Rhetoric and material strength go hand-in-hand to form the core of any coherent foreign policy. Drawing on his vast wealth of experience as a career Foreign Service officer under President Ronald Reagan, Charles Hill recently discussed the importance of having a comprehensive grand strategy.

According to Hill, “rhetoric is important, but it has to be backed up.” This is an area where America’s foreign policy currently falls short. Using Reagan’s Soviet policy as an example, Hill highlighted the importance of backing up any confrontational rhetoric with military, economic, and diplomatic strength.

Early in his Administration, Reagan delayed talks with the Soviets until the U.S. had built up its military and was in a much better position to negotiate—from a position of strength. Reagan then had the means to back up his “evil empire” speech. It is worth noting that Reagan’s rhetoric was considered bombastic by many foreign policy types and “caused his political opposition in America to screech with horror.” However, Reagan’s bold words—and the determined strength behind them—helped America achieve an outcome favorable to its interests: the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although America faces a much different world, where non-state actors and terrorists have become significant threats, we must devise and implement a grand strategy that reflects our Founding principles, including peace through strength.

In other words, every foreign policy decision and interaction should be within the larger picture of our grand strategy. Making specific policy decisions based solely on particular circumstances might appear tactically advantageous but could actually be irrelevant or even undermine larger strategic priorities. Instead, a big-picture approach is more likely to achieve overarching objectives by bringing all available resources to bear on a particular goal or threat.

Reagan, unlike most of his Cold War predecessors, stated the objective clearly and simply: “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War: We win; they lose.”

Watch Charles Hill’s lecture, “The Case for Grand Strategy” below:

Click here to read more about Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.

Samuel Sheetz is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm