What is the doctrine of peace through strength?

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

Image stolen from Douglas Groothuis.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum”
– Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

It means, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.”

The idea of peace through strength was paraphrased in George Washington’s first state of the union address, as well as by Presidents Lincoln and Reagan. Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom) and Stephen Harper (Canada) also believe in peace through strength.

Most wars start when a dictator or monarch (e.g. – Hitler) believes he can win a conflict against a weak neighbor quickly and easily. Perhaps to test out his plan, he takes some small aggressive steps to make sure that no one is going to stop his aggression (e.g. – rebuilding the Luftwaffe, occupying the Rhineland, annexing the Sudetenland, annexing Austria, invading Poland). Once he is able to confirm over and over that no democracies are going to stop his conquests by force, he attacks.

The way to stop most wars is to make dictators believe that you have the means and the will to stop their aggression. Clinton allowed about a half dozen attacks in the 90s without any reprisal, (e.g. – World Trade Center, USS Cole, etc.) We did not respond to these terrorist attacks on our national interests. As a result, Bin Laden would joke about how the USA was a “paper tiger” that did not have the stomach for war. He thought that a few American losses would make us pack up and go home.

Contrast Clinton’s view with Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s biography at the White House web site says this:

“In foreign policy, Reagan sought to achieve “peace through strength“. During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after evidence came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub.”

When the USA was attacked by terrorists, Bush, following Reagan’s example, made sure that the aggressors would understand that the first steps of aggression would draw a violent, decisive response. As a result of the Bush doctrine, Libya has discontinued its WMD program and invited inspectors to come in and cart away all of its research equipment. Libya did this only because it believed that the USA was willing to back up diplomacy with force. We can have peace if we cause aggressors to believe that war will cost too much.

Now, violence is not the only way to make war cost too much. We could probably avoid war with Iran or Venezuela or Russia by drilling for our own oil and building our own nuclear plants. No one prefers a war. It’s better to de-fund potential aggressors by supplying our economy with oil that we produce ourselves. This is one good reason to increase domestic energy production. (Another good reason is to lower the price of oil, etc – because of supply and demand: increased supply leads to lower prices)

Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot. But sometimes, especially after 8 years of Clinton’s weak foreign policy, some violence is needed to communicate to our enemies that we mean business. Our  willingness to engage in a military response to the 9/11 attacks was enough to provide us with 7 years free of attacks on American soil. The terrorists knew that next time they attacked us, then maybe Syria would become a democracy. So there were no more attacks on American soil while Bush governed.

Deterrence works. The goal is to AVOID war by making tyrants understand that the cost of their aggression will be too much for them to bear. This is the doctrine of peace through strength.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last.”
— Winston Churchill

13 thoughts on “What is the doctrine of peace through strength?”

  1. As if this topic was ever more relevant than now. I’m afraid we are headed towards the dark ages in terms of American power and national defense. It has turned into a bit of cliche but this does to appear like Carter 2.0.


  2. while I agree with your premise, your examples are poor at best.

    Reagan’s spend fest lead to an extremely inefficient behemoth. His waste and excess lead to scandals requiring congress to scold military officials for spending hundreds on toilet seats, requiring the formation of the Packard Commission during Reagan’s second term (which a 1999 study concluded did not fully work).

    While slightly off-topic of the post, when Cheney allegedly stated, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” he hit the nail on the head of what has become the Republican’s enduring argument from the former president’s economic legacy.

    “The lesson we should have learned [from those years] is that deficits have little or no short-term economic impacts,”
    -William A. Niskanen of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

    Reagan’s reckless spending paved the way for subsequent presidents to do just the same. Do I think it was needed to lower the tax rate of 70% for the upper bracket (circa 1982), definitely. but you have to be a little more conservative with your spending.

    Now the republican’s are getting upset because Gate’s wants to cut the F-22’s out of the budget in favor of newer, better technology. Who cares about balanced budgets?

    Because of Reagan, the public has become immune to ballooning debt and deficits. Not to mention that there is NO PROOF that Reagan did actually win the cold war. The Soviet Union collapsed because of reckless policies and socialism – it doesn’t work. They would have collapsed without us, just as we will do if we don’t get out of the Reagan mentality and learn to make some hard decisions on our budgets.

    I think we need to strongly rethink this position – our cold war strategy was really two major objectives: preserving our freedom and avoiding World War III. I don’t see a strong, straight correlation between accomplishing them and being able to claim we destroyed a fundamentally flawed system of government.


    1. Now, you do know that tax revenues rose under Reagan. And you also know that defense spending is totally different that entitlement spending. You should also note how unemployment dropped substantially under Reagan as well. Just a corrective to your point about spending. I like defense spending.


    2. Reagan wasn’t the one who spent the nation into oblivion. Yes, it happened on his watch, but congress controls the purse strings. There were supposed to be spending cuts in other areas that the democratically controlled congress never came through with. If you look at the dollar amounts to the federal government during the Reagan Years, there was more than enough for Reagan’s military budget.

      The typical media outlets always paint Reagan as being the one who ran up the deficits, as if congreass had nothing to do with it. Basic high school government class (for the ones who pay attention) explain that congress is in control in this area.

      We did win the cold war because of Reagan, we broke them financially. But, is it really over? We have a crew in Washington now that are running the place and they are students of good old communism or socialism, if you prefer… not that it matters, it is all about breaking the current system and transforming it.

      Say what you will, Reagan was a great president and history… if free Americans are around to write it… will show this to be true.


  3. But the center for budget and policy priorities seem to say different. They argue that “history shows that the large reductions in income tax rates in 1981 were followed by abnormally slow growth in income tax receipts, while the increases in income-tax rates enacted in 1990 and 1993 were followed by sizeable growth in income-tax receipts.” Specifically, the analysis calculated that the average annual growth rate of real income-tax receipts per working-age person was 0.2% from 1981 to 1990 and a much higher 3.1% from 1990 to 2001.

    mediamatters (http://mediamatters.org/items/200509160008) also disagrees – the doubling of revenue is significantly smaller when looking at real inflation-adjusted figures – $1,077.4 billion in 1981 to $1,235.6 billion in 1988, measured in FY2000-dollars.

    While I’m not against defense spending, the defense industry used to lead America in innovation and technology, something they no longer do. They are scrambling to catch up. I will have to find my sources, but I recall defense (non-war) spending ballooning under bush jr while the sciences languished – those very areas that will help keep America leading in the 21st century and beyond. If we divert all available funds to defense, we cut-off our noses to spite our faces.


    1. Can’t look into this too much, but here is an article from the American Spectator:


      Kennedy’s Tax Cuts

      While President Obama and his hypnotized followers do not understand this, President John F. Kennedy did. Kennedy proposed legislation to reduce income tax rates across the board by 30%. Kennedy explained:

      “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today, and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the tax rates….[A]n economy constrained by high tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget, just as it will never create enough jobs or enough profits.”

      Kennedy added:

      Our true choice is not between tax reduction, on the one hand, and the avoidance of large federal deficits on the other….It is between two kinds of deficits — a chronic deficit of inertia, as the unwanted result of result of inadequate revenues and a restricted economy — or a temporary deficit of transition, resulting from a tax cut designed to boost the economy, produce revenues, and achieve a future budget surplus.

      Kennedy explained further that the best way to promote economic growth “is to reduce the burden on private income and the deterrents to private initiative which are imposed by our present tax system — and this administration is pledged to an across-the-board reduction in personal and corporate income tax rates.”

      Kennedy’s proposed tax rate cuts were adopted in 1964, cutting the top tax rate from 91% to 70%, as well as reducing the lower rates. Over the next year, economic growth soared by 50%, and income tax revenues increased by 41%! By 1966, unemployment had fallen to its lowest peacetime level in almost 40 years. U.S. News & World Report exclaimed, “The unusual budget spectacle of sharply rising revenues following the biggest tax cut in history is beginning to astonish even those who pushed hardest for tax cuts in the first place.” Arthur Okun, the administration’s chief economic advisor, estimated that the tax cuts expanded the economy in just two years by 10% above where it would have been.

      Reagan’s Tax Cuts

      In 1981, Reagan cut the top income tax rate of 70% to 50%, with a 25% across the board reduction in income tax rates for everyone else. Then, in the 1986 tax reform, he cut the top rate to 28%, with only one other rate of 15% for everyone else. Reagan also cut corporate income tax rates.

      By 1982, just before the tax cuts were fully phased in, the economy took off on a 25 year economic boom, what Art Laffer and Steve Moore called “the greatest period of wealth creation in the history of the planet.” Steve Forbes called it “an economic golden age.” Forbes added:

      Never before have so many people advanced so far economically in so short a period of time as they have during the [25 year boom]. Until the credit crisis, 70 million people a year [worldwide] were joining the middle class. The U.S. kicked off this long boom with the economic reforms of Ronald Reagan, particularly his enormous income tax cuts. We burst from the economic stagnation of the 1970s into a dynamic, innovative, high tech-oriented economy.

      In 1984, the economy grew by 6.8% in real terms, the highest in 50 years. Nearly 20 million new jobs were created during the next 7 years, increasing U.S. civilian employment by almost 20%. Unemployment fell to 5.3% by 1989. Even with the Reagan tax cuts, total federal revenues doubled from 1980 to 1990, growing from $517.1 billion to $1,031 billion, or just over $1 trillion. In Reagan’s last budget year, fiscal 1989, the widely overballyhooed federal deficit had declined to $152.5 billion, about the same as a percent of GDP as in 1980, 2.9% compared to 2.8%.

      Bush’s Tax Cuts

      At first, Bush mostly followed in the steps of Kennedy and Reagan in his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Though his 2001 tax cut included some non-growth tax reductions, such as increasing the child tax credit, it also reduced the top marginal income tax rate from 39.5% to 35%, a reduction of only 11%, which he had to fight for tooth and nail. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts also reduced the rate for the lowest income workers by 33%, from 15% down to 10%. In 2003, Bush cut the capital gains tax rate by 33%, and the income tax rate on corporate dividends by over half.

      These tax rate cuts reversed the short, shallow 2001 recession and the negative economic effects of the 9/11 attacks, restoring growth. After the rate cuts were all fully implemented in 2003, the economy created 7.8 million new jobs and the unemployment rate fell from over 6% to 4.4%. Real economic growth over the next 3 years doubled from the average for the prior 3 years, to 3.5%.

      Business investment spending, which had declined for 9 straight quarters, reversed and increased 6.7% per quarter. Manufacturing output soared to its highest level in 20 years. The stock market revived, creating almost $7 trillion in new shareholder wealth. From 2003 to 2007, the S&P 500 almost doubled. Steve Forbes noted, “Between year-end 2002 and year-end 2007 U.S. growth exceeded the entire size of China’s economy.” In other words, the growth in the U.S. economy from 2002 to 2007 was the equivalent of adding the entire economy of China to the U.S. economy.

      By 2006, capital gains tax revenues had doubled, despite the 25% rate cut. In fact, over the past 40 years, every time the capital gains tax rate has been cut, revenues have increased, and every time the rate has been increased, capital gains revenues have declined.


  4. FYI Wintery:

    Jerry here is citing statistics from two, notorious, hard-left organizations (CPBB and Media Matters–Google ’em) to buttress his arguments, so I’d suggest you not waste another moment of your time with him and his fallacious contentions and straw-stuffed punching bags (yes, he’s a troll/moby, and not a particularly good one at that).


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