A transformation of U.S. national security policy is underway. It’s practically a sleight of hand: While observers have been transfixed by the slugfest between the United States and China, a much more subtle and invidious shift is taking place, one that has sweeping implications. The Trump administration’s equation of national security with economic security makes sense — if done carefully and with careful attention. Neither appears to be the case.

Traditionally, national strength reflected hard power — a nation’s military capabilities. Economic success was an important factor in calculating a country’s power, but national wealth was key to building a more effective military. The Meiji-era Japan crystalized this mindset as fukoku kyohei, or "rich nation, strong army.” Thinking about power has matured and we now recognize that there are other ways both to secure the nation and exercise power in the international system. Still, few countries — no matter how successful or wealthy — have been willing to bet their survival on those alternatives and dispense with their military.

Economic success was invariably built on technological achievement, which yielded another connection between wealth and the military: Those advances improved war-fighting capability. That relationship between wealth and military power has, for the past half century, been codified in policies that sought to limit the transfer of technology that could confer military advantage.