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...
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
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
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
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...
New World Order