It’s The Economy

by Patrick M. Hughes
LTG. US Army (Ret.)


Today I was listening to a commentator on a local radio station. He explained in fairly bland and reasonable terms that the stock market had once again lost value, but as he said, “it wasn’t a serious loss,” since the fall today was only a few points. He missed the cumulative point entirely. If it falls more than it rises over time, then the daily effect is hardly the issue. It has fallen far enough now to set off alarms.

If you examine the elements of national power, which in my opinion are economic, political, diplomatic, socio-cultural, informational, technological and military, there are several ways to order and understand them. One way is to imagine them as a set of orbs, the largest and most important of which is the economic orb. The vitality of all of the other elements of power are, to some degree, dependent on the economic state of our nation. In at least one case – the military – the value of that interior orb of power is a direct result of our economy, producing a distinct business, national defense and arguably some good citizens, but inherently producing no new national wealth. It is a service we must have but we know it comes at a substantial cost.

The economy is the subject of much discussion and much speculation. I do not profess to know what the future holds. In fact, I’m suffering from the various negative pressures we are experiencing across the U.S. economy too, not getting out of my meager securities investments before the downturn. That being understood, I do have an opinion now. We are in worse shape than we would otherwise be with regard to our national security and our national purpose simply because the most important element of our national power has lost some measure of its value and perhaps its energy. That is an important part of what may become a national security emergency if we don’t pull together and fix the many problems that plague our economic well being.

We are part and parcel of the larger global economy. In some quarters we are viewed as the pivotal economy, and anything that disturbs America’s economic power is bound to have an effect across the globe. One can quote all sorts of statistics but the bottom line seems to be that if our economy sinks far enough, perhaps as far as it already has, there will be a ripple effect around the world. Those who are tied to us, who are interdependent with us, will suffer too. In many cases we will be better insulated from the effects of an economic disaster than others. They may suffer more and the effects we can tolerate may be intolerable elsewhere. We have seen glimpses of this in Argentina, in Turkey, in Africa, and elsewhere. Thus a good case can be made that any disturbance in our economic health is as directly dangerous to others – or more so – than it is to us. We are, after all, in this together.

Indirectly or directly, the sad state of the economy is not merely about money. It is about net cumulative effect in a variety of ways that profoundly affect our nation and other nations around the world. It has a direct relationship to the national security of the United States and to the security of many other nations and governments around the world. That is why my view is that this is an emergency now, one that we should respond to just as directly as if we had suffered an attack by an enemy on the very fiber of our being.

Patrick M. Hughes is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General and Private Consultant based in Arlington, Virginia. This article was written on 1 July 2002, and reprinted with permission of the author.