Prosperity Is The Ultimate National Security Issue

Andrew Exum notes that sharp cuts in “non-security” spending have security implications, using foreign language learning as an example:

Much like the International Affairs budget, which includes funding for the Dept. of State and USAID, funds that support the study of critical languages should be understood as part of our national security expenditures. I myself was the recipient of a 2007 fellowship that allowed me to spend a summer in Morocco in an advanced Arabic program that helped get my Arabic up to the level I needed to pore through newspaper archives in Beirut while researching a dissertation on Hizballah. And I would happily pay a little more in taxes to keep these programs going.

But hey, it’s probably safe to cut funding for these languages. It’s hard to see Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or anywhere in the Arabic-speaking world causing issues in terms of U.S. national security interests anytime soon.

I would sort of put this differently. If you looked at the United States in 1935, our military was not particularly impressive compared to a more militarized country like Japan. But if you look at 1945, the United States beat Japan very badly in a war. And that’s primarily because the United States of America was way better at building ships and airplanes than Japan. We were better at breaking codes than Japan. We were better at researching nuclear fission bombs than Japan. We grew more food and we had more people. The fundamentals, in other words, were strong. And that’s the ultimate national security resource. The current level of defense spending has huge implications for a country’s capacity to do something like speedily mount a military intervention in Libya—America can do a lot, the EU can’t. But over the longer term, what matters most is the underlying fundamentals. The European Union has more people than the United States and a larger economic output, and could use those things to build a formidable national security apparatus if it wanted to.

Similarly, if you think about the national security landscape of 2035 what’s going to be really important isn’t the defense spending decisions of the United States. It’ll be the fundamentals. How rich are we? How many skills do our people have? How many people live here? How much science can we do? Insofar as expending resources on today’s security priorities prevents us from investing resources in building national capabilities for the future, we undermine our longer-term security.