The Debt and National Security

December 17, 2012 By Zach Silberman

Watching the news these days we see stories on the looming fiscal cliff and whether our leaders will find a solution to the crisis. As the conversation continues to focus on the debt, the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, a project of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, was created to highlight concerns facing the national debt and its impact on national security.  As we know, policymakers are facing tough budget choices right now. However, as we look at those difficult choices, bipartisan military voices continue to voice support for strong and effective diplomacy and development.

Members of this Coalition for Fiscal and National Security include 15 former public national security officials in the legislative and executive branches. Among the members are former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Frank Carlucci, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, as well as former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and John Warner (R-VA). During the recent introduction of the coalition, the group’s chairman, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, USN (Ret.) argued that, “In national security spending, we can target investments much more efficiently in response to threats that are evolving before our eyes. And resources need to be shifted toward non-military elements of our national security posture.”

The view of bolstering civilian tools was also present in the group’s guiding principles, highlighting the importance that security officials place on the role of the State Department in protecting national security. “We should bolster the non-defense dimensions of our national security policies, especially our diplomatic assets. These serve to deter threats, reduce tensions, and resolve conflicts and thus lessen military and human costs. The State Department’s budget, for example, is woefully small as a proportion of our overall national security posture – both the Department’s role and its expenditures should be more fully integrated into the entirety of our national security requirements. In this new era, we will increasingly need to serve as a catalyst for collective action and press others to bear their fair share of responsibilities as stakeholders in the international system,” according to the coalition’s principles.

In addition, the coalition recognized improving our fiscal situation enhances our ability to collaborate with the private sector on important programs that protect national security. “We must recognize the dual role of military and economic strength in maintaining our national security. The geopolitical, technological and competitive changes across the global landscape demand modernized national security policies. But the wisest military strategy will not be effective unless we also put in place a viable fiscal plan that improves our short and long-term outlooks, and enables the necessary critical private and public investments for our future economic strength and security,” as stated by the coalition.

The voice that the military has on this issue has been particularly visible over the last four years, particularly in the Pentagon with advocates like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his predecessor Bob Gates.  Recently, Panetta argued that to protect the United States from the threat of terrorism requires, “The United States must stay involved and invested through diplomacy, through development, through education, through trade in those regions of the world where violent extremism has flourished.” As Congress weighs these difficult budget choices, continuing to have the military voice understand the importance of the International Affairs Budget will have a positive impact in ensuring that we maintain a high level of global engagement.