During the Administration of John Adams, Americans were offered
a chance to bribe their way out of a war. Most responded by
chanting, "Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute." That was
then. These days, our political leaders might well go for the
Spending money is easy--when it's somebody else's money.
Political leaders are busy throwing hundreds of billions at every
conceivable domestic program, hoping to stimulate the economy. Much
of that money, by the way, could be considered "tribute" because it
is directed at big campaign donors such as teachers unions and
Meanwhile, our leaders are cutting back on defense, even in the
midst of a war in Afghanistan and ongoing terrorist threats. That's
a mistake, because protecting our nation is one of the few jobs
specifically assigned to the federal government by the
Constitution. And yet defense spending is on the chopping
Consider missile defense. If there was ever a system that ought
to be noncontroversial, this is it. A missile defense screen
destroys incoming weapons before they can kill innocent civilians
but has absolutely no offensive uses. The U.S. has already deployed
a handful of interceptors in Alaska and California, where they
could help protect our homeland if North Korea keeps up its missile
tests and grows its reach and capabilities.
Another set of defenses is scheduled to be deployed in Poland
and the Czech Republic, where they would be in place to protect
against the growing Iranian threat to Europe. Think of that:
American missile defense technology, working almost as a gift to
our allies in Europe.
Our missile defense systems have already passed crucial tests.
Last year, the Missile Defense Agency intercepted and destroyed a
test-target ballistic missile. A year earlier, the U.S. missile
defense system destroyed the mock warhead of a long-range missile.
In fact, since the start of the Administration of George W. Bush,
37 of 46 "hit-to-kill" missile defense tests have been successful.
We are amazingly adept at "hitting a bullet with a bullet."
Strangely, however, President Barack Obama wants deep cuts in
missile defense. His pending budget calls for a $1.62 billion
reduction in missile defense spending. That's roughly 15 percent
less than we'll spend this year, just as the program is getting up
The Administration is also pushing to trim the number of
ground-based midcourse defense interceptors from 44 to 30. That
makes no sense, especially with North Korea aggressively testing
long-range missiles. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns that Pyongyang may be able to hit the
continental United States with a missile within three years. We
need all the defensive weapons we can muster to counter that
Meanwhile, President Obama seems eager to rush through deep cuts
in our offensive strategic nuclear and conventional weapons systems
too. During a recent summit in Russia, the President agreed to
slash the number of America's operationally deployed strategic
nuclear warheads to 1,675 or fewer. The timing is odd, to say the
least, since the Administration has not yet completed its Nuclear
Posture Review, which is designed to let policymakers know which
weapons--and how many of them--our country needs.
The Administration also agreed with the Russians that we would
deploy fewer than 1,100 strategic weapon delivery systems. Since
these systems can also deliver conventional weapons, that is almost
like a double arms cut. The President seems to want to get a deal
done before December, when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
(START) officially expires. But since neither nation is planning to
build new nuclear weapons anyway, there is no need to hurry. Our
nation will remain secure, with or without START.
The missile defense cuts are part of a pattern of cuts in
overall defense spending. Obama has proposed that funding for the
core defense budget should increase by an average of around $10
billion each year through 2014. That may sound like a lot of money,
but in fact it represents no real growth, even as spending on other
programs will soar and our military is fighting a war. Obama
expects the core defense budget to amount to less than 3.3 percent
of GDP in 2014, a sharp reduction from today's 3.8 percent.
Meanwhile, this year's "stimulus" package alone doubled the
Department of Education's budget in one swift stroke. Soon, to
rephrase a bumper sticker that was popular in the 1970s, the Air
Force really may need to hold a bake sale. It could use the
proceeds to purchase new fighter aircraft.
The Obama Administration wants to cap production at just 187
F-22A planes and shut down the production line that produces those
planes. Meanwhile, Russia and China currently operate 12 fighter
and bomber production lines. The F-22 is the most advanced fighter
aircraft ever built, far superior to anything else in the air. With
enough F-22s, the Air Force could maintain air dominance for
decades. But without enough of them, others may rise to challenge
the U.S. in the air.
"Some foreign-built fighters can now match or best the F-15 in
aerial combat," noted Mark Bowden in the March issue of The
Atlantic. "Given the changing nature of the threats our country
is facing and the dizzying costs of maintaining our advantage,
America is choosing to give up some of the edge we've long enjoyed,
rather than pay the price to preserve it" by building enough
For now, lawmakers should agree to buy at least 20 more F-22s to
keep the production line going and bring the Air Force closer to
its long-term requirements.
The United States is unique in history. Our Navy dominates the
seas as no other nation has ever dreamed, yet we use that force to
protect international commerce and punish pirates.
Similarly, our Army and Marine Corps boast the best-trained,
most disciplined, best-equipped ground force ever deployed, yet
instead of capturing and annexing valuable land, we prefer to
defeat terrorists and help free people to set up democratic
governments. For more than a generation, our Air Force has not
flown in a sky that it didn't dominate completely.
Maintaining these advantages will require financial investments.
The Administration's long-term plans would fall short. It's time to
fix these misplaced priorities.
Feulner, Ph.D., is President of The Heritage Foundation.