A Grand Strategy of Resolute Restraint

Blog Post
Wednesday, July 07, 2021

This week on Facing the Future we turned our attention to national security. Our guest was Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, author of the new book Waging War in a Time of Peace. We discussed his concept of "resolute restraint" and why the economy, including the level of debt, is a national security issue.

Tim Tyndall, a Concord Coalition summer policy analyst from the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law and U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, joined me for the conversation. Later in the program, Concord’s Policy Director Tori Gorman joined us to discuss how defense spending fits within the overall federal budget.

“National security is intimately related to economic prosperity and the foundations of our long-term economic and scientific power,” O’Hanlon said. “Ultimately, military deterrence and warfare rests on a foundation of science, technology and, therefore, the economy. There is no way to separate one from the other.”  

He explained that, “the idea of resolute restraint is meant to have equal emphasis on both of those words.”

“We need to be resolute in defending not only ourselves and American territory but our allies and their core territories and populations from any kind of attack.” 

Resoluteness, he said, applies to treaty commitments, such as NATO, open air, sea and communication lanes, which form the basic underpinnings of the global economy, and nuclear weapons proliferation.

O’Hanlon said he opposes the “offshore balancing school in academia that wants to pull back from a lot of these overseas commitments on the theory that we are economically distressed and over extended and, therefore, should retrench.”

“I think that view ignores the last 75 to 80 years of great power peace, which is no accident and is partly due to the fact that we have stayed allied with other key powers in the world whose security is ultimately important to our own,” he said. “But I want to be restrained in when and where we use force.”

He specifically advised that the U.S. should “avoid taking actions that would provoke great power competition or stoke animosity with Russia and China.”

Those two nations “require American resoluteness in pushing back and I agree that Moscow and Beijing pose a lot of problems for us,” O’Hanlon said. 

“But certain actions that we might take in the future, for example expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, which I think is a bad idea, or the idea of having war plans for the Pacific that would rapidly escalate to a high-end conflict against China if there is a Chinese use of force in a limited way against an island in the South China Sea or East China Sea, that are really too reflexively muscular, too potentially escalatory. I want to see a bit more restraint in how we think about pushing out our security perimeter, especially near the borders of Russia and China.”

O’Hanlon acknowledged a constant tension between being resolute and being restrained but he said “we need a policy that is informed by both.”

“It’s a set of tensions that we need to wrestle with without going to either extreme in either all out resoluteness all the time or all out restraint all the time.”

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.