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From Containment to Sustainability

July 2011

Col. Mark Mykleby of the Marines and Capt. Wayne Porter of the Navy, both special strategic assistants to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently released a paper called “A National Strategic Narrative” as a framework for policy decisions. From the preface: “We want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply interconnected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.”

From Containment to Sustainability
Illustration by Corinne Reid
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GreenSource: What was your aim in writing “A National Strategic Narrative”?

Porter: The concepts reflect our views only, and do not represent official policy of the U.S. government, the Navy, the Marine Corps, or the Pentagon. It was intended to be a nonpartisan reminder of who we are in today’s global environment. Americans cannot allow themselves to be defeated by the external threat from extremist violence or autocratic regimes, and we cannot hope to find the strength for continued greatness by looking only to the accomplishments of our past and beyond our own borders.

Mykleby: We need to make sustainability a national strategic imperative for the 21st century, just as containment was during the Cold War. Such a cognitive shift in our outlook will serve to foster innovation that will be essential to sustain our qualitative growth as a people.

GS: What drove you to such a conclusion?

Porter: Last April, the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and the 41st anniversary of Earth Day coincided in the same week. Meanwhile, Japan continued to struggle with the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the rest of the world coped with agricultural crises and the continued ill-effects of fossil-fuel dependency—all trends that are threatening global food security and exacerbating the cultural, social, and economic disenfranchisement that fuels extremism and violence. Now is the time to pause and question the path we are on as a civilization, recognizing the complexity and interdependence of what we call the “strategic ecology.”

Mykleby: There is simply no greater challenge nor opportunity today than exploring the means for the sustainable energy, agriculture, and water management necessary to accommodate the continued prosperity and security of our nation and our planet.

Porter: This is every bit as challenging, exciting, and rewarding as was the development of our own frontier, the marvel of the industrial age, and the mastery of technology in the space race for previous generations of Americans. Young Americans must seize this competitive challenge as their own Darwinian moment to make this country stronger, healthier, and more resilient for posterity.

GS: How will the U.S. accomplish this ambitious goal?

Mykleby: We think Americans are ready to rediscover their sense of destiny and establish what it means to be the “land of opportunity.”

Porter: Space Shuttle Discovery's last flight in March and Endeavor's last flight in June, was the beginning of the end for current space shuttle missions, with only Atlantis left to fly in July.  While NASA engineers, professional and amateur scientists, and generations of Americans who are products of the so-called Space Age are lamenting this milestone and wondering what's next, many others believe this could represent the beginning of a challenging and equally exciting new era for American scientists and citizens alike.   We are now emerging from the technological advancements of the Space Age and still witnessing the epochal and liberating impacts of the Information Age.

Mykleby: Now we have the opportunity to inspire American leadership and innovation in the Sustainability Age. Americans should embrace this challenge and rededicate our technological innovation and economic engine for national and global benefit.


This article appeared in the July 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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