The United States could be adding two major assets to its national security apparatus in the coming year – the USS Gerald R. Ford and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). One is a state-of-the-art $13 billion aircraft carrier that is at the foundation of the U.S. Navy's future fleet. The other, which has been called as important as another aircraft carrier, is a 21st-century trade agreement that will instill American values and strengthen our alliances in one of the most geopolitically consequential regions of the world.

As a veteran of many overseas deployments and a former carrier battle group commander of the John F. Kennedy Strike Group / Carrier Group SIX, I know firsthand the power of bringing 4.5 acres of American strength and might to the shores of our friends and enemies. During World War II, America's success in the Pacific Ocean theater was in no small part thanks to the strength of our aircraft carriers. Today, any regional skirmish or international escalation in the world will be responded to by the deployment of an American aircraft carrier or two. However, even with its power, this pillar of American values and influence cannot stand as a unilateral force. A military one-trick pony is not an affordable or sustainable national security policy.

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Presidents from FDR to Ronald Reagan recognized the important role American leadership played in international trade when it came to our national security. The end of World War II and the ensuing Cold War underscored just how critical that leadership was. In the post-WWII world, the true test of American leadership was not in the military occupation of a defeated Germany and Japan, but in the establishment of open and free economic borders for the sake of peace as enabled by the policies of Generals George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur. These two military leaders recognized that the basis of peace is first and foremost economic-based. Trade policies bolstered the prosperity and strength of our floundering U.S. alliances in Europe and Japan, which in turn protected America's national security interests. In cultivating and fostering these economic relationships, America established its gravitas and reputation on the world stage.

While not in a post-war reconstruction mode, the tremendous potential for future development and consumption within the Asia-Pacific today makes it imperative we foster the types of economic partnerships that served us so well after World War II. The global power distribution is rapidly shifting towards the Asia-Pacific; by 2030, 3.2 billion people – or the majority of the global middle-class – will reside in this region.

Yet many uncertainties remain on America's influence on the ultimate direction of the Asia-Pacific. If America remains a bystander in the economic development of this region, then China, with its economic initiatives – like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – will become the de facto influencer and rule-maker.

That is why the TPP is so important - it shows the United States can proactively establish unprecedented tariff reductions along with strong and enforceable rules for trade that level the playing field for American workers, farmers, and businesses in a region covering nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP. Such an accomplishment of this magnitude shows the willingness of America's eleven TPP partner countries, as well as several more interested parties, to follow in the footsteps of American leadership and values in order to achieve a common endeavor of economic cooperation. This trade deal allows the United States to nurture and grow vital relationships in the Asia-Pacific, giving us crucial alliances we can rely on in the future.  

While the USS Ford is set to be commissioned in September, the sailing of the TPP is far less certain. We now stand at a historical inflection point similar to that faced at the end of WWII.  I am firmly convinced the security of our homeland is not best served by disengagement from global leadership and taxation of foreign economies. It lies in the legacy given to us by Generals Marshall and MacArthur of economic leadership and global engagement. Passing the TPP is one of the most important national security decisions of our time. I urge Congress to take the lead in establishing American values abroad by saying yes to TPP.    


Admiral Crenshaw is a retired vice admiral and served in the Navy for over 30 years