The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Many pundits ascribe to the theory that the “common defense” is the most important duty of the federal government. But in so doing, they overlook the emphasis that the Founding Fathers seemed to place on the need for union, justice, and public tranquility. These are the preconditions needed for an internal consensus that would be strong enough to motivate men (and women) to mount a “common defense” in time of national danger. Arguably, union, justice, and domestic tranquility are but specific aspects of the “general welfare.”

That term covers all the other elements – including the recovery from and remediation of tragedies such as that on Sept. 11 – which help build a sense of nationhood. Indeed, publicly and privately, the nation has been generous in the aftermath of Sept. 11, with the government allocating $8.3 billion of the second $20 billion emergency supplemental to help with recovery. But as America moves into 2002, there is a real danger that the “general welfare” will be overpowered by traditional concepts of “common defense.”

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 defense appropriation bill stands at $320.9 billion. That’s a 6.3 percent ($20 billion) increase over FY 2001. The administration is hinting strongly that, in addition to a FY 2002 supplemental, its FY 2003 request will boost defense spending by as much as $40 to $50 billion as the “war” on terror spreads beyond Afghanistan.

Sports popularized the axiom that the best defense is a good offense. If this is true for the military, ought it not be true for other responsibilities of government?

Even in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the response for non-military departments who are on the front lines of defense internationally and domestically has not been of equal measure to the allocations for the Pentagon.

Take non-military foreign aid. The World Health Organization estimates that “essential healthcare interventions” in the world’s 60 poorest countries requires spending $38 per person per year, but that only $13 per capita is being spent now.

Historically, including in post-Civil War America, the kind of economic growth that offers hope and encourages self-help, instead of resentment and terrorism, does not begin until rampant diseases are controlled. In the United States, per capita spending on health care is $4,500.

But the United States is last among the 22 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in the amount it contributes as a percentage of gross domestic product to help other nations fight disease, poor health, ignorance, and poverty.

On the home front, the $20 billion emergency supplemental bill contained $2.5 billion to help equip local public health systems to combat bioterrorism.

Fine. But local systems need an estimated $10 billion over the next five years just to get modern communications most Americans take for granted – high speed Internet access and e-mail – and to develop emergency response plans. In the FY 2002 budget, just $500 million is earmarked for these tasks.

Medical research in particular is a prime instance in which an aggressive offense is imperative. FY 2002 funding for the National Institutes of Health is $23.6 billion, an increase of just $3.2 billion over 2001. And this amount was part of the pre-Sept. 11 budget request for FY 2002.

Fighting terrorism cannot be ignored. But perhaps the definition of terror needs to be expanded to include not only armed assaults, but also the lack of nutritious food, basic health services, fundamental education, and shelter for our own citizens, as well as for others. Looked at from the perspective of removing the causes of terrorism, providing for the “general welfare” is the same as providing for “the common defense.”

Colonel Daniel M. Smith (Ret.), a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, is director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information, a non-profit research group dealing with military affairs.

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