The United States currently resides in a position of strategic weakness, we’ve got a fiscal solvency problem and a posture-readiness problem. Truth is, we’re unable to address either quickly, or at least sufficiently. We need time. But we don’t really have the time; our enemies are growing, our economy is basically stagnant, our alliances are weak. Its a very dangerous time to an American hegemon. We can’t return to isolation and we have no true ally like Briton had when its empire collapsed turning to Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. We’re alone. And time is running out.
Walter Lippmann wrote “brining into balance, with comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power.” Frankly, if a statesman should fail to address this balance quickly and judiciously, disaster is imminent. This is the precipice that team Trump must reckon.
The truth is, the U.S. has possessed uncontested military dominance at bargain-basement prices. Not anymore. We must confront rising Asian powers more numerous and severe than any time in decades. By any ledger, we’re losing. We’re slipping into what Samuel Huntington termed ‘strategic insolvency.’ This means our force posture is dangerously insufficient to the tasks at hand. We’ve relinquished the ultima ratio regum, military strengths beyond challenge. For decades, the U.S. possessed unrivaled primary in key checkpoints in Europe, Asia, and the Near East. Having peerless global power projecting capabilities enabled us to procure institutions that served global liberal interests.
This comparatively benign environment IS OVER.
Not only is our strategic landscape rapidly changing, but our primacy is eroding. Here’s why.
In Asia, the U.S. is entering a security environment that resembles 19th century great power competition. Witness how both China and Russia field anti-access/area denial capabilities thwarting U.S. regional interests. Possessing the ability to thwart global norms; China and Russia will continue their belligerency so as to benefit from American hegemony.
Throughout the Near East, western Asia, and East Asia we witness regimes devoted to overt nuclear proliferation. North Korea fields intercontinental ballistic missiles while Iran seeks to solidify breakout status with violent proxies enveloping both U.S. regional allies as well as South America.
The rapid spread of satellites, precision munitions, stealth and other coveted technology once the sole preserve of the American’s means we face actors who will openly contest Washington’s nuclear calculus.
The number of challenges and challengers is multiplying. Both rogue states, jihadi enclaves, great-power rivalries, endemic fiscal-ideological instability and more. . animate today’s security environment. The damage done by the great recession and sequestration is playing out before us all, if we have the courage to acknowledge it. With alliances weak, adversaries emboldened and international order imperiled, the U.S. has to make decisions that halt the progress of our enemies. Team Trump’s recent visit to Seoul and Beijing showcased how we’ll play our hand: openly and weakly.
Great powers facing strategic insolvency really have three options: reduce your commitments, live with greater risk in the hope that other rising powers will not openly test our commitments, or three, dramatically increase defense procurements. It means strengthening our alliance network with open commitments played out before our enemies; it means economic growth at home and a high-low mix of defense assets that actually address our flailing nuclear triad.
Defense spending consumes about 13% of the federal budget, entitlements consume over 49%. Do the math. America’s fiscal solvency will hinge on our ability to control entitlement spending.
Look at it this way: what’s cheaper, a Reagan style defense push or the full price of strategic insolvency.