During the past year, well over a quarter-million Americans sought a more informed understanding of the condition of our military and its ability to protect our country and its critical national security interests, according to web-traffic statistics for our 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength. It is clear to us that Americans are intensely interested in this topic, concerned by the worrisome stories they are hearing about the rising number of terrorist attacks at home and abroad; the aggressive and destabilizing actions of major countries like Russia and China in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia; and efforts by Iran and North Korea to acquire or improve nuclear weapon capabilities.

Here at Heritage, we understand the profound relationship that exists between a strong economy, a strong military, and a civic framework that maximizes individual freedom, liberty, and privacy. Each supports and amplifies the other, and when balanced and working in concert, they create a powerful context that enables America to be “that shining city on a hill.”

All the more reason, then, for us to be so committed to sharing with the American public our assessment of conditions and trends in the world as they pertain to challenges to our country’s most important security interests and the ability of our military to defend those interests both at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, our work for this year’s Index reveals that the trends identified in our 2015 and 2016 editions continue in a negative direction. Our competitors continue to be more aggressive and are investing greater efforts to be more capable of imposing their will on their neighbors. In fact, our score for the “threat environment” was raised a notch to “High,” the second highest category on our scale.

As a consequence of moribund economies, ill-advised national fiscal policies, and short-sighted foreign policies, our friends and allies have on average less ability and in some cases less willingness to contribute not only to their own security, but also to collective arrangements that would benefit both their local regions and U.S. interests more broadly. Our own military still struggles under the effects of historically low levels of funding imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 while sustaining a high tempo of operations with a shrinking, aging, and less ready force.

This combination of conditions threatens to unbalance the strategic triad of critical enablers—economy, military, and civil liberties—upon which America’s greatness depends.

It continues to be our aim to inform Congress, the executive branch, and the American people about these issues so that better decisions can be made and resources commensurate with national security demands can be invested to keep our country safe, prosperous, and free.

Jim DeMint, President

The Heritage Foundation

October 2016