No doubt talk around those always busy coffee nooks and hallways in DC think tanks these past few weeks centered around the question of America’s defense budget. And with various proposals floating around the corridors of power , great conservative think tank studies breaking down U.S. defense needs along with a spirited debate concerning the size of various armed forces like the navy , the conversation has certainly been flowing. And so it should, considering the times we live in .
America, in many respects, is a tired and weary superpower. Having fought two long and draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, many assumed that the nation rightly deserved some sort of “peace dividend.” And there is no doubt this makes sense—heck, it was done after the Cold War, why not now?
After spending trillions of dollars in the Middle East in wars that certainly warranted spirited debate throughout America many assumed that Washington would stay engaged in the world but scale back its military might to something more affordable but still worthy of the title of “superpower.” With superpower interests— the world’s largest economy, treaty allies around the world we have sworn to protect and easy to see global interests like protecting things like the global commons—a superpower military is a must.
Compounding America’s weary spell would be the hellacious Great Recession. Washington’s priorities naturally shifted to tackling the crisis. With a massive budget deficit and the nation staring down the worst financial disaster since the great depression, trimming the nation’s defense budget seemed to make even more sense. Cuts were expected by both sides of the aisle—but in a rational and reasonable manner.
Such a scenario sadly was not in the cards. Thankfully, America would slowly crawl out of the Great Recession—but with a massive that needed to be reigned in. Instead of taking a slow and measured response while ensuring America’s force posture met the needs of the present day, the political pressure of the moment dictated the course. The solution was the Budget Control Act and Sequestration. While cuts were scaled back slightly in 2014 and 2015, their impact has been felt dramatically—with some even questioning the ability of the United States to carry out a number of the core missions its forces should be able to carry out with ease.
Consider the recent comments of U.S. Adm. Jonathan Greenert , who explained that the massive cuts to the defense budget are essentially putting lives at risk—clearly not the mark of any superpower.
"The first mission at risk is to deter and defeat aggression, which really means to win a war at sea, while deterring another at sea in a different theater," Greenert explained at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday. “ They will arrive with insufficient ordnance (my emphasis), and they'll be without modern combat system sensors and networks that are required. And they will be inadequately prepared to fight." Translation here folks: that means in a conflict lots of Americans would die simply because we have not given them the tools they need to fight.
Other items that came out of Greenert’s testimony are just as shocking:
For operations today, we have sufficient munitions. For operations in the future, my benchmark year -- our benchmarks year is 2020. There's a series of missions we have to do. They're outlined on the card that I gave you, where they're effectively based on upon the war plans. We have insufficient munitions in 2020, even in -- and some munitions in the President's budget, they are air-to- air, they are surface-to-surface, if you will, cruise missile. Some of our air to ground and as the -- Senator Inhofe mentioned, the Joint Standoff Weapon, the JSOW. Now the air-to-air has to element. There's a longer range and a medium range. Both of those have shortfalls.
In our lightweight torpedo we have a shortfall and our heavyweight torpedo we have a shortfall. A shortfall is defined as the combatant command believes they need all of this to win in the mode, you know, campaign and you have to have enough to reload, so that you're not just standing around here, saying, well, we won, but we're empty, if you see what I mean. So that's kind of the baseline, sir.
Such comments are alarming—but we should not be surprised. Others have been making such remarks for a few years now. Congressman J. Randy Forbes explained to me back in December 2013 that “sequestration poses the most serious threat to our military’s readiness since the days of the ‘hollow force’ after the Vietnam War.” Forbes went on to add that “If sequestration is allowed to continue, nearly every aspect of our larger national defense strategy will be detrimentally impacted, including the ‘rebalance’ to the Asia Pacific.”