A Renaissance for the Project for a New American Century?
Posted by The Editors
By Bill French
In 2000, the Project for a New American Century published its capstone policy document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” As is well known, the document formed the core of neoconservative national security thought and the intellectual DNA of what later became the Bush Doctrine. But now, a decade later, how alive are its ideas? A quick sketch of the document alongside parts of Governor Romney’s national security platform shows that some of PNAC’s ideas well positioned for a renaissance.
This should come as little surprise given that six of Romney’s national security advisors are former PNAC members, including Eliot Cohen – who wrote the forward to Romney’s primary foreign policy document – and Robert Kagan – a Romney top foreign policy advisory.
That said, neoconservatives are only one camp in the Romney campaign. The other is composed of moderate realists. This helps to explain a peculiar, confusing feature of Romney’s national security campaign: some policies appear moderate and barely distinguishable from the present course – presumably attributable to the realist camp – while on other issues, the campaign holds radical positions reflective of neoconservativism.
At the broadest level, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” was a strategy to achieve an American dominated 21st century. “At present,” it reads, “the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”
The Romney campaign evinces signs that it remains committed to the same ends. In Mitt Romney first major foreign policy address, he openly declared, using familiar language, that “This century must be an American Century.”
These objectives are not entirely unique in the history of American foreign policy. In 1948, George Kennan in Policy Planning Study 23 prescribed similar goals:
"… we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3 % of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity w without positive detriment to our national security.”
However, despite the Cold War having ended a decade before “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” was written, PNAC had gone beyond Kennan. Above, Kennan introduces a critical qualifier: power should be pursued “without positive determinant to our national security.” That is, the pursuit of power must be self-limited. Yet, this self-limiting was absent from PNAC, and there is reason suspect something similar may fester in a Romney Administration.
Neoconservative foreign policy been unable to self-limit in this respect because it considers military power as the basic way that dominance must be achieved. PNAC noted that, “America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces.” Under this assumption, the risks of overstretch, blowback and opportunity cost by neglecting other national security tools – i.e. incurring ‘determinant to our national security’ – is heightened. And if the objective must be dominance, and if dominance can only be achieved by military power, these risks seem more necessary than they would otherwise, and even acceptable.
Evidence suggests that a Romney foreign policy may go down the same path. While his main foreign policy document, “An American Century,” includes discussion on non-military power, his more elaborated national security proposals have heavily emphasized the role of the military. For example, Romney has infamously proposed to spend 4% GDP on the Pentagon. Note that this is above the 3.5-3.8% of GDP recommended in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” Meanwhile, Paul Ryan calls for reducing the State Department’s budget from $47.8 billion in 2012 to $43 billion in 2013 and $38 billion by 2016. As Gordon Adams has observed, "If this were to happen…it would amount to the further escalation of the militarization of American foreign policy."
For a sense of scale, consider that Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis has shown that by 2022, spending 4% of GDP on the Pentagon would equal $986 billion per year. Alternatively, the current trajectory of defense spending would otherwise result in $2.6 of GDP in 2022, for a total yearly cost of $629 billion. The total difference between the two plans, according to Harrison, are $1.8 trillion. Some estimates place it higher.
Should the Romney campaign be given the opportunity to form a transition team to the White House after the election, his part-neoconservative, part-realist national security team will have to resolve its internal differences. While it is impossible to predict the odds for how successful the neoconservative component of his advisors will be in influencing policy, the potential for a PNAC renaissance looms.