlike any other time in America. Citizens get refreshed on stances political candidates take, while candidates profess positions for or against those issues while also expressing their depth (or lack) of knowledge. Worley’s book is timely in this debate, despite the hardcover version’s publication in 2012.

The primary thesis—the Cold War national security system birthed by the National Security Act of 1947—is no longer adequate (and hasn’t been for years) for the contextual world of today. Worley, a renowned national security scholar, begins the book wisely with a terminology primer on the varied political orientations (realism, idealism, etc.), reading much like a political science 301/401 international affairs text. This becomes necessary, though, as he builds upon these terms later in the work.

From this jumping-off point, he detours, however, into war powers and making war. Though interesting, it is a distraction from the central point in the book, which lies in how best to harness the myriad departments and national security bodies into a more efficiently running system. After dozens of pages, he gets back on track, hitting numerous home runs with this reviewer.

One of the highlights in the ensuing pages is the introduction of an updated construct to the DIME (diplomatic, informational, military, economic)—as the instruments of power have been known—to MIDLIFE (military, informational, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, financial, economic), a term that actually originated from US Army Field Manual 3-07.22, Counterinsurgency Operations, dated October 2004.

Until recent times, however, a thorough analysis of MIDLIFE as a useful planning construct with explanatory power has been little discussed. Worley’s treatment gives the reader an appetizer of each of these instruments, yet far more time could have been devoted to not only describe them in more detail, as well as how each has been developed in the post-9/11 timeframe, but also use that discussion as grist for strengthening his thesis on how better to make the national security system function.

Over midway through the book, Worley really gets going by laying out the power centers and brokers in the national security system—what he calls “mechanisms of power”—leading and generating the policy debates ultimately resulting in how America conducts itself on the world stage. This signifies brilliant scholarship because to understand where power resides, one must understand the organizations yielding it, how they do so, and their relationship to other organizations, departments, and the president.

Worley takes us through a penned tour of each of the combatant commands and the Joint Staff, as well as the major directorates within the Departments of State and Defense. This segues nicely to a full chapter devoted on the National Security Council (one of the best in the book). The takeaway of all this is that each department and organization contributes to the national security system in its own specialized way; yet each is ultimately too large to function under the outmoded Cold War construct. They are dependent on their principals and relationship with the president and, most importantly, are conditional on the comfort level and confidence the president has in those departments, their principals, and their own personal advisors.

As with any system as important as the US national security apparatus, several studies and commissions have looked at how to improve policy coordination leading to informed presidential decision making. Think tanks on both sides of the political spectrum, commissions, and projects delved ad nauseam into the problem. Many have produced beneficial work enhancing our understanding of both the problem and what should be done about it. Though many of these studies and projects are self-serving, idealistic, or prescriptive in their approach, one of the best is the Project on National Security Reform, headed by James Locher III and commissioned by Congress in 2008. It was both comprehensive and nonpartisan, leaving no stone unturned while producing useful suggestions.

Orchestrating the Instruments of Power is a must read for both national security and presidential scholars. For the latter, American history of the last 70 years is replete with examples illustrating how presidents succeeded or failed depending on how they led, administered, and used the national security system under its original intent. Presidential candidates heading into the election of 2016 could benefit from the wisdom of this and other treatments of this topic.

Brig Gen Chad T. Manske, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."