National Security State Doctrine
and the New World Order

excerpted from the book

Brave New World Order

by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Orbis Books, 1992, paper


Jon Sobrino, Sojouners, February-March 1990

Women and men have shed their blood-people from El Salvador, from Spain, and from the United States. People from different confessions, from different faiths, from different places, are united in their soul, as we all are by the tragedy in El Salvador and also by the hope and the commitment of the martyrs. We all know why these people ended in the cross, why they were killed. They dared "touch the idols of death. " . . . Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador defined idols as the accumulation of wealth and the doctrine of national security. Those who dare touch these idols get killed.


As the Cold War ended the U.S. economy was cracking under the weight of growing contradictions between military power and social decay. The United States desperately needed to reorder priorities and to make judicious use of a post-Cold War "peace dividend" to begin a process of domestic economic and social renewal. Instead, the United States with stunning speed shaped a world order in which new enemies were found, the "peace dividend" evaporated, and the military reasserted its primacy in American life.

The end of the Cold War offered two distinct paths to the future. The U.S. National Security Establishment, with presidential leadership, forsook economic revitalization in favor of militarism...


Dangerous Features

Archbishop Romero called National Security doctrine an idol. Those who "touch" or unmask the dominant place of this idol within society, including Romero himself, are killed. What is meant by "National Security doctrine" or a "National Security State"? It is difficult to define precisely a National Security State or its ideology because, as Jose Comblin notes in The Church and the National Security State, it "has no official name. Comblin identifies a number of characteristics of a National Security State or National Security State ideology including: setting legal or functional limits on constitutional authority; justifying human rights and other abuses committed by agents of the state by appealing to higher values or to the defense of the state itself; seeking national unity based on attacks against external or internal enemies; and the lodging of ultimate state power in military hands...

I have identified seven characteristics of a National Security State or National Security doctrine. Each of the seven characteristics is readily visible in a U.S. client state like El Salvador, so following the summary of each characteristic is a brief description of how it finds expression in El Salvador; Exploring the dynamics of a National Security State in El Salvador can help us understand similar dynamics operating within the United States. ... the Gulf War and the new world order are products of the U.S. National Security State Establishment.

The first characteristic of a National Security State is that the military is the highest authority. In a National Security State the military not only guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies, it has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society. In a National Security State the military exerts important influence over political, economic, as well as military affairs.

The military has dominated life in El Salvador for generations. Over the past decade it has dramatically increased its power as a result of billions of dollars in U.S. aid. The military in El Salvador, apart from the U.S. embassy, is clearly the highest authority in the country. Its power flows from its close ties to the United States, its institutional presence and capacity for violence throughout the country, its relationship to paramilitary death squads, its ability to control and intimidate a weak judicial system, and its dominant political and economic influence.

A second defining feature of a National Security State is that political democracy and democratic elections are viewed with suspicion, contempt, or in terms of political expediency. National Security States often maintain an appearance of democracy. However, ultimate power rests with the military or within a broader National Security Establishment.

If the military is the highest authority in a country (the first feature of a National Security State), then this precludes the possibility of authentic democracy. Elections are nonetheless important. Elections in El Salvador have performed a key function on behalf of the National Security State: They "legitimize" the state without changing basic power realities. Salvadoran elections are carried out in a context of psychological warfare (including managed terror), foreign domination, military abuses, and a nonfunctional judicial system. Ignaeio Martin-Baro from the Catholic University explains why elections should not be equated with democracy:

According to an image widely circulated by U.S. government spokespersons, El Salvador represents the best example of the "new Latin American democracies."... Regrettably, this image of the country reflects little, if anything, of the real situation of El Salvador. The democratic character of a government does not depend-at least not solely-on the way in which it is elected, but rather on the forces that determine its day-to-day conduct. And the verifiable fact is that, in terms of El Salvador's basic policies, North American fears about "national security" count more than the most basic needs of the Salvadoran people. It would never cross any Salvadoran's mind that the ... government might have some significant control over the Salvadoran armed forces: this is simply the result of the daily experience of Salvadorans of who is in charge there.

A central feature of U.S. "low-intensity conflict" strategy ... is using elections to cover up the militarization of societies. In that earlier book I quoted a priest, whom I didn't name out of concern for his safety. His name was Ignacio Martin-Baro, one of the six Jesuits murdered at the Catholic University in San Salvador in November 1989. "The U.S. project is not democracy,' he told me. "The U S. project is to use 'democracy' to muffle international criticism in order better to control El Salvador. 'Democracy' is a facade to cover many unpleasant things." One of the unpleasant things it covered up was his own brutal murder.

A third characteristic of a National Security State is that the military and related sectors wield substantial political and economic power. They do so in the context of an ideology which stresses that 'freedom" and "development" are possible only when capital is concentrated in the hands of elites.

Money and wealth-producing resources are generally concentrated within three sectors: the private business sector, the state or state enterprise sector, and within the military itself. The state facilitates capital accumulation and manages tensions between these elite sectors, sets the boundaries of such accumulation by acknowledging minimal social constraints to unimpeded greed, and manages resulting social tensions. In other words, the state sets out to benefit elites, justifies its policies through appeals to broader goals of "freedom" and "development," recognizes that misery can lead to social rebellion, and responds to social tensions through accommodation or repression.

This portrayal of the role of the state is, in many ways, a description of politics in most Western societies. Polities has a central role to play in determining the distribution of wealth and power. However, in National Security States the military and related sectors directly or indirectly exercise tremendous influence over political and economic affairs. One of the ironies of U.S. policy is that through the police functions of the IMF the United States encourages concentration of, capital in the private sector. However, the overall impact of its foreign policy is to ensure the predominance of military priorities, which leads to the militarization of societies.

The role of the state in facilitating the concentration of wealth on behalf of economic elites is an ongoing feature of life in El Salvador. However, a particularly disturbing feature of El Salvador's National Security State is the degree to which sectors of the U.S.-backed military dominate economic and political life. Over the past decade the Salvadoran military has gotten rich from the war. U.S. preoccupation with "national security" and its support for the military within El Salvador's National Security State have made the Salvadoran military a leading political and economic power.

The Salvadoran military, with support from the United States, has used its political control to block a negotiated settlement to the country's civil war. A negotiated settlement, although favored by almost every other sector of Salvadoran society, including some sectors of the non-military-based economic elite, would reduce the military's political and economic power. In an April 1990 report entitled "El Salvador: Is Peace Possible," the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) states:

Despite the presence of some moderate officers ... successful pursuit of a negotiated settlement would directly threaten the interests of individual officers as well as those of their institution.... Within the officer corps ... the arguments against negotiations remain persuasive: First, any reduction in troop size as a result of negotiations would necessitate a corresponding reduction in the officer corps.... Second, as the Armed Forces have expanded in size and wealth because of the war, so too has their influence. By any estimate, the military stands as the country's single most powerful social and economic institution. It distributes a large part of U.S. economic aid in hearts and minds campaigns run as an integral part of military operations. It has set up a social security fund, believed to have more than $100 million.... The military has invested in a wide range of business and real estate ventures. Consequently, any progress toward a negotiated settlement would challenge the military's privileged position within the government and society.

A fourth feature of a National Security State is its obsession with enemies. There are enemies of the state everywhere. Defending against external and/or internal enemies becomes a leading preoccupation of the state, a distorting factor in the economy, and a major source of national identity and purpose.

In El Salvador there is no shortage of enemies: independent unions and union leaders, students, campesino groups demanding land reform and access to credit, teachers, grass-roots health workers, human rights groups and organizers, independent journalists, and progressive churches and church workers are all enemies of the state. They refuse to accept the inevitability of a National Security State, and therefore they organize for democratic and economic reforms. The state lumps all opposition groups together with the armed opposition in El Salvador, the FMLN (Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front). In general, enemies in El Salvador have been defined by the National Security State as internal groups linked to an ''international communist movement" spearheaded by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

A fifth ideological foundation of a National Security State is that the enemies of the state are cunning and ruthless. Therefore, any means used to destroy or control these enemies is justified.

Bishops and priests get murdered, campesinos are massacred, labor leaders and human rights workers disappeared and are tortured in El Salvador because the "enemies" of the National Security State have ceased to be human. "Enemies of the state" are being eliminated, not people. "Communists" are being killed, not human beings. Shortly before the murder of the two women and six Jesuits at the Catholic University in San Salvador the U.S.-trained Salvadoran Air Force produced and distributed a leaflet saying:

Salvadoran Patriot! You have the . . . right to defend your life and property. If in order to do that you must kill FMLN terrorists as well as their "internationalist" allies, do it.... Let's destroy them. Let's finish them off. With God, reason, and might, we shall conquer.

The day after the murders, soldiers of San Salvador s First Infantry Brigade circled the office of the Catholic archdiocese in a military sound truck, shouting: "Ignacio Ellacuria and Ignacio Martin-Baro have already fallen and we will continue murdering communists."

A sixth characteristic of a National Security State is that it restricts public debate and limits popular participation through secrecy or intimidation. Authentic democracy depends on participation of the people. National Security States limit such participation in a number of ways: They sow fear and thereby narrow the range of public debate; they restrict and distort information; and they define policies in secret and implement those policies through covert channels and clandestine activities. The state justifies such actions through rhetorical pleas of ' higher purpose" and vague appeals to "national security."

Secrecy takes many forms in El Salvador. Over the past decade the U.S. embassy has managed many aspects of the war and the economy. This fact, known by most Salvadorans, is "secret" because it compromises national sovereignty. So also is the relationship between death squads and key elements of the Salvadoran military and government. Secrecy in this case is vital to the National Security State's maintenance of a facade of democratic rule.

In El Salvador's National Security State "citizen participation" and "democracy" are seriously compromised by death squads, spy networks, and military intimidation. A climate of fear pervades the society. Ignacio Martin-Baro surveyed 250 refugees in one settlement on the outskirts of San Salvador. He found that "the presence of the army in the vicinity of the refuge was sufficient to cause 87 percent of those questioned to experience fear; 75 percent felt an accelerated pulse rate, and 64 percent were overcome by generalized bodily trembling."

State-sponsored terrorist attacks against alternative media sources further restrict information and debate. "From January 6, 1976 . . . when they placed the first bomb in our university," Jon Sobrino wrote in November 1989, "there have been fifteen occasions when bombs have been planted, in the print room, the computer center, the library, the administration building. The last one exploded on July 22 ... partially destroying the printing press." Diario Latino, the only opposition newspaper in El Salvador, was seriously damaged by arson on February 9, 1991, shortly after President Bush announced his intention to unfreeze $42.5 million in aid to the Salvadoran military.

Finally, the church is expected to mobilize its financial, ideological, and theological resources in service to the National Security State. This helps explain why persecution of progressive churches is a common feature within many National Security States.

Religious persecution, according to America's Watch, is an ongoing feature of life in El Salvador. This is illustrated by the assassination of Archbishop Romero in 1980, the rape and murder of U.S. church women that same year, the deaths of hundreds of lay church workers from base Christian communities throughout the past decade, the brutal murders of the Jesuits, and continued repression and intimidation directed at the churches in the aftermath of the Jesuit murders.

El Salvador's National Security State apparatus is still trying to kill the spirit of resistance and the Spirit of God embodied in the life and example of Archbishop Romero. The U.S.-trained forces that entered the Catholic University and murdered the two women and the Jesuits also destroyed two portraits of Romero. They shot a bullet through the heart of one Romero portrait and apparently destroyed the other with a flame thrower.


This summary of the essential characteristics of a National Security State elicits responses that range from disbelief to horror. Those who see U.S. policy in El Salvador as promoting democracy are obviously offended. Others shake their heads and breathe a sigh of relief. "This is awful," they say, "but I'm glad I don't live in a National Security State." Others, more uncomfortable still, recognize that El Salvador's National Security State is a product of U.S. policy. They are troubled by apparent contradictions between our internal conduct as a nation and our nation's foreign policy, which encourages such abuses. Finally, there are people who see many of the characteristics of a National Security State operating within the United States...

Brave New World Order

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