While the President and Congress agreed to dramatic military budget cuts, the threats against the U.S. and our interests continue to grow.
As we’ve drawn back our forces in recent years, cutting troop numbers and whittling funding, Russia has invaded Ukraine, China has illegally claimed islands belonging to its neighbors, and built new ones out of thin air, and ISIS has committed 70 terror attacks in 20 countries, including here in the United States.
President Obama recently told a reporter, “very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership.” That is a change in mantra from leading from behind during the Arab Spring in Libya, or watching as Russia took an outsized role in the Syrian conflict.
It is time for the U.S. to act on the president’s declaration, and lead. We need a strong, trained, funded, and modernized military force to do that. We have seen what happens when the U.S. military, the most powerful force for good in the world, perhaps in history, withdraws as a global presence; just turn on your television. When we disengage, our enemies and adversaries see a vacuum and exert their own interests, to the long term detriment of the U.S., and usually to other peace-loving democracies.
A stronger military and broader U.S. presence is in fact a way to ensure peace, not destabilize it. As we attempt to save funds by cutting our military, we in fact empower forces that will cost significantly more to deter or combat in the future.
The Taliban now controls more of Afghanistan than at any point since the U.S. invasion. Iraq collapsed without U.S. guidance, pressure, and force protection. Troops in Syria were the first overt use of Russian military forces outside the former Soviet Bloc in twenty-five years. Iran signed a favorable nuclear deal, and immediately seized U.S. sailors at gunpoint and then tested ballistic missiles against U.N. resolutions.
It is estimated that by 2020 China will have 350 naval vessels, while the U.S. Pacific Fleet currently numbers only 80 surface ships. Today we are seeing the South China Sea regional nations boost their own defense spending to counter Chinese growth, purchasing hardware they have never had before. A stronger U.S. presence in the area is needed to prevent dangerous miscalculation that could spark an escalation in hostilities.
Toe-to-toe, U.S. military capability is unmatched, but we have yet to invent a ship that can be in two places at once. As Admiral Scott Swift, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said at a conference in Southeast Asia, there is a “palpable sense that might makes right.” As we have seen in recent years, it not just in the Pacific that might is making right. We are now less able to deter our adversaries than ever.
General John Paxton, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps testified before Congress saying “I worry about the capability, and the capacity to win in a major fight…” He argued, as did other services, that after military budget cuts, training has suffered for those units not deployed to action. Paxton also said that “all of our intelligence and communications battalions… would be unable to execute their full wartime mission requirements if called upon today.” He worried about the state of Marine aviation, a department that has suffered from funding problems, with 80 percent of units lacking the training and response aircraft they need to fulfil their mission. Paxton was not alone in his concerns.
Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said the Army is ready to fight terror threats, but added, “when we talk about risk, we’re talking about great-power war with one or two countries: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.” The Acting Army Secretary recently said that the budget for next year was minimally adequate: the Army has lost fourteen combat brigades in the last five years.
The Secretary of the Air Force testified that she has 79 fewer fighter squadrons than were available twenty five years ago. This comes at a time when Russia has flown more bomber aircraft patrols outside Russian airspace at any time since the Cold war, and while flights in the English Channel surpass those of even the old Soviet Union, according to North American Aerospace Defense Command.
With the budget deal this past fall, Congressional Armed Services Committee chairmen McCain and Thornberry have said the military is still operating $18 billion under budget, cutting, among other systems and programs, 24 Blackhawks, 50 Joint Strike Fighters, and five Navy cruisers.
A strong defense should be our nation’s number one priority and the U.S. must return its military to its proper footing. We are at war with ISIS abroad while it attacks us at home, and we are being tested by our greatest adversaries and other rogue nations. Nations that do not align their national security interests with the U.S. or our allies will fill the void we leave in global leadership. This will only further destabilize the world- something dangerous to our security and our prosperity.
It is the responsibility of Congress to increase defense spending to at least the baseline proposed by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in his Fiscal Year 2012 defense budget, and ensure those funds are used appropriately. The ancient Roman maxim still holds true today: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
National security is too complex and too important to boil down into a brief list, but I propose we start with the following ten items for immediate action:
- Strengthen military pay and retention programs to retain our servicemen and women, ultimately leading to a larger, stronger standing army, rather than letting our forces continue to decline.
- Expand the Navy’s fleet by a few dozen ships, including more attack submarines and a new aircraft carrier, to keep pace with the growing tensions in the Pacific, and to meet the mission set by military and civilian leaders.
- Expand and modernize the Air Force’s aging aircraft assets by funding additional Joint Strike Fighters.
- Prioritize upper tier missile defense systems: increase interceptor inventory and build upon current hit-to-kill technology as North Korea threatens us with nuclear annihilation and Iran laughs off U.N. sanctions to perform its own ballistic missile tests. With these dangers, the president’s plan to cut more than $600 million in Missile Defense Agency funds does not make sense.
- Restore funding for cruise missile defense technology at home and abroad through airborne aerostats with sensors and radars that improve interceptor capability, like the Joint Land Attack Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).
- Halt to using Overseas Contingency Operations funding for non-emergencies.
- End the type of Congressional pet projects that support home district military facilities, but don’t necessarily provide realized security, wasting limited defense dollars that could be better allocated to more vital assets.
- Boost training, modernization and maintenance budgets to prevent a lull in troop and equipment readiness, post Iraq and Afghanistan. For years now we have been on a war footing, but not matching that stress on our troops and equipment with proper war readiness.
- Modernize and grow the National Guard and further expand its training to provide the Guard and the Reserves more flexibility in filling resource gaps in specialized areas like cyber, information operations and infectious disease outbreak management.
- Prioritize hardening of our capabilities and infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattack from adversaries like Russia and China, including our GPS infrastructure, as well as building and outfitting the Department of Defense Cyber Mission Force.