International opportunities and national security threats

Filed under: Contributed Column,Opinion,Print | Tags:

Even with breathtaking advancements in technology, the world is still, well, the world. That means vast opportunities exist in the global marketplace, while real threats loom.

Unfortunately, serious questions lurk about U.S. policies regarding those opportunities and threats.

As for the opportunities, consider the vast increase in U.S. trade during the past 50 years. In 1960, total trade (i.e., exports plus imports) registered 9.5 percent of GDP. Last year, total trade came in at 31.5 percent of GDP. Anyone arguing against free trade has no understanding of how integrated nearly every American consumer, business and worker is with other consumers, businesses and workers around the world.

During the economic mess over the past four years, real GDP grew by a mere 0.8 percent. That is, in effect, we experienced no real economic growth.

However, even though it was hit extremely hard, trade has performed better than the overall economy. From 2007 to 2011, for example, exports grew by 14.2 percent. That’s hardly robust, but again, it’s better than our no-growth economy in general.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has been largely uninterested in reducing international trade barriers, so that businesses and workers can further capitalize in the international market. To his credit, the President did sign three trade deals that Congress overwhelmingly approved in October of last year. But the agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia were originally negotiated during the Bush administration.

Other than that, over the past three-plus years, the U.S. has abandoned its leadership position on advancing free trade, which means less opportunity than what U.S. businesses and workers would otherwise experience.

What about the other side of the international policy equation, i.e., dealing with threats?

Many people thought that when the Cold War came to close in the early 1990s, peace and security would reign. But if one understands human nature, and the desire and ability to use government to expand power, oppress and simply invoke evil, the naiveté of such notions should have been obvious. The same goes for the likes of Congressman Ron Paul, an after-thought Republican candidate for president, who argues that the U.S. should effectively withdraw its troops from international theaters.

The reality of continued threats came home with, for example, the 1993 terrorist van bomb attack on the World Trade Center; the terrorist attacks on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996; terrorist bombings that destroyed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; and of course, the 9-11 attacks of 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, along with the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Our subsequent military actions were focused on Afghanistan, Iraq, and a global war against terrorists. But there’s more.

In a September 2011 report for the Heritage Foundation, Donald C. Winter, who served as U.S. Secretary of the Navy form 2006 to 2009, explained: “Today, the U.S. faces a disturbingly diverse set of national security challenges ranging from pirates threatening U.S. citizens and world commerce off the coast of Somalia to transnational terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, to rogue nations acquiring nuclear capabilities, such as North Korea. Added to these threats are the military buildup in China and continuing unrest in the Middle East. These security challenges encompass a broad spectrum of threats, from improvised explosive devices to nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the location of these threats continues to shift.”

Of course, among those shifting and worrisome challenges of late has been Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and how and when Israel will react to this threat to its very existence. Throw in the mix the dangerous shift in the political landscape in Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood, the hardline Salafi Nour Party, and the possible emergence of a theocratic Islamist state.

Winter argues that “the only viable approach to national security in the 21st century is to maintain an adequately sized, trained, and equipped force that is capable of dissuading, deterring, and — if necessary — defeating a diverse set of future adversaries.”

Unfortunately, one has to wonder if the Obama administration agrees given the massive defense cuts the President proposed in his budget.

Under the Obama plan, national defense spending would drop markedly — from $716.3 billion in 2012 to $701.8 billion in 2013, $599.3 billion in 2014, and $572.5 billion in 2013. As of 2017, the Obama budget would put national defense spending at 2.9 percent of GDP, which would be the lowest level since prior to World War II. As a share of overall federal spending, national defense would drop below 16 percent (15.4 percent in 2014, 14.1 percent in 2015, 13.4 percent in 2016, and 13.0 percent in 2017). After reviewing the numbers back to 1940, it turns out that has not happened over the past 73 years.

The U.S. should not just throw taxpayer dollars at anything, especially given the fantastic waste that has occurred over the past four-plus years in the name of bailouts and so-called stimulus. At the same time, the first duty of government is to protect the people. Undermining national security is a dangerous game to play. Make no mistake, there’s plenty to cut in the federal budget without placing the nation at risk.

It should be simple: Peace through economic and military strength.

Raymond J. Keating is the chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His new book is “Chuck” vs. the Business World: Business Tips on TV.