With Congress set to kick off its 2012 session in just a couple of weeks, now is the perfect time to consider what the government’s primary goals should be for the new year.

The economy and the election will rightly command the most attention, but we must remember that defending America is always the government’s primary responsibility.

To formulate an effective defense strategy for 2012, Congress and the President should not only consider military funding and strategy but, more importantly, how to properly balance national security and liberty.

In the newest addition to Heritage’s Understanding America series, Charles Stimson and Andrew Grossman discuss the key decisions that have allowed the United States to be both the safest and the freest nation in history. Key to America’s success has been its Constitution of limited powers with checks and balances that maximizes civil liberty while still allowing for an energetic national defense:

The Constitution’s Framers placed their faith not in specific guarantees of rights—those came later—but in an elegant system of checks on government.… These arrangements provide the flexibility necessary to ensure security and the restraint essential to safeguard liberties.

Furthermore, America’s vigilant devotion to free elections allows the American people to correct government excesses in either direction.

Americans would do well to reflect on this wisdom, for, as Stimson and Grossman note, nations that have traded freedoms for promises of security—or security for unlimited freedom—have achieved neither.