January 21, 2004 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

The State of Defense

Combating terrorism requires more than the tools of law enforcement because terrorism is a form of warfare. The national security policy that President George W. Bush described in his State of the Union Address will ensure, as is appropriate, that the tools of warfare are used in response to terrorism. This is particularly important when terrorists are moving to acquire biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Proliferation of these weapons is a serious threat, and the option to use military force must remain open.

Strengthening the State of the Union requires a governing process that distinguishes between what is more and less important. Providing for the security and liberty of the American people is what makes all their other opportunities possible. The President, by focusing on the paramount issues of defense and national security first and foremost in his speech last night, shows that he recognizes this essential fact. Calling the task of providing for security the government's greatest responsibility, he described a policy that improves the likelihood that the government will be able to fulfill this responsibility.

At the head of the national security policy that the President described in the speech is his view that the essential task of national security cannot be exported or become dependent on the good will of others. If, as he describes it, America must seek a permission slip to defend itself, its security will be sacrificed in the name of the false promise of a mindless internationalism. Mindless internationalism points not to strong alliances formed to defend liberty, but a policy of the least common denominator where the objections of even a few foreign powers will render the U.S. defenseless.

The President also recognizes that the determined use of force will provide credibility to U.S. diplomacy. The political impact of the increase in U.S. credibility will pay important national security dividends. The President was right to point to recent steps by Libya to curtail its weapons programs. Absent the increase in U.S. credibility brought about its military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places, it is difficult to imagine Libya taking these steps.

To further bolster U.S. credibility and preparedness, the President pledged to provide the necessary resources to fight the war on terror. By Cold War standards, defense remains a bargain. As a percent of the national economy defense is consuming less by far than during the 1960s. Also, the negative economic impact of successful terrorist attacks on America in the future only increases the relative value of the investment in defense.

Finally, the President recognizes that the war against terrorism, like all wars, is essentially a contest of wills. The greatest test of will is imposed on the members of the U.S. military, who face the greatest dangers. As the President reminded the American people, their expressions of gratitude to those who are taking these risks is to a great extent a measure of the entire nation's resolve to face down this threat.

Baker Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy