What the Coalition to Provide for the Common Defense should do

As stated previously, a pro-strong-defense coalition of groups and individuals has been formed: the Coalition to Provide for the Common Defense. It includes many retired military officers (including two former service chiefs), the leaders of conservative advocacy organizations, and the executives of several conservative think tanks.

This coalition has one goal: to advocate a strong defense policy, including (but not limited to) the robust funding needed to build it.

So what should the Coalition do exactly? What message should it voice through the Internet, the media, and on Capitol Hill?

Many facts need to be pointed out to the public and the Congress. The most important ones are that:

1) The US military is worn out as a consequence of a decade of war. Many of its weapons are obsolete (designed and produced during the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s) and in need of replacement (e.g. warships, fighters, bombers, cargoplanes, gunships, APCs) or at least modernization (tanks, IFVs, attack helicopters).

2) Yet, defense spending is at a record low and continues to be singled out for cuts. Defense spending amounts to 3.49% of GDP, the smallest such proportion since before WW2 if you exclude the late 1990s. Total military spending amounts to 4.4% of GDP, and is lower than it was throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948 and FY1949. Total military spending amounts to less than 19% of the total federal budget; the core defense budget ($513 bn) amounts to less than 15% of it.

3) Defense has never enjoyed “protected status” and has never been a “sacred cow”. It has never been “off the table”. During the late 1940s, after WW2, the Truman Administration made draconian cuts to the defense budget and the defense structure, and its second Defense Secretary, Louis A. Johnson, even tried to abolish the Navy and the Marine Corps altogether. During the 1950s, after the Korean War, the Eisenhower dramatically cut defense spending, by $14 bn in then-year-dollars from FY1953 to FY1954 alone. During the 1970s, during and after the Vietnam War, the US military was rendered impotent and unable to defend the US. Defense spending shrank to 4.6% of GDP, and the military, worn out after 11 years of war, was unable to even rescue American hostages from Iran. During the late 1980s, as a result of large budget deficits and the 1987 stock market crash, Congress cut defense spending after FY1987. The defense cuts continued under Presidents Bush and Clinton until the late 1990s, when defense spending bottomed out at 3.0% of GDP, the lowest level since FY1940. Even under President Bush, defense spending was not sacrosanct – Congress cut or closed many weapon programs, and in 2005 President Bush even threatened to veto the planned FY2006 defense buddget if the Congress would pass a larger defense budget than what he requested. Since President Obama took office, over 50 weapon programs have been closed or cut and over $400 bn has been cut from defense accounts, and the debt ceiling legislation has ordered the DOD to cut a further $350 bn from its budgets during the next 10 FYs in real terms.

4) Although many politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike) treat defense spending as if it was just another line item in the federal budget, the Constitution actually says that defense is a duty of the federal government, in Art. IV, Sec. 4: The Preamble to the Constitution says that one of the reasons why the Constitution was written, and the federal government established, in the first place was the need to “provide for the common defence”. As Heritage Foundation analyst Ernest Istook has observed, defense is prioritized like no other function of the federal government by the Constitution: of the Congress’ 18 enumerated prerogatives, 9 (i.e. 50%) deal with military issues: providing for the common defense, raising and supporting armies, providing and maintaing a Navy, raising and disciplining the militia, declaring war, etc. The federal government (including the Congress) is OBLIGED to protect each state against invasion and provide for the common defense, which logically means it must also appropriate a sum of money adequate for that to be possible. Defense  is therefore a Constitutional duty of the federal government, not just another line item in the federal budget.

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