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viewpoint

A constitutional obligation

| Monday, February 15, 2016

President Obama recently released his final 2017 budget, which proposed a total spending of approximately $4.1 trillion. Included in the budget was a request for $582.7 billion in defense spending, a budget higher than the combined military budgets of the next seven largest military spending nations. In an era of limited resources, concerns about our growing national debt, worries about our nation’s general economic outlook and the seemingly ever-increasing need for increased resources for social programs, it is both a legitimate and a necessary question to ask why we need to continue to allocate so much of our resources to our military. The answer is simple: we do so because it is the moral, practical and constitutional obligation of our federal government to provide for our defense.

Many of those advocating decreased defense spending and the diversion of additional funds to other aspects of the federal government, particularly entitlement programs, point to the fact that the U.S. spends a disproportionate amount on national security. However, our nation’s defense spending has in fact dramatically declined in recent years, particularly as a function of total federal spending. Since 2010, our defense budget has actually been cut by 25 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Defense Department expenditures now account for only 15 percent of all federal spending, an amount less than that expended on national security prior to September 11, 2001. As a percentage of our GDP, our total national security spending has fallen from 4.7 percent in 2010 to only 3.3 percent in 2015. In fact, our present investment in national security is substantially lower than that of other nations. For example, in 2014, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia spent approximately 10.4 percent, 5.2 percent and 4.5 percent of their GDP on national security, respectively.

Our $18 trillion of national debt cannot fairly be attributed to military or defense oriented spending. Higher debt is the result of out of control federal spending, particularly on entitlement programs. From 2001 through 2015 spending on social and economic programs exceeded federal spending on national security by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent in inflation adjusted dollars. For better or worse, our federal government has prioritized entitlement spending over dollars allocated for our national security interests.

Has our federal government fulfilled its constitutional obligation of providing for the common defense? A credible argument can be made that our government is not discharging this core mandate by the continued erosion of our military capabilities and presence.

The world obviously has become a more dangerous place over the last 15 years. Threats ranging from Islamic extremist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda; the failed “reset” policy of President Obama with respect to Russia and Moscow’s aggressive steps toward Georgia and Crimea; the destabilizing effect of the refugee crisis in growing list of countries including Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan; the every-increasing threat posed by a nuclear Iran; China’s increasing displays of aggressiveness, and specifically, cyber-warfare; and the growing threat of an irrational North Korea are but a few of the threats to our national security and reflections of the ever-deteriorating international landscape. Against this background, can it be rationally argued that the U.S., should have over the last six years, reduced its defense budget by 25 percent with a resultant degradation of its military capabilities?

Decreased defense spending also has a demoralizing impact on our nation’s service men and women. Veteran’s healthcare and retirement benefits have deteriorated to unacceptable levels. Deserving pay increases for our troops are being neglected. In fact, the 1.6 percent pay raise that is reflected in President Obama’s current budget proposal is well below the estimated rise in private sector compensation in 2016.

The power and prestige of the U.S. on the world stage has hit an unacceptable low. We must send a message to our enemies that the U.S. will unwaveringly protect its citizens, its interests, and most importantly, its allies by allocating all necessary resources to combat threats to our national security. A strong Navy must be rebuilt, reductions to our ground troops must end, the visibility of our presence around the world must be restored and our international allies must be given assurances that the U.S. will not abandon its friends.

While the U.S. may not be obliged to act as the world’s policeman, the fact remains that the U.S. must exercise its authority as a world leader in a responsible, coherent and trustworthy manner. U.S. hegemony cannot simply be ignored. With this power comes responsibility from which our government cannot run.

Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies political science and peace studies along with minors in Constitutional studies and business economics. She can be reached at jryan15@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jordan Ryan

Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies Political Science and Peace Studies along with minors in Constitutional Studies and Business Economics. She can be reached at jryan15@nd.edu

Contact Jordan
  • João Pedro Santos

    “In fact, our present investment in national security is substantially lower than that of other nations. For example, in 2014, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Russia spent approximately 10.4 percent, 5.2 percent and 4.5 percent of their GDP on national security, respectively.”
    Can you name any country (other than those three) which spends more on national security? Saying that the US spends too little on national security because some other countries spend more (while most of the countries, and when I say most I mean almost all, spend less) is a fallacy, called the fallacy of relative privation.

  • Johnny Whichard

    Changing the rules of engagement would drastically cut our military budget. Stop garrisoning countries…start bombing bad guys.

  • MC

    Terrific article