Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Walking a Tightrope: the Defense Budget

Image: olly/Shutterstock

In contrast to vague and ambiguous phrases typically found in legal documents, the American Constitution explicitly notes the need for the government to provide a national defense for its citizens. This becomes obvious in Article Four, Section Four which declares that the “United States shall guarantee to every State a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasion.” In response to this clause, the U.S. has gradually increased the definition of “defense” beyond protection of foreign invasion to include safeguarding trade routes, preventing cyber-attacks, and upholding international law. This expansion of ideals has pushed the U.S. to engage in numerous international military actions, such as campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, which had little to do with its national interests, let alone endangered the prospect of American sovereignty. Moreover, worries over trade routes and cyber-security have intensified strained relationships with Iran (Straits of Hormuz) and China (hacking of Google) respectively, which has contributed to a decline in popular perceptions of national security. Although each of these areas may represent a cause worth defending, heightened responsibility requires increased resources and personnel to maintain efficient action.

Recognizing that whatever is deemed “defense” is constitutionally required of the state, the U.S. now finds itself struggling to allocate efficient funds to these sectors without impinging on other areas of American society. In terms of national budget, it is difficult to follow popular sentiments and drawback defense spending without compromising national security. Facing domestic pressure, proposed cuts to the defense apparatus include reducing the number of American troops around the globe, restricting the growth of defense bureaucracy, and limiting the arsenal of weaponry. Beyond this, there are some experts calling for the reduction in benefits for veterans, noting that current levels are “wildly out of step” with the growing healthcare cost for the rest of the American public. Though these reductions may have a positive impact on the budgetary bottom line, each of these policies have the potential to drastically hamper the ability of the U.S. to project global power, efficiently implement the use of force , and adequately provide for veterans after their tours of service.   

Underlying this numbers game is the political reality that a finite national budget creates a zero-sum game in which dedication of funds to one sector inherently means taking from another. In an era in which entitlement spending exponentially increasing its share of GDP, it appears as though the priority of defense will have to take a back seat to domestic concerns. President Obama has illustrated his willingness to reduce defense allocations with his budget proposal for 2013 [which did not pass], which called for a one percent, or roughly $500 billion reduction of growth, in defense spending. Despite the fact that Democrats tend to have a reputation of being more dove-like than their Republican counterparts, if Obama were to achieve substantial cuts in defense spending, he would be the first Democratic president to do so in the since the end of World War II. Although the decision to cut defense budgets to improve the state’s bottom line may be appealing, one must not forget the constitutional obligation to defend the country’s borders and protect whatever the nation considers worth defending. 

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