Seventy years ago today, the Japanese shocked the American conscience and propelled the United States into World War II when it attacked Pearl Harbor. With 353 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, Japan’s strike took the lives of 2,402 Americans and wounded 1,282 others. President Franklin Roosevelt accurately described it as “a date which will live in infamy.”
As we reflect on that fateful day, Americans should remember that the strike came without notice or even a declaration of war–despite many Americans’ desire for isolationism even in the face of mounting aggression.
Today, there are those who would like America to return to an era of disengagement while also slashing military spending to dangerous levels. But as Pearl Harbor taught us, the United States must be ready to defend herself, both at home and abroad. Unfortunately, under the Budget Control Act, the military budget will be cut by almost $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Those cuts come on top of successive rounds of deep cuts in defense dollars and capabilities that Congress and the Obama Administration have already implemented. In a new paper, Heritage’s Mackenzie Eaglen writes that those cuts will undermine U.S. power and influence around the world and reduce the ability of the military to meet future threats:
The approach that Congress and the Administration have taken to cutting the defense budget is dangerous and puts American security at risk. The military is prioritizing its needs based on arbitrary budget caps rather than according to capabilities needed, threats faced, and American interests to be protected.
If Congress continues along this path, the U.S. military will need to degrade current capabilities and increase risk in executing certain missions. As threats and instability grow around the world, the questions of whether and how the U.S. should respond to events will devolve into a question of whether the U.S. is capable of responding quickly and forcefully. This is a seismic shift in the U.S. role and position in the world that will produce little gain in the deficit crisis. And Congress must remember that the forces funded today are, for the most part, not the forces of tomorrow, but rather the forces of a decade or more from now—when the U.S. may need capabilities and face threats that we cannot now foresee.
Eaglen recommends that Congress tackle debt reduction responsibly with American security interests in mind. That means stopping the current rounds of defense cuts, budgeting responsibly for America’s foreign policy needs and objectives, and repealing the debt ceiling deal “trigger.” Other actions she recommends include stabilizing the military’s modernization accounts, aggressively promoting foreign military sales and increasing cutting-edge defense exports to friends and allies, and forcing the Department of Defense to innovate even as budgets fall.
Pearl Harbor taught us–and 9/11 reminded us–that America is not an island fortress, and that threats can loom right around the corner, even when we feel most secure. The threats of tomorrow might be unknown today, and our military must stand ready to defend us. Congress and the President have a duty to ensure that our defense capabilities are sound now and into the future. Slashing our military’s budget will not fulfill that responsibility.
Read more of Eaglen’s paper, Super Committee Failure and Sequestration Put at Risk Ever More Military Plans and Programs, at Heritage.org.