On Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation, in an event co-sponsored with the American Enterprise Institute, Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., delivered a speech entitled "Toward an American Grand Strategy." The speech was interesting and important because it delivers an internationalist perspective for a potential Republican foreign and defense policy vision in a day and age when the tea party wing of that party seemingly only cares about spending cuts and less about international politics, aside from issues such as immigration policy.
Ayotte argued that the U.S. today is greatly in need of a grand strategy (which she defined as "a nation's plan of action that coordinates and directs all political, economic, and military means and their associated factors in order to attain large ends") and that:
The lack of a U.S. grand strategy invites a number of problems: it 1) allows the crisis of the day to crowd out important priorities, 2) leaves military planners and leaders in the dark regarding the military force structure and posture needed to protect the nation's interests, and 3) tempts decision makers to spend limited defense dollars on capabilities, units, or weapons that may be ill-suited to provide what our nation really needs.
At a time when the national security budget is under severe pressure and when we can't afford to waste a single dime, it is more important than ever that the U.S. develop a grand strategy.
Rather than delivering a purely nuts and bolts speech, this talk was very much grounded in staking out a blueprint of the underpinnings of such a Republican grand strategy. She lists the five pillars of such a strategy as:
1. Preventing a Catastrophic Attack on our Homeland.
2. Maintaining access to the global commons, including sea, air, space, and cyberspace which facilitates U.S. trade and access to key resources;
3. Preserving a favorable global balance of power;
4. Restoring America's economic health and maintaining and extending the open international economic system that benefits Americans and people around the world, and;
5. Promoting the expansion of constitutional democracies and the observance of human rights.
Fully cognizant of the financial issues affecting the United States today, including the $17 trillion national debt, she argued that cutting military spending today was not a panacea for digging our way out of these circumstances. She stated:
America's danger is not military or imperial overstretch, but rather "entitlement overstretch." Today, entitlement spending, net interest, and other social programs consume 66% of federal outlays and barring significant action in DC, by fiscal year 2018 that autopilot spending will increase to 72%. This growth in the cost of entitlement programs is consuming a larger and larger portion of federal spending, crowding out the money left to defend our country—the most important responsibility of the federal government. It is both tragic and telling that by 2019 the U.S will spend more on interest on debt than we will defending the country.
In line with this argument, she stated that so-called "sequestration" needs to be ended now because it is rapidly increasing the tension between means available to achieve the ends of American foreign policy.
She ended by saying that:
The future U.S. grand strategy should be grounded in the understanding that 1) There is no substitute for American leadership and action; 2) Most major national security challenges require the U.S. to work with our allies; 3) The U.S. must repair the economic foundation of our military power, and 4) America's continued prosperity and security demand that we repair the readiness of our armed forces and maintain military power beyond challenge.
Now, one might disagree with the senator's positions, but this was an important speech because it laid out a Republican internationalist position that offers a credible option to the policies of the Obama administration and to the tea party wing of her party. This speech highlights the importance of being internationally engaged and illustrates the consequences for underfunding or being dismissive of such engagement. I, for one, hope that Ayotte can follow this up with some more detailed prescriptions on dealing with, for instance, Syria, Russia, China and Iran.
Michael P. Noonan is the director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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