On Friday, the nation will remember the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The anniversary comes at a time when the nation is pondering the future role of the U.S. military.
After Pearl Harbor, U.S. shipyards ramped up production for the Navy, and factories here in the region started producing tanks, ball bearings, powdered eggs and other products vital to the war effort. Some of those factories have retooled for the civilian sector, but military contracts remain important to the economy.
If the nation goes over the fiscal cliff at the end of the year, sequestration required by current federal law would impose major Pentagon spending cuts as well as entitlement reductions.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in October an estimated 13,273 private sector jobs in Indiana are at risk from projected Department of Defense spending reductions. Hoosier defense contractors could lose more than $659 million annually under the sequestration.
Addressing this fiscal emergency requires immediate attention. But deciding how to reshape the nation's military for its evolving role is vital as well.
In the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Republican Mitt Romney said the U.S. Navy said it needs 313 ships to carry out its mission. "We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me," Romney said.
Democrat Barack Obama responded, "We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
That presidential debate highlighted the debate on the nation's defense needs. The looming fiscal cliff sharpens that discussion.
U.S. military spending in 2011 was equal that of all the others on the list of the world's top 15 military spenders, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Cutting U.S. military spending wisely means facing the question of what role the military will have in the future.
A few things to look at:
- China is beefing up its navy. If the U.S. cedes its role keeping the world's ports open, how much risk is acceptable?
- If the U.S. maintains its air superiority, what role will ships and ground forces play?
- If the U.S. stops serving as the world's top cop, who would do it? And what would that mean for U.S. interests, not to mention Israel and other allies?
- What if the Nunn-Lugar threat reduction program falters, and a stray nuke or biological weapon falls in the hands of terrorists?
- If we scale down our military, does that make us a target by those who perceive us as weak?
Americans love peace, yet have been at war for much of the nation's history. Pearl Harbor, like 9/11, reminded Americans how fragile peace can be.