Among the few enumerated powers given to the federal government by the U.S. Constitu­tion are those pertaining to its responsibil­ity to provide for the security of the United States of America. Unlike so many things the government does that can arguably be done more effectively and efficiently by the states or the people themselves, the defense of our country and its interests can only be done effectively and efficiently by the fed­eral government. When our government fails in this responsibility, it undermines the foundation upon which all other aspects of our country are built or made possible.

The vision of The Heritage Foundation is “to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosper­ity, and civil society flourish.” Arguably this begins with ensuring an America that does not have to fear the threats of foreign powers, that is strong enough to protect its people and defend its interests abroad, and that earns the respect, friendship, and support of like-minded countries around the world to the benefit of our people.

But if our government is to “provide for the com­mon Defence and general Welfare of the United States”1 it seems reasonable that it would take pains to know just what it needs to do so, based on a set of clearly articulated national interests and an under­standing of threats to those interests. Further, the citizenry of the United States would be reasonable to expect that their government regularly and con­sistently reviews such matters to ensure the military capabilities of America are always sufficient to fulfill the purpose for which they are raised and sustained in the first place—to ensure that our country and its interests are protected. Unfortunately, this does not happen.

Our federal government has no consistent, stan­dardized, and publicly accessible approach to reviewing on a year-by-year basis America’s ability to defend its interests. Congress concluded much the same thing in 1996 when it mandated that a “com­prehensive examination of the defense strategy, force structure, force modernization plans, infra­structure, budget plan, and other elements of the defense program and policies” was needed and that such a review should be completed by the Secretary of Defense every four years.2 However, what started as a good idea to impose discipline on the process of linking the ends, ways, and means of national defense quickly devolved into a bureaucratic exer­cise in program justification devoid of the strategic outlook mandated by Congress. As a result, there is no consistent reference available to Congress, to the American people, or even to the military by which one can ascertain whether America’s security condi­tion is improving or degrading from one year to thenext. By extension, it is hard to know whether the taxes paid by Americans and spent on defense are actually being put to good use.

We harbor no illusion that we can replicate the detailed analysis that the military services are capable of performing. But we are confident in our ability to identify the vital interests of our country, assess the condition of our world and the challeng­es posed by competitors, and report on the status of our nation’s military forces given the wealth of information that is publicly available and reported to Congress by the Department of Defense and the military services.

This inaugural edition of The Heritage Founda­tion’s Index of U.S. Military Strength presents our research and findings. We have marshalled a remarkable array of talent, experience, and judg­ment not only from within our own team but also from a wide range of subject matter experts in aca­demia, the defense analytic community, industry, government agencies, and the military establish­ment who generously contributed their time and tal­ents to this effort, most often with no desire for pub­lic acknowledgement.

It is our hope that Members of Congress, their staffs, our nation’s security professionals, and all Americans who have an interest in the security, freedom, and future of our country find this Index of use in discussing the condition of America’s mili­tary strength.

Jim DeMint, President
The Heritage Foundation
January 2015

  1. U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 8. []
  2. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, Public Law 104–201, § 923, (accessed December 19, 2014). []

Assessing America's Ability to Provide for the Common Defense