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The Opposite of Defense

JINSA Report #: 

July 22, 2011

The Constitution obliges our government to provide for the common defense. Determining against whom, under what circumstances, with what capabilities and under whose direction is the prerogative of the President, the Commander in Chief. The military services carry out the directives of the President, so the priorities of Service Chiefs and the Joint Staff carry great weight in determining how the military is organized, and what it requires in terms of manpower, equipment and training. Congress pays the bills and can fund - or defund - any number of presidential or military priorities. Thousands of moving parts go into the creation of the Defense Budget, and thousands more into the creation of a military that is able to respond to the security challenges we face.

Unfortunately, America's deficit difficulties have resulted in Congress and the Administration trying to "match" priorities for cuts in domestic spending with priorities for cuts in defense. If "one side" has to slash agriculture subsidies and housing vouchers, the "other side" has to cut airplanes and submarines. If "one side" wants to preserve Social Security at current levels, the "other side" has to cut military R&D. Or, if the "other side" wants to preserve veterans' benefits and increase funding for PTSD and the long-term disabled (IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a veteran population that will require extensive care for years), it has to trade off the future size of the force.

Nothing says defense spending cannot be cut; indeed, it already has been - Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt of the Heritage Foundation remind us that in 2009, $330 billion was cut from future procurement programs and another $78 billion came off in 2010. Add in the newly proposed $400 billion and more than $800 billion comes out of planned levels of defense spending; more, if certain people have their way.

There are cuts that might be made, but the discussion cannot be about money, manpower and equipment, it has to be about threats and obligations.

What threats? China, Iran and al Qaeda are the big ones. The details don't have to be rehashed here, but China has been increasingly bellicose about American naval activities in the Pacific and increasingly strident about its claim to the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. Beyond what we know about Iran's nuclear and long-range missile programs, the United States finally admitted last week that Iran is arming militias in Iraq and Afghanistan that are responsible for attacks on American troops. And while al Qaeda is considered mostly to have left Afghanistan and the effect of Bin Laden's death was notable, the organization moves, morphs and attaches itself to new hosts. Libya's arsenals have been drained and it appears that a great deal of equipment (possibly including chemical shells) has gone missing. We haven't seen the last - or the worst - of the Arab Spring.

Any or all of these could require the United States to come to the aid of our allies or our own interests.

American troops have done mercy missions from Haiti to Japan to Pakistan to Chile. How many more will we do and at what cost? And what is the cost if we don't?

The oil that lubricates international commerce and fills our cars needs to be shipped through dangerous waters. The U.S. Navy guards the sea lanes around the world - yes, others benefit, but no one has the maritime assets we have. If we don't have the assets, the job won't be done by the West. And if a Western country doesn't ensure Western access to energy, what will our future economy look like? What will our future security look like?

Defense spending is neither the opposite of domestic spending nor its enemy - thoughtful defense policy and the resources to guard our interests at home and abroad are the shield behind which domestic policy is carried out.

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