February 23, 2015

CNAS Releases "Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security"


Washington, February 23 – The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has released the inaugural report in its Strategy Voices Series, Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security. Authored by Dr. Jerry Hendrix, senior fellow and director of the CNAS Defense Strategies and Assessments Program, the report argues that the United States has strayed from its historic and cultural approach to the world, leaving behind its traditional maritime-focused, technologically innovative, free-trade based strategy. He further argues the U.S. has replaced these tenets with entanglements in foreign land-based operations, over regulation, and profligate deficit spending – and has seen the country’s position in the world commensurately downgraded. Overall he recommends a more clear-eyed strategy that seeks to avoid trivia and address the U.S.’ current weaknesses in order to shore up its long term strategic position.
The full report is available here: http://www.cnas.org/avoidingtrivia.

Please find the report’s preface below:

The United States currently faces a multitude of challenges across the globe and at home from which it seemingly cannot escape. Attempts to “reset” U.S. diplomacy, economy, or military force are undermined by emerging crises that trigger responses that, in turn, increase national exhaustion. Demands are high and resources are under strain, including funding, manpower, and equipment. If the goal were a strategy to undermine the power and influence of the United States and bring its era of global leadership to an end, a Bismarckian grand strategist could not have designed a series of events as debilitating as those of the past fourteen years. For the United States to reverse current trends and sustain its position in the world, it will need to move from reactive policies to a posture of proactivity. It will also have to examine the extent of its interests and reconnect with the basic, cultural fundamentals of grand strategy.

Grand Strategy has never resided purely within the military realm; it is rather an expression of national goals in totality. To express strategy purely in military terms would neglect the logistics line that stretches from the front to the factories that produce armaments and to the economy that supports the overall effort. The military function cannot be separated from the economic: Clausewitz and Mahan cannot be considered without Keynes and Friedman. Deficit spending and growing debt, along with a weakening economy and crumbling national infrastructure, present a growing threat to the United States that may far exceed traditional security threats, especially when we consider that the national security complex is dependent upon these components of national life: the economy and national infrastructure form the foundation for U.S. actions in the world.

It is from this basis that I argue that the nation has strayed from its historic and cultural approach to the world. From its revolutionary origins, the United States has traditionally followed a maritime focused, technologically innovative, economically entrepreneurial, free trade approach to the world built upon a strong currency foundation. The United States has strayed from this path by becoming entangled in the land-based vicissitudes of other regions, over-regulation of free intellectual and economic markets and a weakened fiscal condition due to profligate deficit spending, and its position in the world has been commensurately weakened. A realist grand strategy for the United States must seek to shore up its fiscal condition at home, to strengthen its economy by investing in research and development to place the nation once again at the cutting edge of technological development and to return its defense focus to the maritime environment that has so well served it since its founding. This is not a call for a retreat into isolationism. Treaty relationships and security partnerships will require the United States to remain engaged in the world, but this engagement must be done with purpose while avoiding expensive and entangling events.  In other words, U.S. Policy should heed Secretary of State George Marshall’s injunction to George Kennan as the latter established the State Department’s Office of Policy Planning: “Avoid Trivia.”
It is appropriate to begin with a nod to Kennan, the last great grand strategist, and a review of the current and historic strategic landscape. Next, a review of the foundations of U.S. strategy is followed by an outline of the significant issues a new grand strategy must address. The paper concludes by arguing that the present preponderance of United States’ military power, the size of its military force, its technological superiority, and its forward deployed positions, give the nation a secure position in the world for the foreseeable future. No power, not even China, will be in a position to challenge the United States militarily before 2025. In the coming decade it is only the United States itself, with its profligate approach to fiscal matters, that poses a serious threat to U.S. national security. If the United States is to maintain its edge, technologically, economically, and militarily, it must get its fiscal house in order. Efforts to do so will have consequences for military spending.

Dr. Hendrix is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org.