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Four Percent for Freedom

Created on August 15, 2007

Four Percent for Freedom

Americans may be surprised to learn we spend less for boots on the ground than we do for days at the beach and nights on the town, even during a war on terrorism.

Inadequate U.S. funding for defense, former Sen. James Talent (R-Mo.) has warned in recent forums across the nation, threatens to turn our military into a "hollow force" lacking the man-power, training, operational dexterity and modern weapons to prevail on tomorrow's battlefields.

The Heritage Foundation, the Washington think tank where Talent is now a distinguished fellow, calls for the nation to avert that scenario by committing 4 percent of its annual economic output - or gross domestic product (GDP) - to defense.

Why "Four Percent for Freedom," as Heritage dubs this commitment?

After all, liberals may argue that investment in defense is too much. Conservatives may question whether it is sufficient.

"The answer," says Heritage national security expert Baker Spring, "is that 4 percent of GDP would meet the military's requirements to protect the nation during the long war against Islamist terrorists while allowing sus-tained, long-term economic growth."

A little context is helpful: Americans often spend much more on comparatively frivolous pursuits, from blackjack to Big Macs.

The defense budget of $537 billion for fiscal 2007 sounds hefty enough. Yet we fork over $589 billion a year on entertainment and eating out - the simple freedom to go out for dinner and a movie.

Americans lavish another $543 billion a year on leisure travel. We even lose $80 billion a year
on gambling - enough to boost current defense spending to Heritage-recommended levels.

But the Bush Administration's budget plan would allow defense spending - currently at 3.9 percent of GDP - to drop to 3.2 percent within five years. That would shortchange the military by
$140 billion, Spring says, based on the administration's projections of economic growth.

"The White House and Congress need to do better by keeping overall federal spending and taxes low," he says. "Then we can provide adequately for national security with the revenues that flow from the resulting economic growth."