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Can the United States make a decision to reduce or modify spending on defense without jeopardizing the country's security goals?
I think that our rising debt level . . . poses a national security threat, and it poses a national security threat in two ways. It undermines our capacity to act in our own interest, and it does constrain us where constraint may be undesirable. And it also sends a message of weakness internationally.
—Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Council on Foreign Relations, 2010)
How safe is the United States? Since September 11, 2001, the perceived threat of terrorism has loomed large in Americans’ minds; however, what Americans worry about the most fluctuates with world events and the state of the economy: in a December 2015 poll by Gallup, many Americans identified terrorism as the top issue facing the United States (Riffkin, 2015). Nonetheless, as recently as 2014, 59% of Americans reported being worried about the economy “a great deal,” and 58% worried a great deal about federal spending and the budget deficit, whereas only 39% worried a great deal about the possibility of future terrorist attacks in the United States (Riffkin, 2014). As of August 2014, 43% of Americans felt the United States did not spend enough on national security, significantly up from previous years (Rasmussen Reports, 2014). These rapidly changing perceptions highlight the importance of both economic and security issues and the challenging trade-offs that must be made between them.
A significant portion of the federal budget is allocated to spending on defense (16% of the 2015 budget, or $602 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ). As the economy continues to struggle and political leaders from both parties agree that the debt and deficit present, at the very least, a long-term threat to economic growth and national security, defense is being added to the list of programs with budgets facing scrutiny. In this lesson, students will consider the counterintuitive possibility that too much spending on defense could endanger national safety. They will examine the effect federal spending on national defense has on the economy as a whole.
BE ABLE TO:
Day 1 of 2
Present students with the cartoon “Pentagon Cuts” (Resource 1) and ask them to consider its meaning. After students have studied the cartoon for several minutes, ask students what they notice, drawing them out on the detail of what they see. If students jump to an interpretation of the cartoon, ask them for the basis of the interpretation and ask other students if they agree or disagree.
If students are having difficulty getting into the cartoon, ask them more directed questions, such as:
Ask students whether they believe the public would generally agree or disagree with the artist’s opinion, and support the range of points of view students express. Consider introducing findings from the Gallup and Rasmussen surveys referenced in the introduction to this lesson.
LESSON STRATEGIES AND ACTIVITIES
Identifying Threats to National Security
Explain to students that national security is generally defined as the effort to protect the survival of a country as an independent nation-state with sovereignty over its own affairs. Divide the students into small groups and ask each group to identify which of the following issues they would judge to be the biggest threat to our national security: foreign terrorism, domestic terrorism, nuclear war, conventional war, unemployment, national debt, climate change, environmental disasters, or illegal immigration. Ask students within each group to try to reach a consensus about which one presents the greatest challenge to the country’s national security and explain why that issue is the most pressing. When each group has reached an agreement, lead the class in a discussion exploring the choices made by each group and the reasons behind those choices.
Inform students that on August 26, 2010, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, identified the national debt as the single biggest threat to national security. Based on their discussions, ask students to speculate about Mullen’s reasoning behind this statement and why he believes the debt threatens our sovereignty.
National Debt as a Threat to National Security
Provide students with a copy of the article “National Debt Poses Security Threat, Mullen Says” (Resource 2), and ask them to read the article individually or as a class. Depending on students’ reading level, consider defining specialized terms such as procurement, leverage, and fiscal. When the students have finished reading the article, instruct them to work with a partner to answer the questions that follow the article. As students work, walk from pair to pair, answering questions and ensuring student comprehension.
Day 2 of 2
Review of Previous Day’s Activity
Explain to students that today’s lesson will build upon what they learned yesterday about the defense budget and its relationship to the federal budget deficit and national debt. Open class with a group discussion guided by the following questions:
Inform students that they will read articles that discuss the level of government spending on national defense. Explain that each article represents a different point of view on the issue and that it is important that they understand these perspectives. The arguments they take from these articles will be used to inform their fiscal policy recommendations.
Students will participate in what is sometimes called a “jigsaw” (https://www.jigsaw.org/ ) to become familiar with the information in each article.
Students will begin work in groups of four students each. Distribute one of the four articles from Resource 3 to each group. More than one group may be assigned the same article. Following each article are several questions for the students to answer as a group. Tell them to read and discuss their article carefully and be ready to explain its point of view to students in other groups. When the students fully understand the article and have answered the questions, shuffle the groups so that each new group has an “explainer” (an expert) for each of the other articles. Ask the explainers to teach their article to others in the group. As the students discuss these articles, walk from group to group, answering questions and ensuring student comprehension.
See the Teacher’s Guide in Resource 3 for terms that may be unfamiliar to students. These words may need to be defined before distributing the articles. Additionally, key points have been identified for each article to help students understand the concepts presented.
After the groups are familiar with all four articles, lead a class discussion guided by the following questions to further assess students’ understanding. Encourage students to cite evidence from the readings to support their views about each question.
To conclude this activity, instruct students to write a brief essay based on the following situation:
Imagine you are a member of the President’s economic advisory committee. The economy is just emerging from a recession, and many are concerned that the recovery will falter and slip back into decline. The President has asked you for an opinion about military spending. Will you recommend that military spending be increased or decreased? The President expects you to take the arguments on both sides of the issue into consideration when you present your own point of view. The committee has research assistants that you are expected to use. What else would you want to know before making your recommendation?
[Though their answers will vary, students should identify the points of view in the lesson they find most persuasive and be realistic about what more they would need to know in order to speak with authority.]
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards
D2.Civ.6.9-12. Critique relationships among governments, civil societies, and economic markets.
D2.Civ.13.9-12. Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
NCSS’s National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
6. Power, Authority, and Governance. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
Center for Civic Education’s National Standards for Civics and Government
I.A. What Are Civic Life, Politics, and Government? Why are government and politics necessary? What purposes should government serve?
II.D. What Are the Foundations of the American Political System? What values and principles are basic to American constitutional democracy?
III.B. How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy? How is the national government organized and what does it do?
Carden, M. J. (2010, August 27). National debt poses security threat, Mullen says. American Forces Press Service. Retrieved from https://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=60621
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2016, March 4). Policy basics: Where do our federal tax dollars go? Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/policy-basics-where-do-our-federal-tax-dollars-go?fa=view&id=1258
Council on Foreign Relations. (2010, September 8). A conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Retrieved from http://www.cfr.org/diplomacy/conversation-us-secretary-state-hillary-rodhamclinton/p22896
Feldstein, M. (2009, December 24). Defense spending would be great stimulus. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123008280526532053
Fix the Debt Coalition. (n.d.). Q&A: Everything you need to know about the national debt. Retrieved from https://fixthedebt.org/national-debt-and-you
Frank, B., & Paul, R. (2010, July 6). Why we must reduce military spending. Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-we-must-reduce-milita_b_636051
Granlund, D. (2012, January 6). Pentagon cuts. PoliticalCartoons.com. Retrieved from http://www.politicalcartoons.com/cartoon/e322e3c7-bceb-4024-bfec-bfe44365180a.html
International Institute for Strategic Studies (2015). Top 15 Defence Budgets 2015. Retrieved from https://www.iiss.org/-/media/images/publications/the%20military%20balance/milbal2016/mb%202016%20top%2015%20defence%20budgets%202015.jpg?la=en
Jacobson, L., & Sherman, A. (2015). PolitiFact sheet: Military spending under Obama and Congress. Retrieved from https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/dec/14/politifact-sheet-our-guide-to-military-spending-/
Korb, L. J., & Conley, L. (2010). Strong and sustainable: How to reduce military spending while keeping our nation safe. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2010/09/pdf/defensecuts_execsumm.pdf
Rasmussen Reports. (2014, August 19). New high: 43% say U.S. doesn’t spend enough on national security. Retrieved from http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/august_2014/new_high_43_say_u_s_doesn_t_spend_enough_on_national_security
Riffkin, R. (2015, December 14). Americans name terrorism as no. 1 U.S. problem. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/187655/americans-name-terrorism-no-problem.aspx?g_source=Politics&g_medium=newsfeed&g_campaign=tiles
Riffkin, R. (2014, March 12). Climate change not a top worry in U.S. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/167843/climate-change-not-top-worry.aspx
University of Alabama-Birmingham. (2010, June 17). UAB study confirms military spending helps states survive poor economy. Retrieved from https://www.uab.edu/newsarchive/78097-uab-study-confirms-militaryspending-helps-states-survive-poor-economy
Grades 6-8, 9-12