Former national security adviser Thomas Donilon said he believes the United States is not on a path to decline, but built for a solid future.
Donilon, who was security adviser to President Barack Obama, spoke Tuesday at McCain Auditorium as part of Kansas State University’s Landon Lecture series.
“Young people today are used to hearing a pessimistic story about the country’s future,” Donilon said.
But Donilon listed five assets that puts U.S. at an advantage to remain the clear international leader: the economy, the military, the country’s geography, its people and the U.S.’s global leadership role.
Donilon, who was Obama’s security adviser from 2009 to 2013, said although the country experienced the recession of 2008, it has strength in its size and sustainability.
He pointed out that the size of the U.S. economy is twice that of the second largest economy, China.
“The fact is that no country comes close to measuring our economic strength,” Donilon said.
As a part of the country’s economic strength, Donilon listed the U.S.’s quality of higher education, innovative spirit and energy resources as reinforcements of the notion that America is set for the future.
“It’s never been cheaper to build a business in the United States than it is today,” he said.
The second asset Donilon noted was the U.S. military, which he said is capable of fighting any adversary — even after 13 years of war.
“By any measure, our military is unmatched,” Donilon said.
He said the U.S. also possesses 50 formal alliances, the largest number of any country in the world.
In the matter of geography, Donilon said the U.S. is protected by two oceans and peaceful borders.
“The United States does not face any real threat in its own hemisphere,” he said.
Ticking off another asset for the U.S., Donilon mentioned the nation’s young people.
Donilon compared the prediction of median age for people in the U.S. and China by 2050. Donilon said the median age in China would be 50 years old, while in the U.S., it would be 40.
Overall, the U.S. has maintained a role of global leadership, Donilon said, mentioning that other countries have been known to squabble over American intervention and aid.
“Plenty of countries have leverage… but there’s a big difference between leverage and leadership,” he said.
Donilon said although the country has these very tangible assets, the U.S. also has problems with primary and secondary education, the budget deficit, infrastructure, the immigration system and taking our innovative leadership for granted.
The good news, however, is that those problems are fixable with good policy changes, Donilon said. He supported immigration reform efforts but did not offer specifics. On the deficit, he noted that entitlement spending would drive it up.
In a question-and-answer session after his prepared remarks, Donilon:
• Said the annexation of Crimea and recent activity in Ukraine appeared to be “a classic Russian covert operation.” He said Russia would continue to try to destablize Ukraine, and he supported strengthening sanctions in response, noting that the West has strong economic leverage in the situation.
• Said leaker Edward Snowden had done “tremendous damage” to the U.S.
• Said that the biggest single threat to the U.S. in the future — “the one thing that could threaten us in a fundamental way…is a nuclear weapon exploding in the United States.” He advocated “remaining focused on locking down” nuclear materials worldwide, mentioning Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and former Soviet bloc countries as areas of focus.
• Said other threats included climate change, economic problems, cyber threats, and terrorism. He said Al-Qaida had been damaged and had changed, but that it was still a threat.