Power Beyond Our Military

May 22, 2018

Defense Principle #1: Power depends on both economic and military strength.

Over the last century, the United States has transformed from a modest military forceinto the world’s foremost military superpower. But America’s global influence goes far beyond our military — it reflects our economic dominance as well. In fact, our military and economic strength are inextricably linked, and to remain dominant in world affairs, we must prioritize both of these aspects of our power.

Francis E. Warnock wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations in 2010 that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, and “has become a facet of U.S. power, allowing the United States to borrow effortlessly and sustain an assertive foreign policy.” It is crucial to our national security that we maintain that degree of economic strength.

That starts with sound fiscal policy that balances our budget, encourages private investment, and keeps us free from the pressures of foreign creditors. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a 2010 interview that “The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.” Former foreign policy officials from across the political spectrum share that view. A 2016 statement affirming the link between fiscal health and national security drew signatures from the likes of Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, and Bob Gates — they even took out a full-page ad that ran in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. As recently as the fall of 2017, Leon Panetta, former head of the Department of Defense and the CIA, joined colleagues to oppose tax legislation that will increase the federal debt.

Over time, our spiraling debt will prevent us from responding to new challenges, whether natural disasters or threats against national security. It’s crucial that we devote as much energy to our economic well-being as to our military capabilities. Economic strength is its own kind of leverage on the global stage, and can give us opportunities to influence world affairs without involving ourselves militarily.

To Learn More

2016 Fiscal Summit with New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger, Admiral Mike Mullen, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Senator Sam Nunn

National security experts sound alarm on long-term debt by Kristina Wong (The Hill, May 10, 2016)

The Real National Security Threat: America’s Debt by Kenneth G. Lieberthal & Michael E. O’Hanlon (Brookings Institution, July 10, 2012)

The GOP Tax Plan Is a Threat to National Security by Kori Schake (Foreign Policy, November 2, 2017)