After their big election gains, congressional Republicans must now commit to getting the federal budget under control. Unfortunately, some have advocated cutting the defense budget as part of the solution. Reducing defense spending now would be a dangerous mistake.
It’s important for conservatives to get this issue right. To that end, here are a few observations.
First, the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned national defense as the priority obligation of the federal government. The first power granted to the president in Article 2 is “Commander-in-Chief of the Armies and Navies of the United States, and of the Militias of the Several States.” Of the 17 powers granted to Congress in Article 1, six relate specifically to defense, and the Constitution grants Congress the full range of authorities necessary to establish the defense of the nation (as it was then understood).
The other powers granted to Congress are permissive in nature; Congress can choose to exercise them or not. But the federal government is constitutionally obligated to defend the nation. Article 4, Section 4 states that the “United States shall guarantee to every State a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasion.”
That means, for those who take the Constitution seriously, that national defense is a higher priority than other areas of federal activity. While other parts of the federal budget may be presumptively suspect, spending on the national defense is not.
Second, every category of international risk facing the United States is demonstrably growing. Islamist extremists remain a formidable threat. They are fighting to reconstitute their safe havens in Afghanistan and to acquire weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States. The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism — a bipartisan panel with the status of the 9/11 Commission — found unanimously that terrorists would “more likely than not” develop and use a weapon of mass destruction against a Western city by 2013. The director of national intelligence publicly agreed with that dire assessment.
Nuclear technology and weaponry advances are cascading through rogue and failing states around the world. Pakistan — an unsteady partner facing an existential threat from terrorists — has a substantial and growing nuclear arsenal. The U.S. must be diligent in ensuring that those nuclear assets stay out of the hands of terrorists. Both North Korea and Iran are steadily increasing the range, payload, and accuracy of their ballistic missiles. No one seriously believes that the Iranians will voluntarily stop their nuclear program or that the West (except perhaps the Israelis) will use force to stop them.
Finally, the last few years have seen the rise of aggressive “peer competitors” who are developing the military capacity to challenge the vital national interests of the United States. China, for example, is rearming at a rate far ahead of American intelligence predictions.
According to most reports, China has the most sophisticated cyber-warfare capability in the world. The Chinese already boast an arsenal of advanced fighters and missiles able to deny the U.S. Navy access to the Taiwan Strait. They are building as many as five submarines per year and have established a modern submarine base on the island of Hainan. They have announced plans to build destroyers with the explicit purpose of developing a credible blue-water navy.