CFR's Richard Haass: Domestic Issues, Including Debt, Key to National Security

Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the biggest threat to U.S. national security might not be a continent away, but right here in Washington. In an interview with the Daily Ticker, Haass said that domestic issues, including the failure to address rising federal debt, might hinder our international standing in the future. Specifically, he said:

What we do to improve our schools, our infrastructure, what we do to reduce the budget deficit…this is going to be critical in years and decades ahead. The most important national security question for the coming year is actually the domestic set of issues that involves the economy.

He declared that these issues, if left unsolved, are part of what makes the U.S. vulnerable to external shocks and other events from foreign governments or economies. Addressing the debt would eliminate one of these vulnerabilities and would give the country fiscal breathing room to address other domestic issues.

Haass identified entitlement reform as an issue he thought would become central after the 2012 election, regardless of who wins the presidency. Still, he said that while both sides have deficit reduction plans out there (which you can compare to one another here), we were past the point of simply having proposals. Bipartisanship is what's needed going forward.

Haass's comments somewhat echo the prominent statement by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, who said almost two years ago that excessive debt would hurt the nation's ability to prioritize resources. Admiral Mullen said specifically that defense needed to be on the table to force the Pentagon to look at what they wanted and didn't want to do, something that hadn't happened in a decade of increased budgets. Still, like Haass, he recognized that a deficit reduction plan (even if it involved defense) was better than subjecting the nation to the vulnerability that is associated with very high debt.

Certainly, economic vulnerability related to high public debt can be seen across the Atlantic. We're not at the point of those troubled European countries yet, but continued inaction will open up the nation to unnecessary risks, both economically and potentially geopolitically.