Thursday, March 28, 2019


April 3 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Defense Priorities and Catholic University’s Center for the Study of Statesmanship (CSS) are delighted to invite you to “NATO at 70: Vital, Relevant, or Obsolete?,” a panel discussion on the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As NATO celebrates its 70th birthday next week, the alliance faces renewed questions about its purpose, cohesion, and future. President Trump’s antipathy toward NATO is well-documented. Yet even friends of the alliance acknowledge that NATO’s capabilities and will are increasingly in question. Last week brought news that Germany, one of the wealthiest and most important NATO members, has chosen not to spend even a paltry 1.5% of GDP on defense in the years to come. Some members contribute even less. And when put to the test in combat in Afghanistan and Libya, NATO performed unevenly, at best.

Is NATO’s original purpose of keeping “the Germans down, the Americans in, and the Russians out” still relevant, nearly thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall? What are America’s vital national interests in Europe? Does America’s current role in the alliance enhance or retard European collective security?

CSS and Defense Priorities have assembled a dynamic group of experts to discuss these issues immediately after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday:

Gil Barndollar is the Military Fellow-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship.

Ben Friedman is Policy Director for Defense Priorities.

COL (Ret.) Douglas MacGregor, USA, is a decorated combat veteran, the author of five books, and a frequent commentator on national security issues.

Moderator: Justin Logan is a Research Associate and the Director of Programs at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship.

The event will be held April 3, from 1 – 3 pm, in the Symposium Center at the Reserve Officers Association of America, directly across the street from the Hart Senate Office Building. We hope you can join us.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Wars, Not Brexit, Destroyed Britain’s Global Power

The lesson to learn from the British Empire is unambiguous: unless the United States is attacked, Washington should avoid direct involvement in continental wars.

by Douglas Macgregor
March 21, 2019

The British people’s decision to leave the European Union—also known as Brexit—will mark the end of Britain as a world power, Fareed Zakaria argued in a March 14 Washington Post column. The United Kingdom will become a modern “Banana Republic,” Zakaria argues, falling from heights of power to a stunning low “for Britain, Europe and the West.” This fact-free assertion is dangerously wrong.

Contrary to Zakaria’s account of British history, from the time of Cromwell until 1914, British national military strategy was guided by a prudent foreign policy that saw little strategic value in permanent alliances with continental European states. In numerous wars with France and Spain, Britain relied on German-speaking powers and, in 1812, on its Russian allies to carry the burden of war on the continent. Meanwhile, British sea power supplied Britain’s friends and blockaded Britain’s enemies.

The lesson was clear: unless Britain herself was directly attacked or her vital interests were threatened, London avoided war on the continent. The raising and commitment of massive armies to Europe’s continental wars contributed nothing to the defense of the British Isles, let alone to the security of Britain’s all-important overseas empire.

The Los Angeles Rams sign Kenny Washington, making him the first African American player in the American football since 1933.

Alcatraz, a federal penitentiary on an island in San Francisco Bay, closes.

The start of World War I marked the end to this comparatively measured policy. As historian Niall Ferguson notes in The Pity of War , initially, no one in London saw any reason for Great Britain to fight alongside France against Germany. However, based on growing public support for war with Germany, the Prime Minister H. H. Asquith and his cabinet concluded that if they did not push for war, their government soon would be replaced by another that would. The decision to fight on the continent committed the British people to a war for which they were woefully unprepared.

The “Great War” killed a generation of British men, with locality-based regiments suffering losses that could wipe out the entire young male population of a village or region. The war fatally weakened Britain and emptied the British treasury, and World War II completed the empire’s decline.

In 1945, when Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached 256 percent, The Economist editorialized that Britain’s reward “for losing a quarter of our national wealth in the common cause is to pay tribute for half a century to those [the United States] that have been enriched by the war.” Britain’s wealth and global influence, built and maintained in the previous three hundred years, was practically liquidated overnight.

London’s participation in two world wars, not Brexit, is what destroyed British national power. If anything, Brexit could well mark a return to an independent foreign policy that by 1900 arguably made Great Britain the richest power in the world. For example, President Trump’s July offer of a free-trade arrangement to Prime Minister Theresa May points the way to new prosperity for Great Britain.

Such a deal the United Kingdom could easily expand to include Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and Japan as the basis for a new North Atlantic Free Trade Zone made possible by the appearance of an ice-free sea lane through the formerly frozen Arctic Ocean. Transatlantic trade shapes the global economy as a whole, and the emergence of this Arctic passage promises to be at least as important as the diversion of trade to the Atlantic from the Mediterranean in 1492 after Columbus reached the Western Hemisphere.

The central question of international relations is not, as Zakaria would have it, how Washington can reinvigorate the comatose body of the postwar order that collapsed with the Soviet Union in 1989. The question for Britain is—and the question for the United States is—how to build prosperity in a radically changed world where China and other rising powers are treated as economic competitors, not inevitable enemies in some future war.

As the British discovered in 1914, when global maritime powers (like the United States) fight a war with continental powers (like China), the conflict demands the persistent employment of powerful armed forces for years, draining national wealth and morale. The British Empire’s lesson for Washington is unambiguous: unless the United States is attacked, Washington should avoid direct involvement in continental wars. Unlike London and Paris relying on American aid in 1917, Washington cannot turn to another great power for the financing and military assistance the United States would need to prevail in a war with China.

Americans must defend our own liberty and property, but, like the British before 1914, seek to avoid involvement in purely local conflicts that do not impinge on U.S. national strategic interest. Preventing the emergence of a single bloc or empire from dominating the great Eurasian landmass should be a permanent red line in U.S. foreign and defense policy—a red line that both the American people and America’s trading partners on or near the Eurasian landmass can support. It’s a red line that potential opponents can respect, too.

Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory , (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Friday, March 1, 2019

Great nations don’t fight endless wars, allow undefended borders

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

“Great nations don’t fight endless wars,” President Trump said in his State of the Union address.

That bold declaration comes as the president seeks to bring to a close nearly two decades of bloody foreign interventions and refocus our military on the much more pressing duty of defending America’s borders.

The president might also have said, “Great nations don’t emerge with undefended borders.”

In only a matter of months, American troops who were not even born when al-Qaida murdered thousands of Americans in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., could be headed to Afghanistan to carry on the longest war in American history. Since 9/11, American taxpayers have spent nearly $6 trillion on foreign wars. Nearly 7,000 American servicemen have been killed in the Middle East and Central Asia.

I was intimately involved in the planning of America’s response to the worst attack on its soil since Pearl Harbor. Our cause was just and our military has carried out our plans with the utmost professionalism. But, as Trump said of his plan to seek a negotiated truce in Afghanistan, “After two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace.”

As with the defeat of Osama Bin Laden and his co-conspirators in Afghanistan, our primary goal in Syria, destroying ISIS’s brutal psuedostate, has been largely achieved. The security interests of the United States no longer lie in protracted, costly conflicts thousands of miles from our shores, but much closer to home.

The first duty of any sovereign state is to secure its own frontiers, and great nations’ militaries have always been tasked with doing so.

In 1963, President Lyndon Johnson closed the U.S. border with Mexico after the assassination of his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. While Johnson’s example was unique, his action was consistent with a president’s authority to act on the border during an emergency.

Presidents Nixon and Reagan also found it necessary to temporarily close the border. The reason is now all too familiar to Americans: Close the border to vehicular traffic and individuals walking into the United States to suppress drug trafficking.

Now, Trump has accurately identified a new national emergency on the border: The deliberate assembly and movement of “caravans” containing tens of thousands of people from Central America with the goal of penetrating the border of the United States.

Trump’s strategy, including advocating for new physical barriers and deploying the resources of the American military to help secure the border, is in keeping with that of these earlier presidents. So is his willingness to consider the emergency measures those presidents historically applied when they deemed them necessary to execute their duties as chief executive and commander-in-chief.

Discretionary funding at the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security has been set aside for natural and other disasters as may befall the United States or its allies. At the fraction of the cost of American intervention abroad, these resources can be redirected to fulfill the first duty of a great nation: defending its borders.

Trump’s State of the Union Address asked us to “choose greatness.” He recognizes that our military does not serve greatness in endless wars. It does when it defends our borders and secures our sovereignty.