Published 9:07 am Saturday, May 17, 2014

by Randy Forbes

Walking along the quiet beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, visitors and residents come across wooden planks sticking up vertically from sandy embankments. Etched into the top of the planks are numbers — 5, 12, 23 — signaling the mile marker of the location on the strip of beach spanning the course of the Outer Banks. These signposts serve as important guides. No matter where you find yourself on the beach, you always know where you are relative to your original location.

Our Constitution serves as a similar type of signpost, providing valuable markers as we move forward as a nation. Just as the signposts on the beach, the articles and amendments in our Constitution serve as markers, reminding us of our purpose and place as a nation. They are meant to direct our decisions here in Congress. They help us in the midst of reflection, choice, and debate.

Recently, there has been a danger of ignoring or overlooking these Constitutional signposts in favor of political points or agenda advancement. Rather than an absolute guide, many have come to view the Constitution as merely a series of suggestions. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss three Constitutional signposts in particular that I believe need a renewed commitment from our nation and leaders in Washington. This week, I turn to Article I, Section 8 where we see a command to “raise and support Armies…To provide and maintain a Navy… .”

Every day we see the threats of the 21st century coming more clearly into focus. News of uprisings, terrorist threats, and regional tensions paint a clear picture of the national security challenges we will continue to face in the coming decades. China is expanding its military capabilities at a rapid rate. Earlier this year, President Xi Jinping called on China to use its armed forces to persistently defend its national interests.

The commitment we make today towards our national defense impacts our own national security, as well as the security of our friends and allies. The level of our commitment to building our national defense today will determine our level of preparedness for decades to come. Are we prepared to face these global challenges for the long term? I would argue that we are not.

Instead of making our national security a priority, the current Administration’s intent to plan and resource for 21st century global challenges is far from serious. Reckless cuts to our national defense pose a grave danger to U.S. national security. Our ships are aging. In 1990, the U.S. had a 546-ship Navy; today we have 285. We have a shrinking force. The U.S. had 76 Army brigades in 1990; today we have 45. Two decades ago, the Air Force had twice as many fighter squadrons and bombers as today. Over a third of active Army units do not have sufficient personnel to perform their missions. We do not have a comprehensive missile defense with air, land, and sea capabilities.

A robust national defense is essential to securing U.S. interests across the globe, but it’s not enough to talk about raising armies and navies. Aspirations lie dormant without action. We need resources to propel us forward.

Our Founding Fathers deemed Article I, Section 8 so important that they made it a constitutionally mandated priority. Why this level of commitment? Because they knew that without a strong national security, our fledgling nation would falter. They knew something as unique and vulnerable as the American experiment deserved the utmost protection.

Today, we aren’t the same fledgling nation we were over 200 years ago. While our core convictions are the same, we have grown and adapted to new challenges and opportunities. Today, more than a fledgling experiment in representative democracy, the United States of America serves as a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope and freedom to millions across the globe.

We have a responsibility to be economical about our defense budget dollars, particularly as it relates to waste, but this doesn’t mean we have to cheapen the Constitutional command to provide for a common defense. To lack vigilance in our investment in national security fails a central tenet of our constitutional duty.

Providing for the common defense is a Constitutional signpost because it is necessary for a well-guarded peace. We cannot afford to cheapen our national security. We must ensure our military men and women are the best trained, best equipped in the world. We would be foolish to ignore the signpost, because a strong defense means a strong America.

 U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is