Economic Security: A National Security Folly?

August 1, 2001 • Policy Analysis No. 409
By Donald Losman

Although economic considerations have a role in grand strategy, economic goals per se are inappropriate as national security objectives. Nonetheless, specific economic goals have become part of America’s national security strategy (as well as part of the national psyche)–in large part as a result of the 1973 OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo and the economic trauma of that decade. And there is constant pressure to add further economic objectives to that strategy.

Considerations of practicality, morality, and efficiency, however, argue that economic goals should not be regarded as national security responsibilities. The economic trauma of the 1970s was more a result of foolish American economic policy than of the capabilities of oil‐ producing nations to do damage. Even at that time, self‐​inflicted wounds far exceeded those externally imposed. Today, U.S. susceptibility to such external pressure is minimal. In short, there is no need to use America’s military resources to defend the U.S. economy.

Moreover, it is difficult to delineate “strategic” goods or economic threats in a practical fashion, and such difficulty will only compound over time. Perhaps more important, the willingness to use military force to ensure access to resources or to obtain economic objectives raises a significant moral question. When nations have acted in this fashion, the United States and other countries have considered it immoral. Yet, in our fear of resource deprivation, we have fashioned a strategy that countenances such actions.

Finally, the addition of economic goals to national security objectives complicates the making and implementation of national security strategy and diverts a significant portion of military resources away from more appropriate, core national security ends.

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About the Author
Donald Losman is a professor of economics at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C. The views expressed are the author’s and do not represent the views of the National Defense University or the Department of Defense.