When Military Intelligence Reconsiders the Nature of War

Special Report: Neither War nor Peace
Elements for an Archeology of “National Security” (United States, 1919–1941)
By Alexandre Rios-Bordes


Where does the notion of “national security” come from? The genesis of this extraordinarily ambiguous concept is largely unknown, besides what a few historical works have long established, i.e., that national security is an offspring of the early Cold War inspired by the experience of the Second World War, dictated by the confrontation with the Soviet Union, and accompanying the integration of what was to be called the “National Security State.” While not denying the importance of this turning point, this paper offers a new perspective by focusing on what was discreetly happening a quarter of a century earlier within two modest military intelligence services, the Military Intelligence Division (MID), and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Based on lessons drawn from the experience of modern warfare, a theoretical and practical break took place in relation to the four distinctions that had been traditionally central to military thinking, namely war and peace, military and civilian, front and rear, and friend and foe. Our hypothesis is that this silent but concrete and definite break paved the way for the formation of governmental rationality that came to be referred to as “national security.”
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