07/02/2012 05:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2012

Interdependence Day

One of my old bosses, Admiral James Stavridis, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of the U.S. European Command, has introduced an interesting new term, if not a new concept -- "open-source security." "Open-source security is about connecting the international, the interagency, the private and public -- and lashing it together with strategic communication largely in social networks," he explained in a recent blog. What Stavridis is calling for is what many have been pitching for some time -- we need to move national security into the 21st century and stop talking more about defense and more about engagement. "Walls don't work," he posits. "Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun."

The good news is that senior military leaders like Stavridis are no longer such an oddity, although we could certainly use more. I had the privilege in my career of knowing some -- in addition to Stavridis, David Petraeus, now retired and heading up the CIA, and CENTCOM Commander and Marine Corps General James Mattis among them. And quite a few more are in the next generation. Unfortunately, hardly any of their ilk has yet to gain a significant assignment at the top (as a service chief of staff, or Chairman, for example), although Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, another old commander, can be counted among the converted. The "old guard" of warfighters and hard-power advocates still pretty much rule the roost at the Pentagon, albeit this is changing slowly.

The Admiral's idea is compelling for a number of reasons. What he is advancing, in a sense, is greater openness in the governance and conduct of security. But it's more than transparency and information sharing among the whole-of-society stakeholders in security he identifies: "Open-source security is about connecting in ways that create longer lasting effect."

If you have global transparency, you have global connectivity and if you have global connectivity, you have global security. In a sense, he is talking about a more democratic, collaborative, and inclusive understanding of security -- because in the hyperconnected world in which we now live, security has not only become more globalized, it has become more humanized. And if security is more democratized, open, and inclusive, then it has become everyone's business and not just the concern of "national security professionals." We all have a stake in this enterprise, because over there matters over here. In all walks of life, Americans have to learn to look at things more globally and with a longer view -- in other words, think and act more strategically.

Besides, when you approach security from this perspective, what you're really building is peace, which is a far greater and more strategic goal of which security is but one component. And one more in line with our national values.

In the 21st century, it's more about the power of ideas -- but more importantly, how ideas could be communicated and made to work in people's lives. In fact, the power of nation-states alone is becoming less relevant than the influence of people and organizations networked outside of and within governments. These are the very kind of people and organizations the traditional security community needs to connect with -- and they with them.

A more collaborative approach to security is also in part recognition that the United States is no longer clearly the dominant power in the world. As long as this was true, we could afford to our unilateralism, our perverse brand of exceptionalism, and our 19th-century view of sovereignty while everyone else was internationalizing -- we've succeeded in globalizing everything but ourselves. The world is going multipolar, and that is a good thing, because we have far greater opportunities to improve our global position through collaboration than confrontation (which is more costly and less profitable), seeking what we Americans have come to be trademark for -- the "win/win." We've been long doing this in the private sector; it's about time we started doing this in the public sector.

In the 21st century, we stand more to gain through interdependence than independence. In fact, the paradox is that we can preserve the latter by engaging in the former.

No other country is better suited to lead in this new, interdependent world than the United States. Unlike most countries, America is about an idea, not a human category. America's greatest natural resource and comparative advantage is its dynamic, innovative, multicultural society drawn together by a unifying concept that transcends human categorization -- e pluribus unum .

Along with its national values, among America's greatest strengths is its ability to re-invent itself.

America in and of itself is a journey whose signposts are frontiers and whose destination is ultimately that of the world's and is therefore uncertain. That uncertainty should not worry us -- in fact, we should welcome it, because we have a long history of facing frontiers. In that uncertainty also lies freedom, because it means the future is left open for us to determine.

That collective journey began 236 years ago, with the start of the greatest experiment in self-government in human history, one that in essence is more about connectivity than conflict. In the 21st century, interdependence, fully embraced, is our new gateway to greatness.