Tonight at 8 p.m. ET, eight Republican presidential candidates will take the stage at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., to tell America where they stand on foreign policy and national security in a special debate hosted by The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, broadcast on CNN and moderated by Wolf Blitzer.

The debate marks the first time that either Heritage or AEI — both nonprofit, nonpartisan research institutes — has sponsored a presidential debate. Businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Representatives Ron Paul (TX) and Michele Bachmann (MN), former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT), and former Senator Rick Santorum (PA) will square off, addressing an issue that should be central for these contenders for the White House: Which presidential candidate will best protect our nation and amplify American leadership, and how will they do it?

That question is vitally important for the eight candidates in the spotlight this evening. Ensuring our country’s defense is a fundamental responsibility of the federal government, as set forth in the Constitution. And it is up to the President to take the lead in crafting American foreign policy while also serving as commander in chief of the armed forces.

Over the past weeks, Heritage has highlighted some of the central foreign policy and national security issues confronting America today: the threats to defense spending, a continually rising China, the war in Afghanistan and against terrorism, the failed attempt to “reset” relations with Russia, and the increasingly dangerous, hostile, and emboldened Iran. Each issue poses serious questions and choices for the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office.

This week in particular, defense spending has been in the headlines. Yesterday, the congressional “super committee” that was charged with developing a plan to reduce the federal deficit by more than $1.2 trillion announced its failure. As a result, funding for our military could be in jeopardy, with automatic cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described as “devastating.” President Obama has already slashed military spending, and Congress cannot solve the overspending problem by gutting defense. How the federal government funds our men and women in uniform is a vital issue that deserves attention.

That funding is necessary for America to adequately guard its interests at home and abroad. But spending is not the only issue. Building the right strategy is just as important to confront America’s challenges abroad. China has increased its defense budget by double digits every year for the last 20 years, while the United States is winding down its defense budget at a similarly rapid pace. Terrorist threats continue to emerge, and the International Atomic Energy Agency recently released a report confirming that Iran has made substantial progress in its nuclear weapons program. Though Osama bin Laden is no more, the gains the United States has made in waging the war in Afghanistan could be squandered if we continue on our plotted course. Likewise, our current posture toward Russia has failed because we have expected more from the Russians than they are willing to give under any circumstance.

Tonight, the eight Republican presidential candidates will have an opportunity to address questions surrounding these issues and how they would conduct American foreign policy and national defense. Join us as we watch the debate tonight at 8 p.m ET. Learn more about the issues and read our post-debate reaction and analysis at our blog, Follow our Twitter account (@heritage) for real-time updates about the debate and the issues. Throughout the day and during the debate, join the discussion on Facebook with our more than 388,000 fans. We want to hear from you and what you think.

The U.S. Constitution creates a government of the people to, among other things, “provide for the common defence.” The Founding Fathers believed this to be one of the fundamental responsibilities of the federal government, and they agreed that when America was threatened, the nation had to respond clearly and forcefully. It follows that the President of the United States must play a central role in executing this responsibility. We hope that tonight the eight Republican presidential candidates address the serious question of how they would carry out that duty, and we invite you to join us in watching and discussing this important debate.

The Republican presidential debate will air nationally tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on CNN and CNN en Español and worldwide on CNN International, CNN Radio, and

Quick Hits: