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How Nation-States Craft National Security Strategy Documents

How Nation-States Craft National Security Strategy Documents - Cover

Authored by Dr. Alan G. Stolberg.

October 2012

169 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The need for security and the institutionalization of that security in national strategy and its associated documents is becoming a significant concern for nations in the 21st century international system. This need requires the development of national-level strategies that are designed with objectives; the attainment of which can ensure that the conditions necessary for security for a given actor in the international system can be met. The intent of this monograph is to explore the actual processes that nation-states employ to craft their national security strategy-related documents. The study aligned individual case studies of nation-states conducting their national strategy document formulation processes. These case studies were selected based upon a determination of two primary factors: 1) The nation-states in question had developed national security strategy documents that involved participation in the drafting process from more than one department or agency from the executive branch of government; and, 2) Individual participants that were involved in the actual drafting process would be willing to respond to the questions delineated above, either in person or by written response. In addition, subject to travel resource availability, an effort was made to have as many different regions of the world as possible represented in the review. Ultimately, five countries and their national strategy documents were selected for assessment: Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Once the data was gathered, the monograph written so as to compare and contrast the various processes employed by each nation in their strategy document development. The last portion of the analysis evaluates the lessons learned from all five cases and identifies specific lessons that could be applicable to strategy document formulation for any future actor engaged in the process.


Recent years have witnessed the emergence of a spectrum of comprehensive national security strategy-related documents that have been created, in part, to institutionalize the existence of national-level direction for a variety of national security issues and to do this at the unclassified level for the public audience of those democratic nations, as well as in some cases, for external audiences. The intent of this monograph is to explore the actual processes that nation states employ to craft their national security strategy-related documents. The focus is specifically oriented on how to perform such analysis for the development of national security strategies (NSS).

For each of the case studies in question, this monograph will address the oversight, strategic context, national interests and domestic political considerations, facts, and assumptions used to frame strategy development, objectives and measures of effectiveness, ways and means, risk assessment, the identification of a formal feedback mechanism, and who within the government had the final approval authority for the document. Five countries and their national strategy documents were selected for assessment: Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. For each case, at least one national strategy document was evaluated per country and more than one department or ministry from the government’s executive branch participated in each nation’s document drafting process.

The Australian approach to national strategy formulation as demonstrated by the developmental processes utilized for the 2008 National Security Statement and the 2009 White Paper (WP) indicates a clear focus on crafting whole of government coordinated documents. Participating actors would be found to be negligent if they did not coordinate. The formulation process emphasizes inclusion of the managers who control the fiscal means at every step of decisionmaking for these efforts. In addition, the risk analysis concept is becoming fully institutionalized. Finally, a wide spectrum of Australian civil society was formally solicited for its thinking on the major issues confronting the 2008 WP drafters.

The Brazilian 2008 National Strategy of Defense (NSD) represents the first national strategy of its kind in Latin America. In combination with the 2005 National Defense Policy and the forthcoming WP, Brazil is developing a systematic approach to the crafting of national strategy. Of particular note is the Implementation Measures component of the NSD and the associated degree of fidelity with the strategy’s ways and means. With the publication of the strategy, this approach provides the ministries and agencies responsible for strategy implementation with the planning information necessary to begin detailed execution.

Both the South African White Paper and Defence Review assisted the nation in moving beyond the apartheid era. The documents provided a national-level strategy for the defense establishment on its role in the society writ large, as well as the approach in the form of ways and means to execute that strategy with the nation’s armed forces in the near to midterm. These documents were guided in detail by the state’s legislative body and uniquely supported by the significant inclusion of civil society throughout the course of their development processes.

The evolution of the UK national strategy development process since 2007 has been significant, especially with the inclusion and alignment of the means (fiscal resources in the budgeting process) and the utilization of the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) in analysis of risks and related national interests. This is especially true in the linkage between the NSS and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), along with the connectivity between the ends, ways, and means contained in the two documents. While an excellent tool, one potential drawback of the formalized risk analysis process contained in the NSRA is that the strategy’s ultimate objectives may be framed more than they should be in terms of risks and challenges, rather than opportunities. Thus, the focus could be on problem solving as opposed to “goal seeking,” having the ultimate effect of inhibiting strategic thinking.

The U.S. NSS is the only complete whole of government national security document that the U.S. Government publishes. The NSS is best developed through coordination and collaboration with all government departments and agencies that have responsibility for both foreign and domestic national security concerns. This analysis reviews the development of three different NSSs: 2002, 2006, and 2010. These three were selected because they required the consideration of the many complex issues of the post-September 11, 2001 (9/11) world and because they were developed at the direction of two different Presidents representing two different political parties, and with the detailed support of three different national security advisors and associated National Security Council (NSC) staffs.

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