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Foreign Policy: The Currency of Power

Author: Robert B. Zoellick
October 12, 2012

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Earlier this year, Bob Carr, Australia's foreign minister and a longtime friend of the United States, observed with Aussie clarity: "The United States is one budget deal away from restoring its global preeminence." He added a caution: "There are powers in the Asia-Pacific that are whispering that this time the United States will not get its act together, so others had best attend to them."

Carr's insight -- that the connection between economics and security will determine America's future -- is sound and persuasive. Yet ever since the rise of "national security" as a concept at the start of the Cold War, economics has become the unappreciated subordinate of U.S. foreign policy. Today, the power of deficits, debt, and economic trend lines to shape security is staring the United States in the face. Others see it, even if America does not.

Carr, a student of U.S. history, would probably not be surprised to learn that his warning echoes words drafted by Alexander Hamilton, America's first Treasury secretary, for President George Washington's farewell address: The new nation, Hamilton urged, must "cherish credit as a means of strength and security." Ironically, it took an admiral -- Mike Mullen, then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff -- to recall Hamilton's warning about the link between credit and security. Mullen seized attention not by pointing out a danger to the fleet, but by telling CNN, "The most significant threat to our national security is our debt."

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