Defending Defense: Not Enough for National Security

Today six Congressmembers met to speak on the importance of defense spending and why it should not be targeted in the ongoing budget cut discussions.  The event, Defending Defense: Defense Spending and the Super Committee, was put on by The Foreign Policy Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  In concluding remarks Mackenzie Eaglen (of the Heritage Foundation) stressed the interconnectedness of economic strength and military strength, a theme woven during most of the speakers' remarks: our national security (i.e. the defense budget) should not be jeopardized because a federal budget needs to be passed.  But, national security doesn't only mean military spending.  In the global world of internet and social media, Diplomacy and Development, two topics that were not discussed today, can be even greater assets to protecting our national security than military spending.  Here is a rundown of a few points from today that needed further examining.

Senator Kyl (R-AZ) began the afternoon by firmly stating that defense spending was in no way responsible for the deficit, and furthermore that it has been declining over the past few years and has taken more than its fair share of cuts in the past.  However, reports by the National Priorities Project do not support this statement.  In a graph comparing data from defense spending amounts from 2001 to those of 2011, it is clearly shown that the "past few years," Kyl speaks of have seen no decline in defense spending.  The Pentagon's Base Budget increased from $290.5 billion in 2001 to $526.1 billion in 2011 - an increase of 43%.  Nuclear Weapons spending also increased from $12.4 billion to $19.0 billion, an increase of 21%. Military spending has not been on the decline, nor has it taken its fair share of budget cuts.

Later Senator Graham (R-SC) spoke of the importance of coming to an agreement with the Afghan people to assure them we will not leave them and that "freedom is the anecdote to terror."  He adamantly suggested that military spending is the only way to achieve this freedom.  Although he did admit that there needed to be some restructuring in the military (surrounding the way weapons are bought primarily), he failed to address how funds would be allocated to focus on freedom and assisting the Afghan people.  This oversight is exactly why military spending does not spell out freedom.  In fact, often American military presence is not the best, or most cost effective, way to help.  According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the UN was eight times more efficient at running the mission in Haiti than if the U.S. had gone in alone.

Another questionable conclusion was drawn by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).  She began by stating how encouraged she was by our military leaders and that cutting their funding would put these great leaders at a disadvantage.  However, she then pointed out that defense spending should not be cut because even if the U.S. was to cut its entire defense spending, that would only cut the deficit in half.  HALF?! That is a huge decrease in the budget! To put that in perspective, all international affairs spending amounts to less than 1% of the budget.  Defense eats up 58% of the budget, and the fact that it is such a large expense is not a reason not to cut it; on the contrary it is a reason to do just that!

Overall, the discussion focused on the importance of national security and tried to look positively into the future to "create a new and better world," as Senator Graham said.  However, the entire discussion was only on military, which is not the only department that should be working towards this "new and better world." Defense is only one leg of a three pronged stool, without development and diplomacy our national security has trouble standing upright.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it best when he said: "It has become clear that America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long - relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world."

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