The problem with invoking national security is that the concept is slippery. From a strictly military point of view—territorial defense, force postures, and conflict scenarios—national security is clearly definable, but when nonmilitary factors are introduced, the concept of national security becomes exceedingly hard to specify. How are linkages made and definitional boundaries drawn? Is a certain industry—semiconductors, for example—or even a specific product such as microprocessors or DRAMs, essential to a nation's military-industrial capabilities? What is the connection between the commercial health of an industry such as semiconductors and national security? Unless answers to these and other questions can be given, the concept of national security cannot be spelled out definitively. There will always be the problem of unbounded elasticity, expanding the definitional boundaries to include almost any industry or product, be it DRAMs or aluminum, that can be argued to have an impact on national security, however indirect or marginal. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that defining national security in the post-Cold War era has become a subject of intense debate.

In years past, the issue of supply dependence and disruption was a primary focus of concern from a national security perspective. If U.S. arms manufacturers, for example, become too dependent on foreign producers of weapons components, equipment, or systems, and if the supply of those goods could be disrupted, U.S. national security would be at risk. To ensure that the worst-case scenario would never occur, the U.S. government had a relatively straightforward policy solution: developing a safety net, consisting of supply diversification (procuring from domestic and foreign sources, or from more than one foreign source) and accumulating a stockpile of supplies that could be drawn upon during emergencies.

In today's fast-paced world of high-tech weaponry and commercial competition, however, it is no longer possible to cling to old concepts of security based solely on supply disruption. The salience of economic factors has not only increased but also become intertwined with other dimensions of national security. It is more difficult today to disentangle the economic from strictly military factors and to define the concept of national security comprehensively in terms of military, political, social, and economic factors.31 What has happened to alter the calculus of national security? Listed below are a few of the seminal developments:

  1. a continual broadening and deepening of ties of international economic interdependence led by capital flows, trade, and technology transfers;

  2. U.S. reliance on technological superiority (as opposed to the pure firepower of its arsenal) to maintain a credible military deterrent;


For a thoughtful analysis, see Theodore H. Moran, "International Economics and National Security," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1991, pp. 74–90.

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