National Defense

National Defense

© David Burton 2012

Government Agencies

     National defense is something we should all be extremely concerned with. However, except when we desperately need it, most of us pay little attention to this critical element in our lives. Today, national defense has arrived at some critical crossroads. In what follows, I have attempted to identify some of issues that either impact the national defense of our country or are a consequence of the state of our national defense.

     There are some among us who are in favor of drastically reducing defense spending in order to fund America’s massive entitlement programs. Ignoring the utter folly of this position in relation to national security, foreign relations, employment, balance of trade, federal debt/deficit, and the impact on this country’s GDP, such action would not achieve the desired result. Why? The simple answer is that “Annual spending on entitlement programs is massive compared to other federal spending priorities. Cutting discretionary spending is necessary, but cuts to foreign aid alone or pulling out of Afghanistan will not close the deficit,” (Ref. 1) as is evident from the following figures from the Office of Management and Budget:
Annual Spending – 2012
Entitlements*:$2.48 trillion
Global War on Terrorism: $115 billion
Foreign Aid:    $24 billion
NASA:   $18 billion
* Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other Mandatory Programs plus their Net Interest

     The undeniable fact is that eliminating defense spending completely will not balance the budget. Trading bullets for butter is simply not an option!

     Sequestration: Congress and the president must act to avoid the effects of sequestration on national defense. Failure to act is not an option. It is almost certain that both political parties realize this and the expectation is that sequestration will be done away with once the presidential elections of 2012 areover.

     “Sequestration ‘would destroy the military’ and cause an ‘inability to defend the nation’ argued Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee. ‘Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,’ testified General Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, to Congress. ‘From a pure national security perspective, the gap between the U.S. military and our closest rivals will collapse with sequestration,’ wrote the Washington Times. And it would create a U.S. military akin to a ‘paper tiger…unable to keep up with potential adversaries,’ said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. ‘In effect, it invites aggression.’
     “There is no doubt that sequestration would be a terrible mistake. If Congress is unable to reach a compromise on how to solve America’s debt dilemma, almost half a trillion dollars in mandatory cuts to the defense budget over the next decade would initiate in January (meaning roughly $55 billion in the first year). It is un-strategic to hack away at the defense budget in a generalized manner, cutting the good and the bad by the same percentage, like a butcher with a piece of meat.” (Ref. 2)

     Today, we have “a military inventory largely composed of weapons designed forty to fifty years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. While the weapons in our arsenal remain formidable, they are well along on the path to obsolescence. Along with the aging process, there has been a precipitous decline in sheer numbers. The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, on track to hit the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline {further.} . . . Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy’s role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today.” (Ref. 3)

     The implications of the current and projected status of our military was addressed in the “conclusions from the bipartisan Perry-Hadley Commission set up by Congress last year {2011}. Even before Congress . . . adopted its latest round of cuts and even before President Obama . . . proposed yet deeper cuts, the Commission warned that: [t]he aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure. There is a price to strength, but a greater price to weakness, because weakness tempts aggression.” [Emphasis mine]” (Ref. 4)

National Defense and the Economy

     The economy both impacts national defense and, in return, is impacted by national defense. There are three elements of today’s economy that should concern us – debt, unemployment and the deficit. Let’s start by admitting the obvious – our $16 trillion debt (as of October 2012) is a major problem. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “of almost $16 trillion, the United States owes more than 100 percent of one year’s GDP {Emphasis mine} (think Greece). And with real unemployment disguised by arcane accounting rules, U.S. government reporting greatly understates the depth of our employment crises. {Emphasis mine}
     “Next is the deficit, projected by the president’s budget to be $1.3 trillion this year {2012}. When one looks under the hood, this is truly frightening. The federal budget has two elements, mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt) and discretionary spending, which includes the budgets of every federal agency. Even if one eliminates the whole federal pie, receipts are still insufficient to cover the deficit. So calls to bring down defense spending and raise taxes on a few high earners do not address the structural shortfall. Much bigger adjustments in the mandatory portion of the budget must be formulated and implemented.”
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     “Both the country and defense are teetering on the brink. The Congressional Budget Office {CBO} has analyzed the approaching sequester and the coming tax increases. CBO analysts opine that all this would greatly reduce thedeficit, but throw us into recession. On the other hand, if we fix it, deficits will continue as before and debt continues to rise. Neither course appeals. It is clear that something much more fundamental needs to happen.”
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     “In the meantime, defense faces a more than $50 billion reduction per year if sequestration is allowed to occur. Cuts through 2017 of 21 percent are less than the 35 percent reduction after the Cold War wound down, but sequester makes the cut totally arbitrary – equal percentages by appropriation which has to be drilled down to program, project and activity. . . . It is the worst possible way to make budget cuts. . . . Defense today is around 3 percent of GDP, the lowest since 2001, and comprises about 18.5 percent of federal spending, which is on par with the 20-year average. So it would seem defense is affordable. But nothing – including defense – is affordable for long with trillion-dollar deficits as far as one can see.”
         “A final observation: Defense has a lot of tired iron. {This means that that our military has a lot of old and aging equipment that should be replaced or updated.} Even current budgets are insufficient to underwrite either the new strategy or the present force structure. With or without sequester, the near term reality for defense is military forces will be smaller, and weapons a bit older unless planned acquisition catches up with aging systems. Every branch of the military needs to modernize their aging fleets.”
         - - -
     “Something to fear is that our government will find a way to craft a solution that satisfies the itch du jour but postpones the final reckoning. The real crises, when it hits, will be much worse.” (Ref. 5)

The Defense Budget

     Is there waste in the defense budget? As with any large organization, there certainly is. “For example, whenever military services outline their ‘requirements’ for federal funding consideration, by law, they are not supposed to consider the cost of their requests. As a result, too many costly, unnecessary and unaffordable weapon systems and other wants get added into the pipeline, thereby adding to costs and diminishing funds available for other national security needs. Additionally, the current acquisitions and contracting process within the Defense Department has a number of systemic flaws . . .
     “Despite its popularity, our current all-volunteer military is very expensive. To give you a sense of how expensive, the GAO determined that the average annual total compensation (including base pay, allowances, current and deferred benefits and tax exemptions) for a member of the active duty military in 2005 was about $115,000.” (Ref. 6)

     As with all government agencies and departments, the Pentagon is a bloated bureaucracy. There have been many attempts at fiscal reform of the Department of Defense over many years – the results have been considerably less than encouraging. These attempts at reform have had two major problems:

1) No one really knows how to introduce and implement such reforms, and
2) The inertia of the defense establishment is enormous.

     Trying to introduce reforms is akin to trying to move the moon out of its orbit around the earth. Does this mean that nothing can be done? Certainly not, but expectations must be realistic. Reform will require considerable effort and a long time horizon.

     Will we “reinstitute a draft in the near future or dramatically cut back on defense spending given our challenges overseas? Unlikely, but we may see some form of mandatory national service in the future for which the military would be an option.
     “It's true that defense spending, like all government expenditures, must be carefully monitored because all wasteful spending contributes to our nation's deficit. And yes, the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been undeniably high, both in lives lost and affected as well as dollars spent. However, even if we pull all our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and crack down on waste in the Defense Department, the savings would only get the government a relatively small fraction of the way toward restoring overall fiscal sustainability.” (Ref. 6)

National Defense and American Foreign Policy

     The inescapable truth is that America must be a leader in today’s world. No other nation, and certainly not the United Nations, is either capable of performing this role or has the ethical and moral qualifications to do so. We may not want this responsibility, but this is a burden that we must bear, both in our own national interest and in the interest of global humanity. As Mitt Romney stated, “if America does not lead, others will - others who do not share our interests and our values-and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us.” (Ref. 4) This responsibility shapes a major portion of America’s foreign policy. And, our ability to implement this foreign policy is all too often dependent upon the strength, vitality and preparedness of America’s military and the infrastructure that supports it. America's national defense and its foreign policy are firmly locked together. Defense and foreign policy must be cooperative efforts.

     Let’s consider one famous example of cooperative foreign diplomacy and a prepared military as excerpted from Ref. 7.

     By the late 1700s, most European nations were paying tribute to the Barbary Pirates off the northern coast of Africa to ensure that their merchant shipping could proceed without being attacked in the Mediterranean Sea. These pirates were essentially sponsored by the Arab rulers of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli who considered Americans to be infidels and they therefore believed they had the right to plunder American ships. In the early years of the 19th century, the United States, under President Thomas Jefferson, called a halt to the payment of tribute by the U.S. to these pirates and a war between the fledgling U.S. Navy and the Barbary Pirates ensued.

     In 1803, the American frigate Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli (in present day Libya) and the captain and crew were captured. In February 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur of the US Navy, sailing a captured ship, managed to sail into the harbor at Tripoli and recapture the Philadelphia. He burned the ship so it couldn't be used by the pirates. Later, in April 1805, the US Navy, with US Marines, launched an operation against the port of Tripoli. The detachment of Marines attacked and captured a harbor fort at the Battle of Derna. Marking the first American victory on foreign soil, the Marines raised an American flag over the fortress. The mention of the "shores of Tripoli" in the "Marine's Hymn" refers to this triumph.

     The issue of piracy off Africa faded into the background for about a decade, but the problem resurfaced in 1815. Feeling that the Americans had been seriously weakened by the War of 1812, the Dey of Algiers declared war on the United States. The U.S. Navy responded with a fleet of ten ships, commanded by Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge. By July 1815, Decatur's ships had captured several Algerian ships and forced the Dey of Algiers to commit to a treaty. Pirate attacks on American merchant ships were effectively ended at that point. American diplomacy and a strong military combined to put an end to America’s problems with the Barbary Pirates.

The Military

      Our all-volunteer military has performed admirably for the United States during the past three decades. They are, without doubt, the finest armed forces in the world. BUT, our decade long engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have shown that this country cannot repeatedly ask the same men and women, along with reservists and National Guard units to be the only military defenders of our country. We simply cannot keep sending them back, over and over, to carry on the long term war against Islamic thugs while carrying out their other commitments here and abroad.

      While the war against Muslim extremism is a war that will persist for decades, we still face issues with North Korea, China, Iran, Russia, and other nations that require the military’s ability to react quickly and effectively. The on-going tempo of these commitments and contingencies is such that the all-volunteer military cannot be expected to be the only citizenry that must bear the brunt of these ongoing efforts. The all-volunteer military serves the purpose admirably well in conflicts that are limited in scope and duration - there are none better. BUT, the war against Islamic terrorism and the potential of armed conflicts elsewhere are neither limited in scope nor in duration. In addition, our military is on constant alert for peace-time services – disaster aid, humanitarian missions, etc.

      While the all-volunteer military has fulfilled this country’s needs in the years following the Viet Nam War, we must now adjust to the realities forced upon us by a relentless and pitiless foe. Americans must assume a greater role in this ongoing war. We must do what Americans have always done in times of war. More of us must serve in the Military - voluntarily or otherwise. America does not need nor can it afford to have everyone perform some military service, but, it could put in place a lottery-based draft system with no exemptions for the needed number of men and women who would be required to serve for a specified period of time.

      The time to begin a reform in the Military is now rather than later. The volunteer military must continue and they must constitute the core of our defense, but they can’t continue to carry the entire load. The rest of us must join in and assume our responsibilities. Freedom is not free and all of us must pay our fair share. The time for letting someone else shoulder the entire load needs to come to an end.

The Defense Industry

     The defense industry is a vital component of America's national defense structure. The defense industry has served America well in time of need. America's weaponry has provedto be second to none. But, Defense contractors have some unique problems in dealing with the Department of Defense(DoD), one of these being that of intellectual property (IP). Consider the following case in point.

     “Pratt & Whitney spent 20 years and a billion dollars developing a geared turbofan engine that burns 16 percent less fuel.
     “It is conceivable that – as a condition of purchase – the government could demand rights to engine drawings, specifications and manufacturing methods so it can buy spare parts in the future from someone other than Pratt & Whitney.” (Ref. 8)

     In the commercial world, such demands are unthinkable. You develop a marketable product, the drawings, specifications and manufacturing methods are yours. It’s your competitive advantage. You don’t hand your intellectual property over to a competitor. In fact, if the competitor obtains your IP without your consent, he is subject to civil and criminal prosecution.

     “. . . the Pentagon procurement culture is rooted in the Cold War, when the Defense Department funded more than Half of all U.S. research-and-development projects. Most cutting-edge R&D today is funded by the private sector, but many high-tech firms shun the defense market. {I can personally confirm from personal experience that I know of companies with products that would have been of use to the military who have refused to do business with the DoD in order to avoid giving up their intellectual property.} A 2001 report by the Pentagon’s acquisition office acknowledge that one of the reasons is companies’ fear of compromising their intellectual property.
     “’The concept of IP is fundamental to a capitalistic society, the report says. ‘A company’s interest in protecting its IP from uncompensated exploitation is as important as a farmer’s interest in protecting his or her seed corn’”
     “In defense contracting, {there is} a tug-of-war between capitalism and central planning.”
         - - -
     “If you start confiscating IP to give it to competitors, companies might think twice before selling to the government.” (Ref. 8)

     Along with the U. S. military, the defense industry is obviously a critical element in national defense. What may not be appreciated is the fact that our defense industry is also a very significant component of America’s economy and a major contributor to the technological benefits that we, and the rest of the world enjoy. Concerning the impact of the defense industry on America’s economy, the information that follows, derived from Ref. 9, is presented.

     As of 2010, it was estimated that the U.S. aerospace and defense industry directly employed 1.05 million workers. These workers received $84.2 billion in wages and paid $15.4 billion in U.S. Federal individual income taxes, and $1.9 billion in state individual income taxes. In addition, the Federal government employed an estimated 845,198 aerospace and defense skilled workers at armed forces maintenance and repair depots, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), other defense agencies including Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and civilians working at the Department of Defense. The defense industry also had an estimated indirect and induced employment of 2.36 jobs for every 1 directly employed. Therefore, the indirect and induced employment totaled 2.48 million workers, in addition to those cited above who are directly employed. Together with these indirect employees, it was estimated that the grand total of direct, indirect and induced employment associated with the U.S. aerospace and defense industry is 3.53 million jobs, not including industry skilled workers employed by the Federal government or airlines.
     These U.S. aerospace and defense companies generated $324.0 billion in sales revenue in 2010, with an average pre-tax reported operating profit margin of 10.5%, which was below average, when compared to other industries in America. These companies paid $5.5 billion in corporate income taxes on their earnings, as well as $1.7 billion in state income and similar business taxes. Thus together with individual direct employee taxes, the total industry generated an estimated $37.8 billion in wage and income based taxes to state and Federal government treasuries, not including the taxes paid by indirect and induced industry employment.
     The defense industry is America’s largest net exporter, with a larger portion made up of commercial aircraft bound for foreign carriers. The industry’s contribution to the nation’s GDP is 2.23%. Although the aerospace and defense industry in 2010 was the third highest gross exporter, it had the highest net trade balance, some $42 billion. The first two gross exporting industries, Chemicals and Computers and Electronic Products, actually had negative net trade balances. Without the defense industry, the U.S. imbalance of trade would be much larger than it is.
     The defense industry has also contributed fundamentally to the way we live, work, travel and communicate with the technology it has created and with continued innovations in jet aircraft, communications satellites, the internet, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), the jet engine, supersonic flight, space flight, radar, communications, direct-to-home television broadcast, and navigation satellites.
     The U.S. defense industry enables our nation to support humanitarian causes, help in disaster relief and bring police forces to address civil disorder around the globe. America is the only nation with the necessary level of long range expeditionary capability and capacity to serve this need, as has been demonstrated numerous times, from the Berlin Airlift in 1948/1949, to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami flood relief efforts in Japan in 2011.

National Defense in the Coming Years

     Fundamentalist Islamic terrorism will not go away. It will persist well beyond my lifetime. The war on this evil must continue for decades until this unholy attempt at world conquest is totally defeated. Our national security system must continue to defend America and our military must take the war to those Islamic jihadists who would destroy everything America and the free world stand for. Along with a strong military and a vibrant defense industry, we need a foreign policy that makes effective used of these essential resources.

     We need a well-equipped, fully-staffed military that is able to remain at a constant state of readiness. On December 6, 1941, we had an ill-equipped, understaffed military and a nation focused solely or the Great Depression. On December 8, 1941, we had a nation reeling from the effects of an ill-equipped, understaffed military that had long been ignored by the American public and the politicians in Washington. On December 7, 1941, that all changed! Nearly instantaneously, America successfully geared up for war. But, the price paid for our inattention to national defense was enormous in terms of life and money – paid in part by the U.S., but mostly by the nations and peoples of Europe and Asia. The day after the end of World War II, America promptly forgot the lesson of Pearl Harbor and returned America’s national security to the back burner. 5 years later, Korea was once again an initial disaster and another wakeup call about defense preparedness. America and its allies were nearly pushed off the Korean Peninsula before the tide was turned. The reason? We were militarily unprepared. In today’s world, with nuclear-capable non-democratic regimes rising and fundamental Islamic terror and unrest spreading in the Middle East and the rest of the world, America's national defense is more important than ever and cannot be subordinated to partisan politics and indifference.

     Political expediency cannot substitute for national security. Al Qaeda attacked America in 2001. America has retaliated by attacking them in Afghanistan and by pursuing and killing their leaders and their fighters throughout the world ever since. Our current administration has announced that the U.S. will pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, irrespective of whether or not al Qaeda is defeated or whether or not our withdrawal will allow them to re-establish their terror base there. What if the United States had announced in 1942 that we would stop fighting the Axis powers in 1944 irrespective of whether or not Hitler and his Axis cohorts had been wiped off the face of the earth? Such would have been unthinkable then. It should be unthinkable now. Unfortunately, America has a short memory and little patience with ongoing conflicts. We want our troops home, the end of money being poured into this war, and a return to more peaceful times. If only wishful thinking and hopes for the future would replace reality. Billions for Defense but not one cent to acquiesce to terrorism should replace the phrase “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” Let us not forget the pledge we made on September 12, 2001, We Will Never Forget! Our Islamist enemies will not forget and will not simply go away.

     American foreign policy and national defense are intimately intertwined and both must function in support of the other. If one fails, the other will suffer. If our foreign policy fails, the military may well have to pay the price. If our national defense is inadequate, our foreign policy options will be diminished. It is not one or the other.

     As the economy goes, so goes the national defense budget. When our economy goes south, our national defense suffers because of inadequate funding and, perhaps most importantly, because of a lack of attention and support from our citizens and our politicians.

     National defense is the responsibility of all Americans. The all-volunteer military has fulfilled this country’s needs since its inception but we must now adjust to the realities forced upon us by a relentless and pitiless foe – fundamental Islamists. We all must assume a greater role in this ongoing war. We must do what Americans have always done in times of war – and make no mistake, we definitely are at war. More of us must serve in the Military - voluntarily or otherwise. We simply cannot continue to place the burden of this ongoing war on the shoulders of a few.

     We need to maintain a defense industry that is capable of providing the ingenuity and equipment needed in modern warfare. Most importantly, we must be out in front of any potential adversary in terms of the quality and capabilities of our military’s weaponry. What policies countries such as Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and others will pursue in the future is not known. As the saying goes, We can assume the best, but must prepare for the worst! All too often, madmen have come to power who forsook rational behavior and have led their nations and the rest of the world into disastrous conflicts and mass murder. Are we to ignore the possibilities (likelihoods?) of other merchants of doom and destruction coming to power and of once again threatening the peace, the lives and the well-being of America’s citizens and of the rest of the peoples of the world? Is America ready to stick its collective head in the sand and ignore reality and the biter lessons of history? The price to be paid later would likely be much higher than the price to be paid up front.

     Like it or not, America is the leader of the free world. Like it or not, it is our responsibility to continue in this role. We can urge, cajole and bully our friends to do their fair share, but, if they do not do their part, we cannot simply throw up our hands and walk away from our obligations. Like it or not, we are stuck with our responsibilities!


  1. Discretionary Spending Cuts Alone Will Not Balance the Budget, The Heritage Foundation,, Accessed 10 October 2012.
  2. Separating Sequestration Facts from Fiction: Sequestration and What It Would Do for American Military Power, Asia, and the Flashpoint of Korea, Brookings Institute,, 23 September 2012.
  3. National Defense, , Accessed 9 October 2012.
  4. Full Transcript/Video of Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy Speech at the VMI, The Daily Beast:, 8 October 2012.
  5. Let’s Face It: There Is No Shelter From the Fast Rising $$ Storm, Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., National Defense, Page 4, October 2012
  6. The Truth Regarding Defense Spending , David M. Walker, Huff Post Politics, 11 October 2012 (Posted 23 December 2009).
  7. The United States Fought Wars Against North African Pirates in the Early 1800s: Thomas Jefferson Wouldn't Give In to the Barbary Pirates, Robert C. McNamara,; http//history 1800s/, Accessed 12 october 2012.
  8. The War Over Intellectual Property: Who Owns U.S. Defense Technology?, Sandra I. Erwin, National Defense, Page 6, October 2012
  9. The Aerospace and Defense Industry in the U.S.: A financial and economic impact study, Deloitte Development LLC, Deloitte:, March 2012

  18 October 2012 {Article 145; Govt_34 }    
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