National Security in an Age of Austerity

President Barack Obama speaks to students at TechBoston Academy in Boston, March, 8, 2011.

From Kurt Volker, the New Atlanticist:  We need a realistic strategy for what to do — how to advance our national security within our means. Not simply to retrench, not simply to keep pouring on the gas.

Take Afghanistan: As U.S. ambassador to NATO, I argued strongly for more troops and more Allied contributions in order to get the job done. We got more troops for a while, but we also got deadlines, troop limits and now withdrawals. With voters already worried about their wallets, the emphasis on limits only causes voters to wonder why we are there at all. If it is OK to withdraw 30,000 troops, why not 40,000, or 60,000? Or all of them? Political leaders need to articulate clear national interests, clear goals we can achieve within our resources, and unwavering determination to succeed. It is OK to fight, provided you are in it to win.

The same on Libya: Make the case for why removing Gadhafi is a U.S. interest (and I believe it is) and voters will want to get it done — the quicker the better. But fudge that by limiting the U.S. role and launching an ill-defined mission to protect civilians — yet not remove Gadhafi — and after four months the voters are lost.

Each of the declared political candidates — and Gov. Rick Perry, if he joins the fray — should offer a vision for a serious national security strategy appropriate for an age of austerity. What should our nation do and why? Not a statement of what to cut and how fast, but the positives:

What are the goals our country should achieve, and how we should go about them? At the moment, no candidate is offering such a vision. . . .

But for America to live up to this potential, it requires a vision, a will and a realism about resources. What voters really want is a strategy for our national security, not a retreat. That’s what America’s next president — whether Barack Obama or one of his challengers — needs to offer.

Kurt Volker is a former US ambassador to NATO. He is now Managing Director, International, for BGR Group as well as Senior Fellow and Managing Director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors GroupHis email address is This article first published at The Dallas Morning News (photo: AP)

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