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Consider Broad Economic Impact of Defense Cuts

Op-Ed

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A recurring debate in Congress surrounds the level of defense spending necessary to preserve our national security. The United States possesses far more military power than any other nation, which some claim is already sufficient to protect our state and allies. Others assert that additional spending is necessary to address new threats in an uncertain world environment. While this discussion merits attention, there are other considerations. Our national security system employs millions of hardworking Americans, supports the manufacture of goods that we export to the world, and fosters technology that will improve our everyday lives. Every dollar spent in our defense budget has an impact on our economy. Whether we believe that the security budget is too large or to small, one thing is for certain: any adjustment we make will affect individuals at every level.

We see this in my home state of Hawaii, where a recent study showed that defense spending made up about nearly one fifth of our economy, making it second only to our visitor industry as an economic driver. As home to military personnel representing every branch of the armed services and a large contingent of federal civilian employees, this figure is not surprising. But not all of that money is spent on salaries to military personnel and federal employees; a sizable portion is invested in critical research and development that generate the tools we need for tomorrow.

Defense R&D dollars have led to important programs, like the Navy's biofuels initiative. During the recent RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii, the Navy unveiled its "Great Green Fleet," which runs on a blended fuel that burns cleaner than petroleum and weans the Navy of its dependence on a single energy source. As has been true in the past, with the military as a primary consumer these fuels will continue to become less expensive and more efficient, which helps make them feasible for use in the civilian world. And for those who argue that government agencies should not serve as market creators, look around today's American homes and you may find high-performance solar cells, in-ear thermometers, or memory foam mattresses. Many of us have GPS in our cars. Most of us have cell phones.

Developing these technologies leads to more than innovation and convenience; it also creates jobs, and more specifically "green jobs." Creation of these jobs leads to a more competitive America, and expands a sector in which our country can be at the forefront, all the while improving on efforts to preserve the environment. The people that fill these jobs are piloting efforts like the one we see at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where development of clean technology has led to an achievable goal of having the installation purely self-sufficient on renewable and alternative energies by 2015. These initiatives can help us lead the world on a path to sustainable and clean growth.

Our defense investments also help guarantee the security of world commerce. Our partners around the globe depend on our continued military presence and naval supremacy to ensure the safe transport of goods and sustain a high level of trade and shared prosperity. This again creates and sustains jobs, for without our security presence the world would assume tremendous risk in our global trade system. Quite simply, our military spending is what ensures the world keeps working in a stable fashion.

It is clear that our government must work to get our fiscal house in order, but we must do it responsibly while considering the consequences of rash adjustments to defense spending. Recent efforts of Congress like the Budget Control Act, which would inflict devastating and disastrous cuts on these critical dollars, must be rectified by taking a balanced approach to revenues and spending cuts in order to preserve this crucial funding. By taking the time to deeply examine the matter, it becomes clear that our defense spending is critical to every sector of the global economy, and is a driving force that keeps the machinery of world trade turning.


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