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Defense & Foreign Policy

During my 31 years in the United States Navy — from the height of the Cold War to post-September 11th world — I traveled to more than 80 countries. I developed a profound and abiding respect for our allies whom I served alongside, and early on came to realize just how interconnected we are with other countries. As Director of Defense Policy under President Clinton and as a U.S. Congressman, I experienced first-hand the challenges of conducting a thoughtful, principled foreign policy in the context of a complicated and dangerous world. I know — deep down in my gut — that America’s prosperity at home is inextricably tied to economic development, stability, and peace abroad. As President, I will work to strengthen our alliances, modernize our military, and ensure peace and security for all Americans.


  • Reverse America’s retreat from the global community with a strategy of engagement, and restore our standing in the world.
  • Repair our fractured relationships with our closest allies.
  • Stand up to belligerent actors on the world stage, from Russia to China to North Korea.
  • Re-join the Iranian nuclear deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
  • Modernize our military by focusing on the capability of cyberspace and no longer measuring our prowess by force structure numbers alone.
  • Emphasize the importance of dominating cyberspace, in the realms of both cyber-security and cyber-warfare.
  • Support all of our military servicemembers, including LGBT heroes.
  • Provide better services and opportunities for our returning veterans.
  • Re-join the Paris Accord and restore U.S. leadership to the process of fighting the existential threat of climate change.
  • Establish closer economic ties with countries around the world, because countries that trade and do business with each other are much less likely to fight wars.

A Deep Record of Service to Country

Military service, quite simply, is in my blood. My father was a decorated Navy veteran who served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters in World War II. During his distinguished 23-year career he rose to the rank of Captain and after his death in 2009 he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Like my father, I proudly attended the Naval Academy at the start of my career and began a wonderful time of service upon graduation. During my more than three decades in the Navy I served six sea tours with units of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and made seven deployments to the Western and Southern Pacific, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. I led a series of operational commands at sea, including Commander of an aircraft carrier battle group of 30 U.S. and allied ships, 100 aircraft, 15,000 sailors, Marines, aviators and SEALs during combat operations in Afghanistan and precursor operations to the war in Iraq. Between tours at sea the Navy helped me earn a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a PhD in Political Economy and Government, both from Harvard University.

Because the Navy invested in me and prepared me for increasing responsibilities and command at sea and ashore, my growing expertise and experience allowed me to become deeply engaged in all aspects of defense policy, strategy, and operations oversight. I served in the Pentagon on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations as head of the Strategy and Concepts Branch and director of the Strategy and Policy Division. I was sent to Washington again to be a political-military analyst for two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe in the late 1980s, and General Colin Powell during the early 1990s. I was honored when President Bill Clinton assigned me as Director of Defense Policy with the National Security Council at the White House. I later directed the Navy Quadrennial Defense Review, after which I became the first director of the Navy’s strategic anti-terrorism unit, the Navy Operations Group, known as “Deep Blue.” I later served as the director of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Analysis Group, again reporting directly to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark. My tasking was to analyze anything that was sent to him from the senior officers under his command, and to provide an alternative perspective based on my and my team’s analyses — a demanding and at times controversial job, as my mandate was to rein in spending by maximizing efficiency. I also served as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations responsible for the Navy’s five-year, $350 billion warfare requirements budget, during which I proposed a controversial reduction in ship-levels from 375 to 260, challenging the long-held assumption that numbers were the best measure of military capability. I foresaw a future dominated by whoever best harnesses the power of cyberspace, so I believed then — and still believe now — that we can vastly improve combat effectiveness by investing in cyber capabilities.

After achieving the rank of 3-star Admiral, I retired as my daughter bravely fought her first bout with brain cancer. But my days of public service proved not to be over, and with Alex’s cancer in remission I decided to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress to represent the Pennsylvania district where I grew up. It was important to me to pay back my country for the military healthcare coverage that saved Alex’s life. After defeating a 10-term incumbent in the 2006 election — running on the refrain that “national security begins at home with health security” — I found myself back in Washington, DC. I was appointed to the Armed Services Committee, the Education & Labor Committee, and requested and received a waiver for a third assignment, the Small Business Committee (on which I served as Vice Chair). Within a few months I was a new Democratic voice on issues of war and peace, debating defense policy on Meet The Press at the 4th anniversary of the war in Iraq. I called it a “tragic misadventure,” which had been my term for it since I was first told that my carrier battle group was being redeployed from the Afghanistan war to a new war in Iraq. I shared my feeling of disappointment from that time, which I will always remember, steaming off toward the Persian Gulf and leaving most of our coalition of the willing behind. Iraq was a tragic misadventure — which most of allies knew at the time — and one for which our country and the world is still paying a heavy price.

If elected President, I will always remember this important admonition: though militaries can stop a problem, they cannot fix a problem.

Engaged Diplomacy

While I am proud of my experience, experience means little without translating its lessons into thoughtful policy. I’ve made the decision to run for President of the United States to a large degree because of the harm we are doing to our American Dream by abandoning U.S. global leadership. The cornerstone of any good national security policy is maintaining strong bonds with our allies. In every successful military engagement we’ve embarked upon — from World War II to winning the Cold War without a shot — our allies have been prerequisites to our success. When we ignore or bully our closest allies, it shows an ungrateful lack of appreciation for the global concord of friendly nations which we have led for generations and which ensures our peace at home. With all of the great challenges facing our people, we cannot afford to abandon the strategy of diplomatic engagement supported by mutually beneficial alliances that has kept our people safe and secure on the home front for most of our history.

Today, as in the past, so many of our greatest national challenges are global in nature. In addition to the overarching issue of climate change — which exacerbates issues from mass migration to food security to infectious diseases — we face geopolitical and economic competition from China (including the prospect of China-owned 5G wireless networks), threats of conflict in Asian waters, nuclear proliferation issues from Iran to North Korea, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and election interference around the world, bitter tensions and periodic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, tragic civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Congo, and South Sudan, instability in Venezuela, Burma, Sudan, Somalia, Turkey, and elsewhere, and of course our own country’s ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Every one of these challenges has the potential to impact American lives and livelihoods, directly or indirectly, and often in profound ways.

Such transnational challenges require a strategy of engagement with innovative thinking about how to cooperate best with other governments that share our values, as well as emerging nations that are open to our values. That includes sharing intelligence as appropriate; applying sanctions — economic and other — in conjunction with our allies, whenever necessary; and sometimes securing support from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that can assist in improving situations on the ground. Trade deals and international collaboration are also critical tools in our arsenal. Our intelligence community needs to be the greatest in the world. And our diplomatic corps, on the front lines of shaping the world for our collective betterment, is vital to our interests. Our military — always a deterrent — should only be utilized as a last resort when absolutely necessary. In general, we must build a comprehensive tool kit, capable of responding to every conceivable challenge with the right set of tools. We can stay ahead of any potential adversary and also remain a beacon to people around the world who value a moral, rules-based order under American leadership.

We must return to a values-based liberal world order by revitalizing diplomatic engagement that convenes the world for two primary objectives: putting the brakes on climate change — which I address in the Climate Change & Environmental Protection issue page — and putting an end to the injustices of an illiberal world order led by China and Russia, but accompanied by emerging autocrats from Turkey to the Philippines, Hungary to Venezuela. It will take the collective effort of our allies to deter those injustices, whether they take the form of illegal territorial claims, military aggression, unfair trade practices, or human rights violations. We now know that China is using facial recognition technology to digitally track its subjugated Uigher population, many of whom languish in “re-education camps.” Meanwhile, Chinese companies also prepare to deploy 5G wireless network technology around the world, with the potential of abusing it. And as China also builds roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure across Africa and Latin America, it is more important than ever before for the United States to improve ties with the rest of the world. We must focus in particular on developing nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, to help bind them to our core values and rules of fair trade, instead of to China’s totalitarianism. Only by regaining respect and authority on the world stage can we return to a rules-based global order rooted in sustainable economic development and respect for human rights.

One critical action we must undertake immediately is rejoining the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). This hard-won agreement, signed by all of the world’s major powers, had disarmed the nuclear threat of Iran — until we abandoned it. Breaking America’s word on the deal while Iran kept theirs is unforgivable. The recent ratcheting up of tensions with Iran is a potentially grave mistake. If we decide to launch missile strikes on Iran in an attempt to destroy deeply buried nuclear infrastructure, they might instantaneous rain hundreds of missiles on Israel and our regional bases, and close the Straits of Hormuz, cutting off 20% of the world’s oil supply. Even if we manage to destroy their nuclear infrastructure, they can rebuild it all again within four years. We must heed that old lesson of our misguided invasion of Iraq: militaries might stop a problem, but militaries don’t solve a problem. And the problem of Iran’s nuclear capability can only be solved through diplomacy.

Innovative Military

While a wise military strategy must always be undergirded by diplomacy, we must also be prepared for every eventuality. That means we must not only have the best military in the world, but also the most forward-looking. I believe we need to modernize our military forces by focusing on force posture, not force structure. Instead of merely measuring military readiness in terms of overall size and numbers, we must focus on better metrics, in particular knowledge and technology. For example, rather than buying more submarines at $2 billion each, we can develop a netted sensor information system to track enemy submarines, and then direct an aircraft to drop a torpedo for the “kill.” Rather than double-down on obsolete but expensive pieces of equipment, we must invest in new technology that gives us better capability, not just capacity.

During my last term in Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates came under heavy criticism for asking a Navy audience, “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” I upset a lot of my old friends in the Navy when I came to Secretary Gates’ defense, arguing that we could reasonably reduce the total number of carrier groups to about nine because the new generation of CVN-78 aircraft carriers (like the USS Gerald R. Ford) has eight times the fighting capability of the last generation — and because some of that money could be much better spent on cyberspace, the area of warfare most in need of investment.

We must also recognize that some of the greatest national security threats we face cannot be defeated by traditional military hardware, but only by smarter cyberspace warfare, including both cyber-security and offensive cyber-warfare. The twin threats of cyber-terrorism and cyber-attacks from state actors could do devastating harm to our economy and our people. We need our Defense Department, in conjunction with our intelligence agencies and the entire interagency processes, to take a much more active role in cyber-security to defend our electric grid, water supply, communications infrastructure, computer networks, personal privacy rights, and of course critical national security installations. We must also improve our own cyber-warfare capabilities so that in the event of a cyber-war we are able to respond in kind.

Finally, and most importantly, we must always do right by the people who wear the cloth of our nation. Our military servicemembers volunteered to put their lives on the line for all of us. They are heroes, and we must recognize their heroism by always having their backs. Above all else, we must always make sure that every military servicemember has the resources they need to do their jobs and thrive as individuals and families, whether on military bases, at sea, on the battlefield, or in civilian life. Fundamental to this promise is enabling all who wish to serve — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity — to do so openly. Transgender Americans deal with enough struggles in life. If they are called to join and serve in the military, we should welcome them with open arms — and a customary salute — not a cold shoulder. The simple reason, beyond principles of fairness and equality, is that we need the best of the best in our military — and being transgender does not disqualify anyone from meeting that definition.

As President, I promise to be a responsible and wise leader for our military and foreign policy institutions, to always do right by the people who serve, and to restore American authority and respect on the world stage.