Peace Through Strength – Some 9th Century National Security Advice

In the savage, Hobbesian world of 9th century Britain, brilliantly brought to life in Bernard Cornwell’s “Last Kingdom” series in print and on BBC, Saxons, Vikings, Scots, Irish, and Welsh viciously compete to rule over lands that ultimately became the Kingdom of England. As the series’ fictional hero, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, reflects on his quarter-century of successfully leading Saxon armies against Viking invaders, he claims that he would rather make a world that is permanently peaceful “… a reality, and so live in harmony, but there is always some man, and it usually is a man, who looks with envy on our fields, who wants our home, who thinks his rancid god is better than ours, who will come with flame and sword and steel to take what we have built and make it his, and if we are not ready to fight, if we have not spent those tedious hours learning the craft of sword and shield and spear and seax, then that man will win and we will die. Our children will be slaves, our wives whores, and our cattle slaughtered. So we must fight, and the man who fights with confidence wins.”

Some things never change, despite what we may want to believe. In 1991, we were told that history had ended; that democracy had triumphed for all time. Yet, here we are, just a quarter-century later, and the age-old game of global king of the hill has resumed, if it ever ended. America’s unipolar moment, the Gift of Reagan, is over, squandered by poor presidential leadership and an arrogant policy elite that still believes it is entitled to lead.

Instead, America’s leadership, which has produced an unparalleled period of growth in human potential, is challenged around the world, by a China bent on restoring its imperial past, a Russia seeking to reclaim its lost status, terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, regional powers North Korea and Iran, and drug gangs in the Americas, among others. They have watched the steady attrition of America’s matchless military waging fruitless campaigns that lacked strategic coherence, while defense budgets fell, and domestic entitlement spending rises at a pace that will inevitably bankrupt the country. Free bread and circuses killed Rome; it will surely ruin us as well.

Fortunately, the current Congress has taken the first baby steps towards reversing these trends. The latest spending bill halts a decade of defense disinvestment, increasing expenditures on new ships, aircraft, and other equipment, research and development into the next generations of military weapons, and training for our military personnel. However, Congress did nothing to divert the impending entitlement tidal wave that is hanging over us.

America’s competitors can do math just as well as we can; in some cases, maybe better. They see the growth of our national debt and the inevitable surge of entitlement expenditures as the baby boom generation retires. They have monitored Congress’s and our society’s lack of self-discipline. They expect that over the next two decades, entitlement spending will crowd out defense spending. They know their time is now. That is why we have witnessed a 40-ship Chinese fleet parading through the South China Sea, North Korea launching ballistic missiles that can reach the United States; Russia sending its military into Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria; and terrorists running amok around the globe.

Our competitors also know that although the United States has only five percent of the world’s population, it produces approximately twenty percent of the world’s output, and owns nearly 50 percent of the world’s wealth. Our competitors think they deserve some of that pie, and if we are not prepared and not confident, they may try to take it from us. If that happens, we may find ourselves back in the brutal, Hobbesian world of the 9th Century.

We, as American citizens, have a say in these matters, even though the self-entitled policy elite may think otherwise. In November, we will go to the polls to elect a new Congress. Candidates and the press will give us a multitude of reasons to vote for one candidate or another. But we should not be fooled. There is only one criterion that should matter to all of us. We should vote for candidates in every race that will pledge to rebuild America’s military, whatever the cost; the candidates who will promise that America will follow the path of Uhtred, the path of Reagan, the path of peace through strength.