Why Debt Matters for National Security

Tonight is the last presidential debate with questions focused on foreign policy, but it would be a mistake to forget about debt. Our foreign policy is intertwined with fiscal policy, since it determines what economic power we have and what security capabilities we will possess.

The most immediate connection between debt and national security is the fiscal cliff. If the sequester goes off, the Defense Department will have to make abrupt and untargeted $55 billion in cuts. Reducing defense spending in an across-the-board fashion would limit DoD's flexibility and the military's effectiveness instead of identifying areas of waste, at least in the short term.

Yet failing to do anything about our unsustainable debt path now would only force much larger cuts down the road, perhaps suddenly in the event of a crisis. This would be the worst of all outcomes, both for the economy and for national security. Not surprisingly, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has stated the greatest national security threat is not an outside force, but our own inability to deal with our rising debt:

More than two years ago, while serving in the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I was asked a routine question by a reporter that went like this: What is the most significant threat to our national security? My response was straightforward and simple: I said, our debt.

Since then, I’ve been asked time and time again about that threat, and I’ve answered the same way. A nation with our current levels of unsustainable debt, being this far out of fiscal balance, cannot hope to sustain, for very long, its superiority from a military perspective or its influence in world affairs.

Our fiscal policy is unsustainable, and solving this is going to require our military to become leaner and more efficient. But mostly we need a plan on how we are going to go forward. To hear CRFB's Senior Policy Director Marc Goldwein "decode" what President Obama and Governor Romney have said in the debates about the budget, watch the helpful video below.