The Cost of Peace and Freedom
Americans are weary of being drawn into foreign conflicts. As with most readers of The Stand, many members of my family have served in our nation’s military protecting not only our own country from foreign aggression but also saving other nations from the darkness of evil powers.
Most recently, the two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost America dearly in blood and treasure. And now, we’re spending billions of dollars helping our Ukrainian allies defend themselves against a brutal invader.
There are many issues right here at home that demand attention. At our southern border, the influx of people seeking to enter the country illegally is compounded by the infusion of fentanyl throughout America. Abortion, LGBTQ extremism, matters of race and justice, “no fault” divorce and other ravages to the family, and the plague of pornography are just some of the issues confronting us unrelentingly.
So, how tempting it is to say to the rest of the world, “Enough — take care of your own problems and quit asking America to save you from yourselves.” Because we are free, prosperous, and courageous, our country is often looked upon as a kind of global savior. The impulse to make our nation and her interests militarily and technologically impregnable while conflicts in faraway lands rage is understandable. Fortress America is an inviting notion.
It’s also profoundly unwise and, if we care about our security and vital interests, a denial of reality. As a recent report by the Heritage Foundation puts it, “No matter how much America desires that the world be a simpler, less threatening place that is more inclined to beneficial economic interactions than violence-laden friction, the patterns of history show that competing powers consistently emerge and that the U.S. must be able to defend its interests in more than one region at a time.”
We cannot divorce our safety, freedom, and economic well-being from the rest of the world. We build needed alliances through trade, military assistance, and food relief. We gain access to raw materials through trade with nations on every continent. We safeguard our homeland by defending vulnerable friends.
So, when in early March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, students of American foreign policy took sharp notice.
“This report reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community,” composed of all 17 of America’s intelligence services. It sends a chilling message: “During the coming year, the United States and its allies will confront a complex and pivotal international security environment.” The challenges, the report notes, include “great powers, rising regional powers, as well as an evolving array of non-state actors,” all of which “will vie for dominance in the global order.” Included among them are, of course, China and Russia, but also Iran, North Korea, and resurgent groups of Islamist terrorists.
Additionally, the report notes, “rapidly emerging or evolving technologies” well might “disrupt traditional business and society … creating unprecedented vulnerabilities and surface attacks.”
Is America prepared for these many and diverse threats? The Heritage Foundation’s thorough evaluation says no: “The current U.S. military force is at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities.”
This view was affirmed in a starkly candid speech given late last year by Vice Adm. Charles A. Richard, the Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command. “As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking. It is sinking slowly,” Richard said, “but it is sinking, as fundamentally they are putting capability in the field faster than we are.”
As a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute has demonstrated, there is extensive waste in our massive military budget. Yet should every penny of this be excised, we are still failing to address the most critical challenges we face. Ranging from a larger and more modern navy to the sufficiency of our manufacturing base to produce what our Armed Forces need in a time of crisis, we must make a national decision to make strengthening our military — efficiently but deliberately and much more rapidly than the recent past — an unquestioned national priority.
“To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace,” counseled George Washington more than two centuries ago. His words are as relevant today as when he first spoke them. Our policymakers must make sure to heed them.
A postscript: For those interested in a sobering and thorough evaluation of China’s threats to the U.S., read or watch a speech given by Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence, last month in San Diego: “An Intelligence Officer’s Perspective on China.”
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.