Economic Security: A National Security Folly?

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Although economic considerations have a rolein grand strategy, economic goals per se are inappropriateas national security objectives.Nonetheless, specific economic goals havebecome part of America’s national security strategy(as well as part of the national psyche)–in largepart as a result of the 1973 OPEC (Organizationof Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargoand the economic trauma of that decade. Andthere is constant pressure to add further economicobjectives to that strategy.

Considerations of practicality, morality, andefficiency, however, argue that economic goalsshould not be regarded as national securityresponsibilities. The economic trauma of the1970s was more a result of foolish American economicpolicy than of the capabilities of oil‐ producingnations to do damage. Even at that time,self-inflicted wounds far exceeded those externallyimposed. Today, U.S. susceptibility to suchexternal pressure is minimal. In short, there is noneed to use America’s military resources todefend the U.S. economy.

Moreover, it is difficult to delineate “strategic“goods or economic threats in a practicalfashion, and such difficulty will only compoundover time. Perhaps more important, the willingnessto use military force to ensure access toresources or to obtain economic objectives raisesa significant moral question. When nations haveacted in this fashion, the United States and othercountries have considered it immoral. Yet, in ourfear of resource deprivation, we have fashioned astrategy that countenances such actions.

Finally, the addition of economic goals tonational security objectives complicates the makingand implementation of national securitystrategy and diverts a significant portion of militaryresources away from more appropriate, corenational security ends.

Donald Losman

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.