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.
Our vision in action
- Scholars at the nation’s leading universities — including MIT, Harvard, Tufts, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the University of California San Diego — are producing state-of-the-art research and introducing fresh perspectives to the foreign policy conversation.
- Concerned Veterans for America united federal policymakers across party lines to pass the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 and the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Together, these reforms improve accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and expand health care choices for more than 9 million service members.
- The Charles Koch Institute has partnered with organizations and social entrepreneurs ranging from The Atlantic Council to the International Crisis Group on projects and research to expand the marketplace of ideas, challenge the status quo, and seek new solutions to build a better foreign policy for America’s future.
A 2021 poll found a full two-thirds of veterans and majorities of military families and the general public support full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. A vast majority of the general public (80%) believe our military engagement around the world should be reduced or stay about the same. Only 6% believe we should be more engaged.
Guiding principles and insights
Realism: a better way for foreign policy
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 best national defense is a strong economy — our military spending threatens both
“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. Nevertheless, FY 2020’s largest-ever $738 billion defense budget continues a trend of U.S. defense spending surpassing its inflation-adjusted Cold War peak every year since 2005. And 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.
Expand the foreign policy toolbox — reserve war as a last resort
“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.
More examples of the work supported by the Stand Together community:
- The Eurasia Group Foundation’s “Independent America Project” is helping foster a new way of thinking about America’s role in the world, including by examining how the U.S. would benefit from a more restrained foreign policy that is open to the world but more prudential in its use of military force.
- The Brookings Institution and the Charles Koch Institute are convening a series of debates on America’s role in the world, including public forums to discuss the future of U.S.-China and transatlantic relations, among other topics.
- Student programs like the John Quincy Adams Society are identifying, educating, and equipping the next generation of scholars and foreign policy leaders.
- Headstrong helps veterans overcome the stigma and challenges of mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and addiction, among others, as they re-enter civil society.
- Stand Together Foundation supports more than two dozen workforce development programs across the country that help people learn the values and skills to build successful careers, many of which serve veterans.
- Concerned Veterans for America unites policymakers across party lines to, among other reforms, increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve the quality of health care for the 9 million veterans who rely on it.
- CVA has been working to repeal the outdated 2001 and 2002 AUMFs for years, making it a priority for its grassroots and advocacy efforts in its annual policy agendas (2019, 2020, 2021).
- Support policy champions at all levels of government who will advance an effective and realistic foreign policy to keep America safe while maintaining the strength of our military.
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.