POV: Redefining US National Security in a Divided and Unequal Nation
“Our strategic tunnel vision is clouding our thinking on what it means to keep America safe”
The primary responsibility of the US government is to keep every American safe from harm. China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran are all focused and determined on changing the post–World War II order. While America’s eyes are focused on the long-term challenge posed by China, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine highlights the volatility of today’s strategic environment. America needs to stop looking through the myopic lens of enormous defense budgets as the sole barometer of our security. By negating other key items that should classify under the broad umbrella of national security, we are sacrificing the future safety of our children and grandchildren.
America’s defense strategy is focused on one major assumption—the next conflict will be an away game. Our entire defense establishment, capabilities, and organization is based on this core concept. This naiveté in strategy has paralyzed us into thinking that it is incomprehensible that the next war could be fought on our own shores. We are accustomed to watching wars unfold on cable news with virtually no impact to most of our citizens—Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Ukraine, are prime examples. While the best defense is a strong offense, our strategic tunnel vision is clouding our thinking on what it means to keep America safe. While adequately resourcing the US military is important, it isn’t the only requirement in our collective security.
We’re living in the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” world. Senior defense and military leaders continually complain that they don’t have enough resources. Yet the United States spends an astronomical amount on its military and national-security enterprise. The fiscal year 2022 Congressional-approved defense budget was a staggering $782 billion. The House Armed Services Committee recently approved its version of the fiscal year 2023 defense bill, with a top-line of nearly $840 billion. While the bipartisan nature of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees is a welcome respite from the partisan knife fights on Capitol Hill, pouring money into the Defense Department isn’t the cure-all of American security. It is impossible to have a strong defense, while on the other hand elected leaders are chipping away at the very fabric of our democracy on unfounded claims of fraud in the last election.
We’re spending nearly a trillion dollars per year on our defense budget, at the same time that we’re missing critical components of a comprehensive security strategy. The Biden administration has failed to produce a National Security Strategy and the Department of Defense has failed to produce an unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review. While most Americans don’t read or care about these documents, it is a fundamental right in our democracy that we understand the policies and guidance that are aligned to the trillions of dollars spent on national defense. Blindly following a leader’s will isn’t a democratic principle. Questioning our leaders is a moral obligation in our democracy.
This nation has failed on resourcing and prioritizing other critical items that encompass the broad area of our national security. Each year we fail to address these foundational items that are viewed outside the national security enterprise. This failure is weakening America and allowing our adversaries an asymmetric advantage.
Resourcing education as a national imperative
America needs a highly educated and highly trained workforce to compete against the Chinese juggernaut; however, we’re already losing that battle. According to a paper published in 2021 by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, “We find that China has consistently produced more STEM doctorates than the United States since the mid-2000s, and that the gap between the two countries will likely grow wider in the next five years…by 2025 Chinese universities will produce more than 77,000 STEM PhD graduates per year compared to approximately 40,000 in the United States. If international students are excluded from the US count, Chinese STEM PhD graduates would outnumber their US counterparts more than three-to-one…”
It is impossible to develop the complex weapon systems we need without a strong science and engineering workforce. Additionally, operating these weapon systems requires an equally educated force.
Allocating resources to America’s 16,800 school districts is a national security imperative. A high-quality education, regardless of where you live and how much money you make, must be a fundamental right in this country. In this same vein, making community colleges free and tackling the abhorrent cost of higher education is another imperative. Without the brilliance of NASA’s African American female leaders in the 1960s, we would not have beaten the Soviets in the Space Race. Today’s competition against China is equally as fierce. In a country whose population pales in comparison to China’s, we can’t leave anyone behind.
Education in America demands we understand our country and the world around us. Banning books is the antithesis to an educated populace. Nearly 140 school districts in 32 states issued more than 2,500 book bans during the 2021-22 school year, affecting nearly four million students across 5,000 schools, according to the [PEN America] report “Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.” If our schoolchildren can’t distinguish opinion from fact and can’t embrace different cultures and beliefs, it will be impossible for them to develop the solutions to America’s most pressing problems. In some places in this country, ignorance is a badge of honor.
Acknowledging America’s broken democracy
The “Big Lie” in the 2020 election is indeed the biggest lie perpetrated on the American public. The hallmark of our democracy used to be the peaceful transition of power—our recent one-term presidents (Carter and Bush) showed the world the strength of our democracy. Winning at all costs and putting party above all has pitted Americans against Americans. It is in our normal vernacular to discuss red states versus blue states. But we’ve been here before and the outcome was America’s bloodiest war. I never understood why the road I took from my home in Virginia to the Pentagon was called the Jefferson Davis Highway—there isn’t an Adolph Hitler Highway in Germany. Seriously, we’re exalting the president of the Confederacy on the way to the headquarters of the US military.
Some governors are now attacking other states and using migrants as the weapon. Instead of embracing migrants that come to this country, they fly them (without their approval or knowledge) to blue states, and then they bask in the warm embrace of their constituents. The strength of a nation isn’t measured by the number of nuclear weapons or aircraft carriers they have, but on how they take care of the less fortunate in their communities.
Our democracy is broken when the legitimacy of an election is questioned when your candidate doesn’t win.
Our democracy is broken when instead of addressing the problem on immigration we use people as the weapon.
Our democracy is broken when the Nazi flag is displayed in the US Capitol and there isn’t an outcry from 535 members of Congress.
Our democracy is broken when women can no longer control their bodies.
Our democracy is broken when we make it difficult or impossible for every American to vote.
Our democracy is broken when we believe that this behavior is normal.
Repairing our democracy is a national security imperative.
Affluent to impoverished—all need to be treated equal
The recently approved Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a foundational component of national security. Our nation is weakened when some Americans don’t have clean water to drink, comprehensive healthcare, access to high-speed internet or are forced to live near an EPA superfund site. Every American community—from the most affluent to the most impoverished—needs basic services. To compete in a highly competitive world, every American needs the opportunity to be successful. This nation doesn’t have a resource problem—it has a priority problem. We always find the resources needed for the Pentagon, but taking care of Americans takes a back seat. Allocating some of these precious resources to communities of color is a national security imperative.
For America to compete in this new world order, we need to open our eyes and realize that our strength is more than our military. The path we’re on is weakening our nation. Only by broadening what we consider national security will we have a fighting chance in a complicated world. Putting the American flag on the back of your pickup truck isn’t patriotic. Treating everyone in America with respect is the most patriotic thing we can do.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact John O’Rourke at email@example.com. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.