The United States needs a strong military to keep America safe. Unfortunately, today’s foreign policy asks our service members to do too much in too many places. In fact, it often undermines our security and saps our strength—costing thousands of American lives, leaving hundreds of thousands more physically wounded or suffering from mental ailments. It also threatens the future of our economy by adding trillions to our national debt. We seek a better way: a foreign policy that utilizes strength and smarts to deter potential threats and protect our vital security interests—without so many of the costs and unintended consequences that harm us today.
We seek a foreign policy that utilizes strength and smarts to deter potential threats and protect our vital security interests—without so many of the costs and unintended consequences that harm us today.
A 2017 poll found half of American veterans believe the U.S. should be less militarily engaged around the world, while two-in-three said they would support removing all troops from Afghanistan.
The United States military is the strongest force the world has ever seen. In fact, our military has never been stronger than it is today, serving as a powerful deterrent to other countries that might otherwise do us harm.
Unfortunately, we don’t always deploy that force wisely. We’ve become involved in too many conflicts that do not directly relate to our national security and over-extended our military to 800 bases in 70 countries around the globe. Meanwhile, “mission creep” has extended otherwise necessary military actions beyond their core objectives, resulting in nation-building projects that have been costly and ineffective while leading to less global stability. Just one example: Afghanistan is now our nation’s longest war—longer than the Revolutionary War, World War I, and World War II combined.
Rather than continue down this path, we seek a better way. One that relies on both realism and restraint—realism as to what constitutes a threat to our vital interests and what military force can accomplish, and restraint as to when and how we use force to secure those interests.
“The most significant threat to our national security is our (national) debt.” – Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen
It’s no coincidence America has both the world’s strongest economy and military force. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen put it best: “(T)he strength … and the resources that our military uses are directly related to the health of our economy over time.”
Yet, today Pentagon spending is a major driver of our national debt. It threatens our economy and our military alike. In 2019, military spending will total nearly $1 trillion—more than twice as much as China and Russia combined. Costs will continue to soar due to long-term consequences of recent wars, such as caring for the more than 50,000 men and women who have been wounded in post-9/11 conflicts and the more than one million who have filed disability claims.
The good news? There are many ways to rein in spending while maintaining our strength and taking care of our veterans.
For example, a 2015 Department of Defense report discovered $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. Closing or realigning bases the Pentagon itself deems non-essential, increasing transparency of Pentagon spending, and modernizing the Department of Veterans Affairs would save billions more.
These are just a few examples of how policymakers can responsibly reduce defense spending and pressure on our national debt, helping to secure the strength of our military for decades to come. And while significant, they still pale in comparison to the savings we can achieve by exercising more prudence when it comes to using military action in the first place.
“War is hell.” – Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
War is sometimes necessary to keep Americans safe. But the consequences to service members, their families, and their communities are severe. As countless men and women who have experienced it firsthand say, “War is hell.”
That’s why military action should be a last resort. It’s why we’re uniting policymakers and the foreign policy community to use all the tools of statecraft rather than view military action as the primary means to keep America safe.
Such an approach produced some of America’s most significant foreign policy victories of the 20th century. For example, the U.S. used diplomacy to help counter the Soviet threat by opening economic relations with China in the 1970s—eventually bringing about a peaceful end to the Cold War and the reunification of Germany.
The U.S. has also leveraged accords like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)—today known as the World Trade Organization (WTO)—to further American interests, using international trade as a way to encourage other countries to engage with the world in more peaceful ways.
We’re working to replicate those successes today. Using the carrot of cooperation to keep America safe and reserving the stick of military action as the last resort.
We support a strong military that keeps America safe. Rather than repeat the mistakes of recent decades, it’s time to adopt a better foreign policy—one based on a more realistic assessment of what constitutes a threat to America’s vital interests as well as restraint as to when and how we use military force to protect those interests.