Strength Abroad Begins with Healing and Unity at Home

The Perspective of CSIS Scholars

Over the course of decades of work on national security for both Republican and Democratic administrations, we have seen a broad convergence among experts on both sides of the aisle around many of the core elements necessary for a successful national security strategy for the United States. Yet over the same period, we have also seen differences grow over the social compact that holds us together as a nation. This is far from the first time our country has experienced division or that internal divisions have hurt our interests abroad. The Constitution talks about a MORE perfect union, acknowledging both our imperfections and our necessary efforts to overcome them. That is the patriotic ethos of refinement and improvement that drives our work at CSIS and serves as our mandate from the Center’s leadership and Board.

We are witnessing a new and particularly disturbing manifestation of divisions in our society compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, economic downturn, and the actions of those who would either deny the right of peaceful protests or hijack those protests for destructive purposes. In our own work on strengthening American alliances, energy and climate security, economic expansion, defense capabilities, development, global health, and support for democracy, we recognize that success abroad depends more than ever on strategies for healing and unity at home.

The divisions in our society have longstanding historical roots, but they are not part of an inevitable trajectory. Wise leadership at all levels and across the political spectrum could now bend the arc of history and restore the example of American democracy that has inspired hundreds of millions of citizens living in free societies around the world and given hope to many millions more living under repressive regimes. The constant in our history has not been our perfection, but rather a willingness to redress our shortcomings as a path toward a brighter and more secure future. Self-criticism is as essential a part of the American creed as optimism.

Healing and unity at home is a matter of national security. As with all national security strategies, unity and healing require deliberate and persistent lines of effort:

  1. Leaders at all levels and in all organizations and communities—including ourselves—must redouble efforts to address systemic legacies of racism, social injustice, broken discourse, and failing empathy. Institutions like ours can make an important contribution as we always have by continuing to develop bipartisan solutions based on research and data that contribute to a shared assessment of our challenges and by seeking perspectives that reflect the diversity of our country.

  2. Leaders at all levels—in the private sector, civil society, and government—must recognize that economic inequality threatens our national security in terms of social cohesion and inclusion and also in terms of the sustainability of growth itself. Free markets drive our prosperity and our national strength, and our moral and material interests dictate that we examine how best to foster inclusive growth to ensure opportunity for all.

  3. Leaders at all levels must repair the damage to civil-military relations we have seen in recent years as the military has been drawn increasingly into American politics. The United States military and our nation’s strong civil-military ethos have been models for countries around the world seeking to build just, stable democracies. Remaining faithful to our own constitutional principles and assuring military excellence requires the military to stay out of partisan politics, including ensuring uniformed service members are not seen to stray outside of their operational expertise to endorse the political opinions of leaders or candidates for public office. We must also keep rare and circumscribed the instances in which we contemplate deploying federal military units on American soil in support of state national guard and domestic law enforcement. We must recognize that the standard we set for law enforcement in our country is an important factor in how others measure the validity of the democratic values we espouse.

  4. Leaders at all levels must remember that how we protect freedom of the press and of religion in these difficult times will be a measure of our commitment to the Constitution and to a more just and stable world beyond our shores. Journalists should be able to hold a light—no matter how embarrassing—on the complex and painful developments in our streets. In our own work, we are committed to providing the facts and the context that can help make that possible. Many of us have spent considerable parts of our careers working to protect religious freedom in other parts of the world and know that our example is powerful abroad because at home we champion no single faith while protecting the rights of all to worship whether and how they desire.

  5. Leaders at all levels and on all sides of the political divide must set an example for empathetic discourse, for listening to other perspectives, and for seeking collective solutions through respectful debate. Our enemies are mocking democracy right now. They are claiming that division of powers and accountability to the governed will lead to mob rule and chaos. That ideological assault represents a fundamental threat to the post-war order the United States and its allies built. We prove the authoritarian critics are wrong when we listen, seek solutions, and, if necessary, disagree respectfully and without consequences for the dissenter.

In our work on national security, we pride ourselves on nonpartisanship, rigorous inquiry, and inclusive solutions to problems. In this moment of national crisis, we recommit ourselves to working toward healing and unity as we engage with our professional colleagues, our friends and allies abroad, and especially our staff here at CSIS—who we expect will carry this mantle forward in the decades ahead. We do not claim this in isolation. We know that many of our friends and colleagues at peer institutions share the same commitments in their work. We will endeavor to convince our national leaders to follow these same principles while adhering to the nonpartisan, fact-driven strategic solutions to policy challenges that drew us to this work in the first place.

Jon B. Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program
Jude Blanchette
Freeman Chair in China Studies
Katherine Bliss
Senior Fellow, Global Health Policy Center
Samuel Brannen
Senior Fellow, International Security Program and Director, Risk and Foresight Group
Ben Cahill
Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program
Mark F. Cancian
Senior Adviser, International Security Program
Victor Cha
Senior Adviser and Korea Chair
Heather A. Conley
Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic; and Director, Europe Program
Anthony H. Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
Melissa Dalton
Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, International Security Program, and Director, Cooperative Defense Project
Judd Devermont
Director, Africa Program
Morgan Dwyer
Fellow, International Security Program and Deputy Director for Policy Analysis, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group
Rachel Ellehuus
Deputy Director, Europe Program

Alice Hunt Friend
Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Matthew P. Funaiole
Senior Fellow, China Power Project and Senior Fellow for Data Analysis, iDeas Lab
Bonnie S. Glaser
Senior Adviser for Asia; Director, China Power Project
Matthew P. Goodman
Senior Vice President for Economics and Simon Chair in Political Economy

Michael J. Green
Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair

Todd Harrison
Director, Defense Budget Analysis, Director, Aerospace Security Project and Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Rebecca Hersman
Director, Project on Nuclear Issues, and Senior Adviser, International Security Program
Kathleen H. Hicks
Senior Vice President; Henry A. Kissinger Chair; Director, International Security Program
Jonathan E. Hillman
Senior Fellow, Economics Program, and Director, Reconnecting Asia Project
Andrew Philip Hunter
Director, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and Senior Fellow, International Security Program

Seth G. Jones
Harold Brown Chair; Director, Transnational Threats Project; and Senior Adviser, International Security Program
Tom Karako
Senior Fellow, International Security Program and Director, Missile Defense Project
Brian Katz
Fellow, International Security Program; Transnational Threats Project


Scott Kennedy
Senior Adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics

Beverly Kirk
Fellow and Director for Outreach, International Security Program, and Director, Smart Women, Smart Power Initiative
Jacob Kurtzer
Interim Director and Senior Fellow, Humanitarian Agenda
Sarah Ladislaw
Senior Vice President; Director and Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Louis Lauter
Vice President for Congressional and Government Affairs

Amy K. Lehr
Director, Human Rights Initiative
James Andrew Lewis
Senior Vice President and Director, Technology Policy Program

Rhys McCormick
Fellow, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group
Scott Miller
Senior Adviser, Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy
J. Stephen Morrison
Senior Vice President and Director, Global Health Policy Center
Jane Nakano
Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program
Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia and Director, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative
William Alan Reinsch
Senior Adviser and Scholl Chair in International Business
Moises Rendon
Director, The Future of Venezuela Initiative and Fellow, Americas Program
Richard M. Rossow
Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies
Daniel F. Runde
Senior Vice President; William A. Schreyer Chair and Director, Project on Prosperity and Development
Gregory Sanders
Deputy Director and Fellow, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group
Whitley Saumweber
Director, Stephenson Ocean Security Project
John Schaus
Fellow, International Security Program
Stephanie Segal
Senior Fellow, Economics Program
Margarita R. Seminario
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Americas Program
Lindsey R. Sheppard
Fellow, International Security Program
Suzanne Spaulding
Senior Adviser, Homeland Security, International Security Program
Nicholas Szechenyi
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Japan Chair; Asia Program
Nikos Tsafos
Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program
Caitlin Welsh
Director, Global Food Security Program
Ian Williams
Fellow, International Security Program and Deputy Director, Missile Defense Project
Erol Yayboke
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Project on Prosperity and Development, Project on U.S. Leadership in Development

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