The Economy and Center of Gravity

Is it possible to buy national security? 

During the Ancient and Medieval periods, it was common for potentates, kings and even empires to pay an adversary not to attack. Rome did so when the Goths threatened their northern frontier. Constantinople later paid successive generations of Arabs to leave them in peace. In these cases as well as countless others, bribery was an effective and even central, component of national security strategy. Unfortunately, the US cannot afford to bribe anyone even if the twenty- first century geopolitical environment was that simple. Despite modern day complexities, the President correctly stated in his National Security Strategy that US prosperity is the key to its security. Creating and maintaining conditions to protect the homeland and American interests overseas is a difficult and expensive undertaking, requiring sound financial policies and a healthy economy. 

The Machine: 

Most US citizens believe national security is the top priority and therefore will always be adequately funded. What is not well known is that the military is only one component in a huge and complex national security apparatus requiring constant investment and attention. This machine is composed of multiple departments and all instruments of national power. Responsible use of these national assets should be viewed as worthwhile investments in US national security. Today, US diplomats and military leaders take part in security cooperation activities with partner nations to build alliances so they can respond to regional and global threats as a multinational task force. The US also reaches out to assist and stabilize failing states to prevent extremist take overs and cultivate new alliances. Libya is a good opportunity to do just that. If the West does not assist the new Libyan leadership serve the people and restore function, organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood would be happy to do so. 

Effectively run intelligence operations are always a worthwhile investment. Pinpointing imminent attacks against the US and identifying emerging conflicts allows the military to take preemptive action. Thwarting a crisis in its embryonic stage is far more cost-effective, not to mention life-saving, than dealing with a full-scale conflict or disaster. The dramatic reduction in the intelligence services in the 1990s directly contributed to the dramatic rise in terrorist attacks against the US, culminating in the September 11th attacks. Fortunately, the US economy was strong enough and resilient enough to recover quickly from the damages inflicted that day. Good intelligence is necessarily expensive, but far less so than the cost of an attack or war.   

Fighting and winning on today’s battlefield constitutes only a small part of US Defense expenditures. The US constantly develops new combat systems to counter tomorrow’s threats. For this, the government relies on the private sector to develop the latest technology. Unfortunately, this industry must contend with a huge bureaucracy, political intrigue and competing interests to field the latest combat systems. The process of design, research and development, testing, and worst of all, approval, turns into a decades-long odyssey by the time a new system is fielded. 

The complex and time-consuming nature of the process makes it astronomically expensive. Frustrating as the ordeal is though, staying one step ahead of potential enemies and developing future combat systems is a worthwhile investment. Like private enterprise, manpower is the most expensive part of warfare and security operations. Like private enterprise technological advancement tends to reduce manpower requirements and consequently, expenses. If the US can apply sufficient combat power with fewer people and still achieve the desired objective, potential cost savings are substantial. Automation, robotics and advanced software are examples of ways to minimize human need, but the investment in future combat systems must be an ongoing priority. Unfortunately, the US financial condition diminishes the capacity to do so.   

The US Center of Gravity: 

The father of modern military thought, Carl Von Clausewitz defined a nation’s Center of Gravity as the “hub of all power and movement upon which everything depends.” Today’s joint doctrine defines it as the “source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action or the will to act.” Historically, a nation’s Center of Gravity was considered to be the capital, the army, or both. If a belligerent state were to neutralize either, it was considered a strategic victory. 

Those days are over. 

As noted in the previous section, providing security for a nation with global interests is extremely expensive. Islamic Jihadists have correctly determined that the US Center of Gravity is its financial prosperity. They have also determined that American reliance on foreign oil, computer networks and the international banking system are critical vulnerabilities to that Center of Gravity. This is why they attacked the World Trade Center in 2001 and are constantly attacking petroleum production and infrastructure and conducting cyber-attacks against US financial and Defense networks. 

China’s most famous strategist, Sun Tzu believed the preferred method of warfare was one that avoids combat. Not surprisingly, many of the cyber attacks against US computer networks originate in China. Additionally, Chinese commercial policy along with those of other adversarial regimes such as OPEC, actively seek to undermine the US economy. They “get it.” The global Jihad movement “gets it.” The US President has even stated that American prosperity is the key to its security, but he, along with the rest of the US political leadership just keeps passing legislation and enacting regulations that inhibit, and are even hostile to economic growth. 

The Communist “Awakening” 

After having recently returned from China and Vietnam, I was impressed by the dichotomy of communism embracing capitalism. Historically, the two are ideologically irreconcilable, but both governments have proven to be very pragmatic in their acceptance of, and support of pro-growth economic policies. China and Vietnam stubbornly and unapologetically cling to communism in every other sense of government policy, including abysmal human rights records. However, their economies are characterized by low, stable business tax rates, responsible government spending, reasonable levels of regulation and incentives for business expansion. As a result, their economies are exploding, with China’s predicted to surpass the US’s within the next five years.

Just three weeks ago, Russia released its revised list of more than five thousand strategic assets to be turned over to the private sector to operate instead of the government. The former communist giant is now privatizing, while the US is in the midst of the largest expansion of government in its history. Even socialist Western European governments are beginning to adopt responsible capitalism in the wake of the Greek collapse and several other nations teetering on the edge due to punitive tax rates, prohibitive regulation and irresponsible spending. But for some reason, the US is economically heading the other way and endangering national security in the process.   

Creating and maintaining conditions to protect the US homeland and American interests overseas is a difficult and expensive undertaking, requiring sound financial policies and a healthy economy. It is shameful how the economies of communist nations are thriving due to capitalism and responsible, pro-growth economic policies while the pioneer and chief proponent of capitalism insists on moving toward the economic policies communists are now scorning. What brought about this polar shift in economic direction remains debatable, but the US must act quickly and decisively to regain its prosperity. Necessary cuts along the entire spectrum of security expenditures decrease readiness and increase vulnerability and the likelihood future attacks. These attacks would destabilize the US economy further and contribute to a downward spiraling cycle of attacks, diminishing prosperity and increasing vulnerability. 

How would Reagan react if he knew the US was in a position to learn about capitalism from communists?   

De Oppresso Liber

Categories: General
Eric Roitsch

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