Monday, April 25, 2011

National Strategy: sorting all and sundry Easter basket contents.

This brief post is third in a series on the NSN, recently released by the Woodrow Wilson Center. It now being past Easter, and my having made use of an admittedly lame analogy with an Easter basket, I’d better briefly explain that analogy again, and move to the section entitled “Our Values and Enduring National Interest”.

The point of the Easter basket analogy is something like this. When kids are presented with large Easter baskets full of colored eggs, chocolates, jelly beans, and various other identifiable and unidentifiable candies, they can choose wisely or not. The smart kid will sort through the goodies, and NOT attempt to consume them all in a short period of time. The not-so-farsighted kid will vacuum them all up in a brief period of time, get sick and regret it. The big question lurking behind this series on the NSN is whether or not the recommendations of Mr. Y put the U.S. in the position of trying to do too much, in these times of economic difficulties, with too little. It also asks whether the posture Mr. Y takes toward defense spending is wise. We’ve had some prelims, and introductions so far (the present section being the last of these more general arguments). Starting with the next section, we begin to see details. We are looking at the arguments with the Keenan “Mr. X” article, NSC 68 and the Marshall Plan as historical precedents for comparison.

As usual, excerpt then comment:

America was founded on the core values and principles enshrined in our Constitution and proven through war and peace. These values have served as both our anchor and our compass, at home and abroad, for more than two centuries. Our values define our national character, and they are our source of credibility and legitimacy in everything we do. Our values provide the bounds within which we pursue our enduring national interests. When these values are no longer sustainable, we have failed as a nation, because without our values, America has no credibility. As we continue to evolve, these values are reflected in a wider global application: tolerance for all cultures, races, and religions; global opportunity for self-fulfillment; human dignity and freedom from exploitation; justice with compassion and equality under internationally recognized rule of law; sovereignty without tyranny, with assured freedom of expression; and an environment for entrepreneurial freedom and global prosperity, with access to markets, plentiful water and arable soil, clean and abundant energy, and adequate health services.

From the earliest days of the Republic, America has depended on a vibrant free market and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit to be the engines of our prosperity. Our strength as a world leader is largely derived from the central role we play in the global economy. Since the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, the United States has been viewed as an anchor of global economic security and the U.S. dollar has served as an internationally recognized medium of exchange, the monetary standard. The American economy is the strongest in the world and likely to remain so well into the foreseeable future. Yet, while the dramatic acceleration of globalization over the last fifteen years has provided for the cultural, intellectual and social comingling among people on every continent, of every race, and of every ideology, it has also increased international economic interdependence and has made a narrowly domestic economic perspective an unattractive impossibility. Without growth and competition economies stagnate and wither, so sustaining America’s prosperity requires a healthy global economy. Prosperity at home and through global economic competition and development is then, one of America’s enduring national interests.

It follows logically that prosperity without security is unsustainable. Security is a state of mind, as much as it is a physical aspect of our environment. For Americans, security is very closely related to freedom, because security represents freedom from anxiety and external threat,freedom from disease and poverty, freedom from tyranny and oppression, freedom of expression but also freedom from hurtful ideologies, prejudice and violations of human rights. Security cannot be safeguarded by borders or natural barriers; freedom cannot be secured with locks or by force alone. In our complex, interdependent, and constantly changing global environment, security is not achievable for one nation or by one people alone; rather it must be recognized as a common interest among all peoples. Otherwise, security is not sustainable, and without it there can be no peace of mind. Security, then, is our other enduring national interest.

Paragraph one highlights the fact that the U.S. has a certain set of values, enshrined in the founding documents, that we have always tried to further in the very complex and morally challenging international arena. We also have gone to great lengths to fund and train foreign peoples for economic development worldwide. Emphasized in NSN are efforts toward improving standard of living, provision of health care and improved agricultural production. The second paragraph endorses global free trade as essential for domestic economic strength, as well as economic strength of other regions of the globe. The third paragraph begins an argument, to be fleshed out in succeeding sections that we need to consider our national security as tightly bound to an increased and vigorous effort along these lines. To use the language: This effort is described as a global effort, led by the U.S. to secure and protect various “freedoms” on a global scale.

We see a conceptualization of the various entities/agencies of the U.S. government as cooperating with each other, and in partnership with entities from the private sector (presumably not only American private interests) in a grand unified effort, playing this Marshallesque role in the world, pursuing this ambitious agenda. The idea is at one and the same time creation of a secure global environment, obviating the need for as high a level of Defense spending as we currently incur, while immediately cutting that very same spending in order to fund the hoped for creation of that secure environment. Once again, this has a decidedly Marshallesque ring to it, with the contrasting exception, that we did not see drastic cuts in Defense during the Truman era, in order to fund that program. But those were admittedly different times for the domestic economy.

The question is: despite the domestic economic situation, is it wise to cut defense spending before the ‘secure’ fact? I suppose the reply would be, ‘we cannot do both. We cannot increase spending on the global environment, and maintain present levels of defense spending.’

So, we have to ask follow on questions: Is this a false dilemma? Are there not other federal sources of the cash in question? Do we need to cut back on domestic programs not within the ambit of Defense? If we make the politically difficult choice to do this, could we manage both horns? Additionally, as the paper makes clear, if we actively recruit the private sector, that is a source of manpower and funding that is independent of the federal coffers, and potentially large. If the opportunity is attractive enough, private investors will foot some portion of the bill, reap profits, and re-invest. This too would obviate the need to look at this as an “either – or” choice between Defense spending and (to coin a phrase) ‘hearts and minds developmental spending.’ But it does raise the realistic question, in regard to the unstable parts of the world we would no doubt ‘invest’ in, how we create an environment that would be attractive to private investment, if not via fairly robust traditional military means. And, who would provide the ‘robust’ military means?

Some other questions arise assuming the truth of the ‘either or’ and its necessary cuts to defense spending: Is it wise to temporarily leave ourselves vulnerable in this way? If the amount of cutting proposed leaves us unable to secure the global seal lanes, the lifeblood of the world economy, or leaves us unable to carry out more than one war at the same time, would this be an overall damper on global economic life and security that would offset any gains from the ‘hearts and minds’ developmental spending?

More questions. More questions. We’ll see more details on all of this in the next section on the “investment priorities” of Mr. Y.