The former Massachusetts governor also condemns the isolationist policies supported by some tea party members in a speech to be delivered Friday at The Citadel, South Carolina's iconic military college.
"This is America's moment. We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America's moment has passed. That is utter nonsense," Romney says in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.
The leading GOP presidential contender offers no clear direction for the war in Afghanistan, but says he would conduct a full review of the situation in his first 100 days in office to determine "the presence necessary to secure our gains and successfully complete our mission."
"This century must be an American century. In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world," Romney says. "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will."
While he served as a Mormon missionary in France more than four decades ago, Romney has limited foreign policy experience. As he says in nearly every campaign stop, he has spent the majority of his life in the business world. But Romney has been critical of President Barack Obama's foreign policy, particularly the president's aggressive timeline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
At a campaign stop in Mount Pleasant on Thursday, Romney previewed some of the themes for Friday's speech. He called for 100,000 new troops, increased military spending and a larger Navy.
"You would think that the president and the people in Washington would recognize the importance of the United States military and the need not to shrink our military budget but strengthen it," Romney told veterans on the hangar deck of the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
The former governor acknowledged waste in defense spending and "my life in the private sector taught me to go after waste and economize, and there is an opportunity to do that." But he said he wouldn't, as European nations have done, reduce defense to bolster social programs.
Romney also released the names of 22 advisers he will consult on foreign policy issues.
The Citadel speech comes three days before his rival Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, delivers a foreign policy address of his own. And it comes as Romney has jumped back into the lead in national polling following Texas Gov. Rick Perry meteoric rise and fall in recent weeks. The location of the speech, in the early voting state of South Carolina, is of course no coincidence.
Romney calls for working with the United Nations when appropriate.
"But know this," he says. "While America should work with other nations, we always reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests."