President George Washington used the very first State of the Union address 230 years ago at Congress Hall in Philadelphia to outline the doctrine of peace through strength: “If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”
“Peace through strength” was a pivotal feature of President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy during the triumphant final stages of the Cold War. Peace, he counseled, “does not exist on its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.”
When he delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden will no doubt focus on pressing domestic issues. But he also has an opportunity to give his countrymen and the world a fuller explanation of his administration’s national security strategy.
With the U.S. in the crosshairs of malicious state and non-state actor enemies, the doctrine of peace through strength has never been more compelling, especially as we face questions about the capacity of our defense industrial base to replenish depleted weapon inventories.
Afghanistan is a terrorist state awash in ungoverned space where al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists plot against us. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, with a potent ballistic missile program and — perhaps soon — a nuclear capability as well, threatening the Middle East and beyond. North Korea has conducted a string of ballistic missile tests, and last month its rubber-stamp parliament approved a massive defense budget, one which includes an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, battlefield tactical nuclear weapons and the deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In recent days, China launched over 70 fighter aircraft for military maneuvers around Taiwan, staged military exercises with Russia, significantly increased its nuclear warhead stockpile and deployed a hypersonic weapon — all while embarking on an ambitious upgrade of its cyber warfare and space fighting capabilities. Beijing counterfeits U.S. products; steals trade secrets and intellectual property; is militarizing the South China Sea; and, having hacked into the Office of Personnel Management to steal U.S. government employee data, ruthlessly targets anyone who has ever worked in the U.S. defense and national security sectors.
Taiwan sits on the geopolitical fault line between China’s Communist dictatorship and democracy. Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that Taiwan is nothing more than a “breakaway province” to be reclaimed — by force if necessary — so that China can control the East China Sea and swallow up Taiwan’s high-tech economy.
U.S. official policy on Taiwan is officially one of “strategic ambiguity” at a time when our intentions about deterring a Chinese attack on Taiwan should be anything but ambiguous. There is no iron-clad promise for the U.S. to defend Taiwan, even if Mr. Biden said repeatedly claimed, “that was the commitment we made.” Each time Mr. Biden made that claim, administration officials walked back the president’s words and, by extension, weakened the strategy to deter China.
In some quarters, the Biden administration is facing criticism for suffering from “escalation paralysis” in Ukraine, while others fault the administration for making too large a commitment to Kyiv. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetorical brinkmanship has deterred and delayed the U.S. and NATO members from supplying Ukraine with air defense, long-range artillery and the tanks it needs to recapture its territory and bring Russia’s monstrous war to an end. Meanwhile, the Kremlin continues to rain down hell on Ukrainian civilians.
And Mr. Biden’s speechwriters should also keep in mind the economic shock waves sparked by the invasion, including skyrocketing global food prices after Russia blocked Ukraine’s grain exports. The U.S. is not sending American troops to fight in Ukraine. Still, the president is on the hook to explain to the American people next week why we need to be the arsenal for democracy and lead in the defense of an innocent nation from an imperial land grab launched by its nuclear-armed neighbor.
We learned from Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks and a slew of costly Russian and Chinese cyberattacks that our enemies will target us if we fail to gather and act on early-warning intelligence. During his State of the Union address, President Biden has the opportunity to invoke Theodore Roosevelt’s bully pulpit to explain to his fellow citizens as well as allies and adversaries how his national security strategy will keep our nation safe in the face of these wickedly complex threats.
Peace through strength would be a good place to start.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.
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