In Search of Mr. X: Re-Defining the Complexion of National Security

28 Apr 2014 11:22 PM | Anonymous

Written by  Keith Mines and Sebastian Gorka

The inspiration for this blog goes back some 12 years to Eliot Cohen’s Calling Mr. X article in January 1998 (National Review), which sought a new George Kennan to define the post Cold War world and save America from its “brain-dead two-war strategy.” It was by then a compelling petition, seeming not unreasonable nine years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to demand a new doctrine to replace Containment Policy.

Soon after CENSA was founded, an organization which we saw as an exciting new venue to link and engage mid-level professionals and young scholars in the search for better policies. The next four years found us working together in Budapest, Sebastian running the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security and Keith as the Political Military Affairs officer for the U.S. Embassy. They were challenging years. We watched the towers fall. Keith did brief tours to Afghanistan and Iraq. As one of the few experts on terrorism in the region, Sebastian attempted to explain the events of 9/11, and their ramifications, to the general public and local policy elites. We both argued and wrote about the assumptions we saw unraveling and the new untested assumptions taking their place. We tried to draw out the reality of the post-Westphalian world, developed the concept of “SuperPurple” (the next level of “jointness”), and struggled with the question of narrative in combating terrorism. Still we kept coming back to the Mr. X question. We were young enough, and idealistic enough, to believe that it was possible to get policies right, and that the world was not too complex to come up with that one compelling idea, like Containment, that could guide our response to global challenges for the next generation and provide meaning to all the players in the national security arena.

Others were, of course, also looking for the new framework, for a new George Kennan. Richard Haass asked in November 2005, Is there a Doctrine in the House?, and Fareed Zakaria declared Wanted: A New Grand Strategy in December 2008. Throughout there were offers on the table of a potential new doctrine, with some individuals actively running for the Mr. X title and others more humbly offering what was clearly an X-type doctrine, but without initiating the necessary campaign to make it a reality. One original and promising effort by the Wilson School even engaged 400 policymakers and academics to write a “collective X article.” Then there was the new National Security Strategy of 2002 and the Second Inaugural Address of 2005 that, while not intended as declarations of doctrine, certainly had all the apparent trappings of a new doctrine.

Then CENSA threw its hat into the ring, using a technique that had been pioneered by policy analyst and author Bing West some years earlier as a way to sharpen debate and force clarity of opinion in a room of smart people, although this time the technique was applied virtually. We had conducted previous projects on Global Threats, North Korea, and Moving Forward in Iraq. Under Keith’s leadership, we developed a list of the 20-plus contenders for the new Mr./Ms. X and sent a snapshot of their “doctrine” to all CENSA members and friends, asking that they answer a series of questions and select their top candidate. The full results of the survey from December 2007 can be found at:, with a full list of the candidates examined found as the Appendix.

The results were anything but conclusive, and sparked almost as many questions as answers. The winner of the survey, Francis Fukuyama, came in with only 16% of the vote, while the first runner up, Parag Khanna, received only 9%.

There was disagreement on whether grand strategy flows from doctrine or doctrine from grand strategy, and the threat picture was not entirely clear. There was also disagreement on whether we would be better off centering doctrine around new global architecture (e.g. equilibrium), or around a mission (e.g. neo-containment).

A deeper analysis, however, did reveal some interesting judgments and now give us something to work with going forward at a time when a new administration has just issued its own new National Security Strategy.

First, there was an almost wholesale rejection of the two semi-official doctrines of the preceding eight years, a statement of sorts on doctrines that were ideologically driven and closed in their development. Second, there was a heady support for state building as perhaps the key to global stability in the coming age, effectively doctrines that urged squeezing out ungoverned territory and strengthening the Westphalian system.


-- Bush Doctrines I & II 1.5% (Pre-eminence/Preemption, Global Freedom)
-- Anti-Doctrine 4.5% (Murdoch)
-- American Primacy/Focus 12% (Peters, Mandelbaum, Lieber, Hart)
-- Neo-Containment 17% (Meade, Fallows, Shapiro, Kilcullen)
-- New Global Architecture 29% (Haass, Princeton Project, Khanna, Lieven/Hulsman)
-- State Building 36% (Barnett, Ignatieff, Fukuyama, Zakaria)



Thirdly, a majority of the participants believed a new doctrine would need to be embraced by the U.S. President but have significant international support and buy-in to be effective.

Significantly, the majority of participants believed the world does need a doctrine to replace containment, something we also strongly believe.

In the coming months we will highlight some of the results of the project, bring it up to date with new candidates and trends, and seek to continue the debate where we left off in early 2008. If, over time we decide the world is simply too complex to afford a single galvanizing doctrine, we may concede defeat. But let it be because of that complexity, not political divisiveness, or worse yet intellectual slothfulness.

Both of us spent our formative years growing up under the shadow of the Cold War, and perhaps this influences our faith in the ability of smart people to comprehend a complex threat environment and respond to it with innovative frames of comprehension that inform both policy and operations. Keith has served the national cause both in and out of uniform and made a specialty of understanding failed or failing states. Sebastian grew up in Europe, the son of refugees from a Communist dictatorship, then served in the government of a transition state attempting to re-establish rule of law and its place in the community of Western nations.

Despite the obvious overlap we do not agree on all things. Perhaps not a realist versus idealist divide, this blog will in the future describe at times a pro versus contra arch in its evolution. We are, however, both convinced that while the Westphalian nation-state may not be dead, its monopoly on violence and its unique position as the actor on the international stage has been challenged robustly since the end of the Cold War. How exactly this is happening and what should be done about it in order to secure our people and our way of life, will be the meat of our new blog.

For the time being we will continue the search for Mr. X, and invite you to join us.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any department or agency of the US government.

Keith Mines is the Director of the Narcotics Affairs Section in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where he manages the Merida Initiative, a new partnership between the U.S. and Mexico in counternarcotics and law enforcement. Mr. Mines’ primary areas of interest are post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization and the search for national security doctrine after containment.

Dr. Sebastian Gorka was born in the U.K. to parents who escaped Communism during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He is an internationally recognized authority on issues of national security, terrorism and democratization, having worked in government and the private and NGO sectors in Europe and the U.S.

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