“National defense receives unique and elevated emphasis under the Constitution,” writes Ernest Istook of The Heritage Foundation. “It is not ‘just’ another duty of the federal government.” But as Congress looks for much-need cuts in federal spending, some are wrongly looking to balance the budget by decimating defense. That’s a dangerous road to head down.

As we note in our new video, we live in a hostile world, and being prepared — no matter the challenge — is key to the federal government living up to its constitutional duty to protect America. But as even as the military continues to wage war overseas, defense spending is at historic lows, all while critical investments in modern equipment are postponed. Jim Talent, distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former U.S. senator explains where our military stands today:

The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916. The Air Force inventory is smaller and older than at any time since the service came into being in 1947. The Army has missed several generations of modernization, and many of its soldiers are on their fourth or fifth tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Reserves have been on constant mobilization; many vital programs, such as missile defense, have been cut; and in the past two years, no fewer than 50 modernization programs have been ended.

Despite all this, President Barack Obama has called for $400 billion in cuts to our already overstretched military. Istook says that shortchanging defense in the budget debate ignores the emphasis placed on defense in the Constitution.

Article I, Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress in 17 separate clauses. Six of these pertain to national defense. These include raising and supporting armies and a navy, making the rules that govern the armed forces, and organizing, arming, and disciplining the state-level militia as well as the army and navy.

Unfortunately, current budget discussions are lopsided when they place military spending on the same priority level—or worse—as other spending. It is the height of irony that social spending is considered ‘mandatory’ whereas defense spending is considered ‘discretionary.’

If you’re concerned about federal spending (and why wouldn’t you be with the $14.3 trillion debt), keep in mind that even if Congress eliminated all defense spending, that still would not solve the federal spending crisis. There’s another reason not to cut defense, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warns:

If you cut the defense budget by 10%, which would be catastrophic in terms of force structure, that’s $55 billion out of a $1.4 trillion deficit,” he told the Journal’s CEO Council conference last November. “We are not the problem.”

Making those cuts isn’t a prerequisite to balancing the budget, either. Heritage’s new “Saving the American Dream” plan balances the budget without relying on tax increases, and it does so without gutting defense. And ensuring that our military is prepared today can even save money in the long term by deterring potential aggression against our interests and avoiding budget spikes to build up U.S. forces after a threat has shown up at America’s doorstep.

What do you think about calls to cut defense? Do you think it’s in keeping with our federal government’s constitutional duty? Join the conversation with a comment below.