Michael Carney Michael Carney
Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation


November 28, 2023


This letter to the editor was written in response to The Sources of American Power, an article that was published in the November/December 2023 issue of Foreign Affairs.

To the Editor:

"The Sources of American Power" offers analysis on strategy for an era of interdependence. Yet, one dimension merits greater emphasis—the private sector as an element of national power. 

American companies constitute unparalleled strategic assets. Through pioneering R&D and commercialization, the genius of U.S. enterprise drives global innovation. Strength abroad requires nurturing strength at home. Policymakers must recognize business of all sizes as fundamental to national security and, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, stewards of public trust.  

The pandemic showed the impact of public-private integration, as partnerships on vaccines and supplies boosted pandemic response. Just as military capabilities empower diplomacy through deterrence, the dynamism of U.S. corporations, which lead globally in sectors like technology and biopharma, strengthens America’s brand worldwide. Strategic cooperation can align these core competencies with the national interest. Deeper collaboration between government and private industry can unlock their full potential as partners.  

The public-private integration and visionary leadership that powered the moon landing program exemplifies this. So does the Internet. And the global response to COVID-19. A similarly ambitious mindset is needed today to pioneer new frontiers - digital ecosystems, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. The outcomes in many of these areas will depend on imaginative partnerships between the public and private sectors. 

Organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation are working to redefine public-private partnerships for the 21st century and empower businesses to mitigate geopolitical risks. It is essential to strengthen the hyphen in public-private partnerships as we forge new models of cooperation to tackle shared challenges. 

This period of increased geopolitical instability demands a whole-of-society approach. Most would agree that businesses will play an essential role in the response to any one of the myriad challenges America is expected to face in the years to come. That demands closer collaboration.  But Washington should avoid command economics; American dynamism emerges bottom-up. Wise governance means catalyzing, not commandeering, the genius of our enterprises. Importantly, America's free market economy reinforces and reflects the country's democratic political system. 

General Motors CEO Erwin Wilson never said “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” during his 1953 confirmation hearing. But the spirit of that misquote rings true today— what strengthens U.S. industry strengthens America. As you chart strategy for uncertain times, recognize the private sector as an indispensable instrument of national power. Our security and prosperity rely on public-private partnership to unleash American enterprise. 

If you accept that American prosperity is a vital national interest, then it stands to reason that private-sector enterprises are a critical element of national power alongside the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic capabilities controlled by the state. 

About the authors

Michael Carney

Michael Carney

Read more