Pacific Power: the USS Cleveland unloads in Vanuatu, May 2011 (Helen Frank / Royal Australian Navy)
Tough economic times have often been met in the United States by calls for a more modest foreign policy. But despite the global economic downturn, in today's interdependent world, retrenchment would be misguided. The United States' ability to lead the international community is still invaluable and unmatched. Its economy is still by far the largest, most developed, and most dynamic in the world. Its military remains much more capable than any other. The United States' network of alliances and partnerships ensures that the country rarely has to act alone. And its soft power reflects the sustained appeal of American values. The United States should not reduce its overseas engagement when it is in a position to actively shape the global environment to secure its interests.
Preserving the United States' unique standing and leadership will require revitalizing the American economy, the foundation of the nation's power. It will also require smart engagement with the rest of the world to create the conditions that are essential to economic recovery and growth, namely, stability and uninterrupted trade. For decades, those have been underwritten by the forward engagement of U.S. forces and by robust networks of alliances. For example, a sustained U.S. military presence in Europe and Asia, along with healthy diplomatic and economic ties to allies there, has reaped decades of peace and prosperity for the United States and the world. Bringing most of those forces home would be detrimental to U.S. national security and economic recovery.
Nevertheless, fundamental changes in the international strategic environment have brought the United States to a strategic inflection point, requiring a recalibration of the United States' global military posture. The rise of China and India is shifting the power dynamics in Asia and the world at large. Transnational threats, such as terrorism and proliferation, pose new collective challenges. The global commons -- the maritime, air, space, and cyberspace domains -- are