Columns / Discourse / April 9, 2014

The greatest threat to U.S. security: Ignorant budgetary cuts

Above all things, when the founders of this nation brought forth draft after draft of a constitution for the new country in a new world, security was consistently a top priority. Protecting the nation today is, of course, much more of a difficult task than it was in 1776, but why is that? What is the greatest threat to American security in this modern day and age, the 21st century?

All over the world, conflict is brewing; I could list them, but if you’re reading the political columns, you’re most likely already aware of a majority of them. The fact of the matter is, no matter how many separate conflicts I could list, none of them would be directly relevant to what I believe is the greatest threat to American security.

What is worse than a country invading the countries around it? What could compare to bombing neighboring countries and murdering civilians, dividing countries and territories with walls? What could possibly be worse than war? We see it happen every day on television; we hear about Serbian children dying in their civil conflict, but do we actually feel the number of innocent casualties?

Of course we don’t. Many could say that they do, but I don’t think all of us, including myself, have truly grasped the concept of dying children in a war. Besides the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the most significant attack on America from an outside country was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and before that the British invasion of Washington DC in 1814.

Compared to other countries around the world, America’s home front has been left relatively untouched, no matter where our troops have been fighting. So what does this have to do with American security?

The answer is everything: the greatest threat to national security is the fact that not many understand how necessary the funding of national security is.

No matter the number of conflicts posing threats around the world, America is nothing if we do not protect ourselves in an efficient manner. The country is a much larger place than it was when it began, obviously, and technology has also made mass attacks on other nations very real and much easier than it was in the past.

Since World War I, the world, as whole, has known that war will never be the same as it had been in the 19th century. We are no longer fighting on an open field with muskets and bayonets in bare feet or on horses. The wars America may or may not face now or in the future revolve around weapons of mass destruction: poison gas, nuclear bombs, assault weapons and countless other means of human destruction exist today and are much harder to stop than a man on a horse with a dwindling number of bullets.

If we were still relying on Paul Revere to tell us if our enemies were on our doorstep, then perhaps national security would not be such a challenge. Sadly, the word is not as simple anymore, and security comes at a significant cost.

Is such a cost worth it, all of the tax payers’ dollars and time and effort from agencies such as the FBI, CIA and, not to mention the United States Armed Forces?

If it isn’t, we may as well just surrender ourselves to the next country that chooses to exercise and show off its power by utilizing violence.


Shannon Caveny

Tags:  American citizen defense budget drone strikes homeland security international intervention isolation terrorism threat

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Apr 10, 2014

Yes, funding for national security is a necessity. What many don’t understand is that the current size of our defense budget and its line item expenditures have very little to do with actual threats and absolutely nothing to do with necessity.

This statistic is thrown around a lot, but it’s worth reiterating: in 2012, the U.S. spent more on its defense budget than the next 10 countries combined. Those countries included India, which is consistently in the top 5 for annual number of terrorist attacks; China, which has serious (though dubiously ethical/legal) domestic security situations in Xinjiang, the South China Sea, and elsewhere; and Russia, the largest country in the world in terms of land area (and thereby arguably the most difficult/costly to defend).

What threats does the U.S. face? Nukes? Unlikely; no country but Russia can come close to matching our nuclear arsenal, and anyone who does attempt to strike us would be annihilated in return, which isn’t a solid long-term strategy. Terrorism? Yes, to some degree, although our troops abroad are at much greater risk than civilians at home. Conventional attacks against U.S. military outposts in foreign countries? Yes. Conventional and unconventional attacks against U.S. allies? Yes, although the definition of “ally” is slippery and dangerous.

Given the ever-evolving nature of weaponry and tactics, you might think that the U.S. would be spending a lot of money on R&D in order to better understand these threats and how to counter them. In truth, R&D spending has stayed at a pretty constant amount (it was $74 billion in 2011) since the early 2000s. This is a little more than 10% of the overall defense budget. The three largest chunks of defense spending consistently go towards personnel, operations (i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan, plus smaller endeavors), and weapons procurement. In short, we’re spending a lot of money paying people to be in two foreign countries, one of which we invaded on preemptive grounds and have turned into a disaster zone, and on fancy weapons systems like the F-22/35 and the Littoral Combat Ship, which, among other things, asphyxiate pilots and have difficulty turning. (Note to the detail-conscious: the LCS program is being scaled back.) What gets funding from the Pentagon and what doesn’t is largely dictated by contractors, corporations, and congressmen looking to keep jobs in their districts. (I’d recommend William Hartung’s impeccably researched “Prophets of War” if you’re interested in the relationship between defense appropriations and big business; he details the issue far more comprehensively than I can here.)

tl;dr: There are legitimate security concerns out there that threaten the U.S. and its allies. The U.S., however, is spending an exorbitant amount of money not addressing them and comparatively little on gaining a firmer grasp of the changing face of security and threats to it.

No one is arguing that national security is not incredibly important, and there will always be a place for conventional security measures and tactics. Is there a place for spending billions of dollars on outdated, inefficient, ineffectual policies and systems (at the cost of underfunding research into and defense against emerging threats) for one of the most naturally secure countries in the world in a strapped economy? Not so much.

(Full disclosure: Anna Meier. Knox ’13. Current terrorism/counterterrorism researcher for a DHS-funded entity. Formerly worked in a watchdog capacity on defense budget/weapons acquisitions issues.)

Apr 13, 2014

Yeah, this column seems fairly ignorant of the world at large, and takes on the perspective of a scared, reactive America, exactly the kind of America that funded Mujahideen in Afghanistan to defeat the Russians in the 1980s, the very Mujahideen that later aided in the 9/11 attacks. After all, you stated that Serbian children are dying in conflict right now – I think you mean Syria, a very different country.

As well, you conclude “we may as well just surrender ourselves to the next country that chooses to exercise and show off its power by utilizing violence.” Surrender? To Canada or Mexico?

I hope that next time, this columnist researches the actual security threats that are purportedly at our door.

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