Getting America’s fiscal house in order ought to be a priority, but it should not come at the expense of protecting the American people. Here are 10 reasons why gutting defense is wrong.

#10. We are a nation at war. Even the White House acknowledges that the U.S. will be conducting operations in Afghanistan through 2014 and that America will remain engaged in Iraq as well. Cutting defense would mean that wars would be funded by robbing resources from readiness, training, and buying new equipment. Our troops would suffer.

#9. The Pentagon’s bill is getting bigger, not smaller. Congress has under-funded buying new equipment by about on average $50 billion a year for over a decade. Every year our men and women in uniform deploy with older and less equipment—planes older than their pilots, the smallest navy since 1916. Cutting the budget means our military would go hollow. Simply calling to cut “Cold War” systems we don’t need won’t cut it. Our troops need something—not nothing. They can’t fight without ships, planes, and vehicles.

#8. The world is getting less safe, not more. We face no fewer threats than we did last year, so how can cuts to defense be justified? Talk of defense cuts are music to the ears of North Korea and Iran. China would be thrilled. If overseas bases had been closed and capabilities eliminated, as proposed by various debt reduction proposals, the U.S. would not have been able to respond to Pyongyang’s latest tirade.

#7. Americans want to be defended. Americans overwhelmingly support a strong national defense. They would never want to see America humiliated again as it was at Desert One or Task Force Smith. They would never want to see the homeland at risk from foreign threats. The Pentagon cannot provide trained and ready forces, conduct current operations, and prepare for future with defense cuts. Cuts would turn the military from the world’s finest fighting force into a paper tiger.

#6. Defense cuts would mean a whole lot less defense. What primarily make defense spending inefficient are overly prescriptive laws, particular demands, and whipsaw policies established by Congress. When the budget is cut, the inefficiencies Congress created in the past don’t automatically make go away. In fact, since they are still there, trying to do more with less becomes even more difficult and far less efficient. The American taxpayers would be paying for all the inefficiencies without getting much capability in return.

#5. Savings cannot be saved. Defense spending can be made much more efficient. The Heritage Foundation, for example, has identified $35 billion that can be recouped from improving logistic practices. But savings must be put back in top line of defense budget. Working to make the Pentagon more efficient without cutting the Pentagon budget is the single and most cost-effective way to dramatically enhance our military without adding to the deficit or raising taxes.

#4. The budget can be balanced without gutting defense. The Heritage Foundation has identified over $340 billion in savings without gutting what our men and women in uniform need to defend us. What is bankrupting government is “big government,” not defense. National defense now ranks fourth in overall government spending priorities, falling behind the combined cost of Social Security and Medicare, public education, and means-tested welfare aid. A recent report by Robert Rector at The Heritage Foundation shows how welfare spending has leapfrogged over the Pentagon’s budget. In 10 years, he finds, our state and federal governments will shell out $10.3 trillion on welfare programs (and that’s not counting the trillion-dollar-plus increase in federal health spending from Obamacare).

#3. Gutting defense makes progressives’ life easy. Progressives are interested only in big government, and they’ll fight to keep it any price—including compromising national security. The defense budget is a tempting and easy target for liberals. Putting big defense cuts on the table takes pressure off the left to address big government spending. Cutting defense just encourages further fiscal irresponsibility in Washington.

#2. Defense spending is already at near historic post–World War II lows. Base defense spending as a percentage of GDP is about half of what it was during the Cold War. It is the lowest spending in wartime in the nation’s history. The defense budget since the 1950s has plummeted from one-half to less than one-fifth of the federal budget. The world is less safe today, and the military is struggling to keep up because of the “peace dividend” taken under Clinton. Taking another withdrawal on our security account will put the nation at grave risk.

#1. Providing for the common defense is an obligation established by the Constitution. No other duty of government is more explicitly laid out in the Constitution. It is the one thing Washington ought to be doing and last thing it ought to be cutting. Slashing defense sends the message that the priorities established by the Founding Fathers are no longer relevant—and it is that kind of thinking that placed our nation in the current economic peril it faces to begin with.

Congress should seriously scrutinize the defense budget and make sure the American taxpayer gets the most for every security buck, but Congress should not put defense “on the table” as trading card to get Washington to deal with the problem of bloated government.