Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy August–September 2017
17 July 2017
As an organising concept, strategic stability played a central role in the strategic policy of the Obama administration, as set out in its policy and posture reviews of 2009 and 2010. The administration used strategic stability as a guide to policy development in a changed security environment, and valued it particularly in advancing cooperation with Russia and China at what seemed a hopeful moment in relations with both countries. Eight years later, it is time to take stock of the results of that approach, and to look for lessons. As the Trump administration conducts its own reviews, it must assess whether and how strategic stability might fit with its own guiding principles, such as ‘America First’ and ‘peace through strength’.
The Obama approach to strategic stability
The Obama administration’s focus on strategic stability had its roots in a particular view of the security environment. The May 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) described a changed and changing strategic context, marked by a mixture of positive and negative trends, and significant uncertainty about the prospects for a more just and sustainable world order.1 The positive trends included, among other factors, improvements in the political relationships with Russia and China relative to the Cold War. The negative trends included the emergence of a new set of challenges to global order, such as nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. The NSS expressed the commitment of the president to try to deepen international order by ensuring strong alliances, building cooperation on key challenges and, above all, renewing American leadership. Increased engagement with Russia and China was an explicit priority. The reviews of nuclear, missile-defence, cyber and other capabilities by the Department of Defense and its inter-agency partners were informed by this world view. Strategic stability became a way to organise policy initiatives to support these diverse presidential objectives.