Yesterday, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, freshman New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, clearly demonstrated her ability to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great leaders of that august body’s Armed Services Committee, names like Sam Nunn, John Tower, John Warner, Carl Levin, John McCain, John Kyl and James Inhofe. These individuals are all noteworthy for their efforts to defend this great nation and ensure that all the instruments of national power were employed in the service of U.S. national interests. To their number can now be added the name of one of the committee’s newest members.
Senator Ayotte called for the creation of a new U.S. grand strategy one that would eliminate the gap between bold rhetorical pronouncements and an increasingly feckless employment of American power. She also warned of the serious disconnect between this country’s international responsibilities and aspirations, on the one hand, and its eroding power, on the other. The reason for this increasingly serious problem, Senator Ayotte declared, was a lack of grand strategy to guide national security policies. The lack of a grand strategy results in several serious problems:
• It allows the crisis of the day to crowd out important priorities;
• It leaves military planners and leaders in the dark regarding the military force structure and posture needed to protect the nation’s interests, and;
• It 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.
There is plenty of evidence of how the lack of a grand strategy is impacting decisions on regional crises and military plans. As the Senator pointed out in her remarks, the lack of an overarching grand strategy has resulted in a situation in which “America’s policies related to the size of the Navy, the conflict in Syria, missile defense, democracy and human rights promotion, Russia, and our nuclear deterrent, undercut—rather than protect—our national security interests.” Without the gravitational pull of a clear grand strategy decisions on a wide range of issues are taken on the basis only of short-term considerations and without a thought to their effects on other aspects of policy or other national security interests.
A true Grand Strategy, as defined by Senator Ayotte, would consist of three simple truths. The first is that national interest alone is the touchstone for what this nation must do in the world. The second is that even American power and resources are not unlimited. The third, derived from the first two, is the necessity of setting priorities in order to apply limited resources where they will do the most good. Therefore, in Senator Ayotte’s words, “policymakers are wise to spend time distinguishing between those interests that are highly important from those interests which are simply desirable.”
For Senator Ayotte, there are only five key U.S. national security interests:
• Preventing a catastrophic attack on our homeland;
• Maintaining access to the global commons, including sea, air, space, and cyberspace which facilitates U.S. trade and access to key resources;
• Preserving a favorable global balance of power;
• Restoring America’s economic health and maintaining and extending the open international economic system that benefits Americans and people around the world, and;
• Promoting the expansion of constitutional democracies and the observance of human rights.
Notice, this list does not identify an axis of evil. Nor does it require a specific level of defense spending or a force structure of a given size. However, by assessing the potential threats to the homeland, identifying ways those who wish us harm might interfere with our access to the global commons and pointing out how nations may already be seeking to undermine a global balance of power, it would be possible to apply the Senator’s principle to the creation of a robust and effective array of national capabilities that would defend the homeland, our overseas interests and global peace.
Such a sensible approach can achieve America’s security objectives at an affordable cost. After all, as the Senator pointed out, “today, the U.S. spends less than 3.7% percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, and the President’s budget will place us below 3% of GDP by 2017. That compares to an average of 7% between 1946 and 2000. National security spending accounts for less than 18% of federal outlays.”
At the end of her speech, Senator Ayotte provided what should be the foundation for the Republican Party’s position on national security:
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.
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