National defense and budget realities; cuts are essential


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Posted Online: Dec. 09, 2012, 6:00 am
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By Dan Lee
With the fiscal cliff staring us in the face, everything has to be on the table. Everything. That includes military spending, which many view as close to sacred. As in other areas, decisions must be made as to what is essential.

That which is essential should be kept. That which is not essential should be let go.

The painful memories of 9/11 serve to remind us that there are evil people in this world intent on harming us. We have every right to defend ourselves. Indeed, to fail to do so would be to abandon our friends and neighbors, our children and grandchildren.

Counter-terrorism measures, as long as they are consistent with the ethical principles that ought to guide our nation, are essential. But what about nuclear-powered fast attack submarines designed to counter a threat from the former Soviet Union that no longer exists? How many of them do we really need? Should we build any more Virginia class fast attack submarines? Do we really need to keep all of our Los Angeles class fast attack submarines that are currently operational?

What about carrier strike groups? Do we really need 11? Or would seven or eight suffice? Should we really be building new aircraft carriers in this time of financial crisis? Or might we be able to make do with what we have?

And what about supersonic jet fighters? The advanced-technology fighters that Air Force and Navy pilots fly are superior to those flown by every other country of the world. Moreover, they exceed in number those of all other countries of the world combined. How many do we really need?

Yes, I know that if construction of new aircraft carriers and other weapon systems is curtailed, jobs will be lost in the factories and shipyards that build these weapons of war.However, if we don't get our fiscal house in order, there will be many more jobs lost as the result of an underperforming economy.

In sorting out what should be done, we need to take a hard look at which threats are real and which ones are not of great magnitude. The threat of renewed terrorist attacks is real. The threat posed by the obsolete aircraft carrier that China recently commissioned is not something that we need to worry about.

While maintaining an adequate military capability is essential, with some reserve capacity to draw upon if needed, we need to come to grips with the fact that the major threats to our survival and well-being today are economic, not military, in nature. We cannot go on piling up trillion dollar deficits, with a substantial portion of our national debt financed by China, a country which isn't particularly concerned about our best interests.

We cannot survive in a competitive world economy if our schools continue to underperform, compared to those in other countries. When measured by standardized test scores, the elementary and secondary schools in Shanghai are the best in the world, with U.S. schools lagging far behind. That's something about which we ought to be concerned.

On Sept. 2, 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the most astute presidents we have ever had when it came to national defense and military matters, signed into law the National Defense Education Act (NDEA).

This was set against the backdrop of growing concern that the United States was falling behind the former Soviet Union in the areas of science and technology, concern heightened by the fact that a year earlier, the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite placed in orbit around the earth -- something that the United States had not yet accomplished.

The National Defense Education Act, which extended to all areas of education, not just science and technology, played a crucial role in strengthening the U.S. educational system.

Might the interests of our nation be well served by taking a portion of the money that might be saved by scaling back on expensive high-tech weapons systems and using it to finance a new National Defense Education Act?

Dan Lee, who served in the U.S. Navy, teaches ethics at Augustana College; danlee@augustana.edu.
















 



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