Madam President, yesterday the National Defense Strategy Commission released its report after about a year of study for the defense needs of the United States and our future requirements for defense strategy and funding of that strategy. I had the honor of serving on that commission during the time that preceded my current presence in the U.S. Senate.
The Commission was appointed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. There were six appointed from each of the two bodies, so a total of 12, and it was a division equally between Republicans and Democrats. I was privileged to have been appointed by my predecessor, Senator John McCain.
The commission is chaired by Ambassador Eric Edelman and Admiral Gary Roughead, Retired, and it included defense experts who had served in Congress, who had served in the intelligence community, the diplomatic community, and the military. There was one former political person—myself. As I said, we were tasked with the job of studying our National Defense Strategy and providing recommendations to the Secretary of Defense and to the Congress about our future courses of action.
The Commission worked very hard to review all of the pertinent information related to the formation of the Trump administration National Defense Strategy, which had been issued earlier in the year. This effort included examining the assumptions, the missions, the force posture, the structure, as well as strategic and military risks associated with the execution of that National Defense Strategy.
The Commission particularly focused on threats to the United States and the size and shape of the force required to deter and, if necessary, defeat these threats. It focused on the readiness of our force, the posture and capabilities of the force, and the allocation of resources. It also examined the strategic and military risks that informed the development of both the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy.
This Commission has demonstrated that, even in Washington, DC, it is possible to get a genuinely bipartisan consensus on something—in this case, our consensus on United States’ national security. We agreed that, for example, budget-driven strategies that assume too much risk will cost us more in the long run than properly funded strategies based on the realistic assessment of the current strategic environment. That is kind of a long way of saying that what this bipartisan commission concluded, on a consensus basis—no dissenting views at all—was that we risk more by proceeding with the rebuilding of our military constrained by budget requirements than if we were to increase the budget for defense spending and eliminate the impediments to sensible acquisition, such as the continuing resolution and the sequestration requirements that Congress has been engaged in over the past several years.
What this Commission said, in stark headlines, is that the United States faces a national emergency. It concluded, in very stark terms, that we might lose a war with China or Russia, and that the only way to avoid this is to adequately fund the strategy that the Secretary of Defense has set out. His prioritization, the Commission concluded, is exactly right: We have to change from focusing solely or primarily on fighting a war in the Middle East or conflicts with terrorists, and instead change to focusing on the threats that are posed by potential adversaries—Russia and China. If we have the capability of dealing with those threats by deterring them or, if necessary, defeating them, then we should also have the ability to deal with terrorism, to deal with North Korea and deal with Iran, but our first priority needs to be to focus on China and on Russia.
The NDS Commission report argues: The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military forces be required to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.
Some might oppose such strong wording, but the Commission believed we had to be able to talk honestly about the state of our military preparedness and our national security.
As Ambassador Edelman, Chairman of the Commission, stated, ‘‘It is probably more dangerous to tell ourselves and other people that we’re going to be able to do these things when, in fact, we aren’t able to do them because we’re not paying for them.’’
The object of a strong military is to deter conflict from ever occurring. You do that by demonstrating you are able to prevail in a conflict if necessary. You have to have the capability of defeating any adversary you might face. If you have that capability, those adversaries are less likely to miscalculate, to assume they might be able to advance their parochial interests without a pushback from the United States, NATO, or our other allies, and they come to this belief if they examine their capabilities against ours and determine we are lacking in the ability to stop them.
What this report says is that we have to get serious about rebuilding our military, or we run the risk of bad actors in the world deciding they can take a chance that we will not respond.
Let me summarize what this report says. Again, I can’t emphasize this too much. I know it is Washington, DC. I know we are talking about difficult issues here, but these 12 Democrats and Republicans, equally divided, reached a conclusion, a consensus, about what we need to do, and we are willing to speak very strongly about it. It is possible for Democrats and Republicans to get together on something in this city, and I am hoping my colleagues in the House and in the Senate will approach the issues in the same bipartisan spirit that characterized the deliberations of the Commission.
Here is the summary:
First, we are in a state of national emergency. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the United States is at risk of losing a war against these peer competitors—that is a euphemism for China and Russia.
Second, there is a bipartisan consensus that Congress must provide predictable and sufficient funding for the Department of Defense to execute the strategy it has developed—the National Defense Strategy. This means Congress must undo sequestration, which is the provision in law that says that if we don’t meet certain budget requirements, all Departments of the government, including the Department of Defense, have to cut right off the top an equal percentage of funding in order to get back to those budget levels. For the Defense Department, it is impossible to both provide for our national security and comply with that requirement, so sequestration has to end.
We have to return to the regular order of appropriating funding for the Department of Defense on an annual basis at the beginning of each fiscal year so the Pentagon can do the planning necessary and the people who provide the weaponry and other products to the Defense Department can plan adequately for the development and production of these items on a sensible basis, on a basis that enables them to calculate in the future how much money they will have over the period of time they need. We can’t do that if, instead, we continue to operate on what are called continuing resolutions, where Congress throws up its hands sometime in the late summer and says: We are never going to agree on how much to fund the various Departments of government, including the Department of Defense. Let’s just agree to continue to do the same amount of spending we did last year on the same things.
Think about that in your family budget. Each year, instead of trying to figure out what you are going to need this year—and it is going to be a little different from last year—you say: We will just spend the same amount we spent last year on the same things. It is a very illogical way and it is a very detrimental way for us to provide for our national defense.
The third thing the Commission recommended is that we have to increase the top line or the total amount of money spent on defense over the next several years if we are going to truly rebuild our military. Last year, a deal was struck in which we agreed to a 2- year funding for the Department of Defense that staunched the flow of blood from the inadequate funding of years previous. All it did was to temporarily provide funds, primarily to increase our readiness. It did not provide enough to rebuild our military. It provided enough to start the journey, which may take us 15 or 20 years, but that is how long, with increased funding, it will take to do the job.
We concluded that we ignore the issues at our peril, that today our adversaries undermine U.S. goals on a daily basis and that continued neglect of our defense capabilities puts our Nation at risk.
What are the specific conclusions? This report reports that America’s military superiority has ‘‘eroded to a dangerous degree’’ and that the United States is in a ‘‘crisis of national security.’’ It says that ‘‘the United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.’’
In other words, we are in a state of national emergency, and this country is at risk of actually being defeated by Russia or China should we find ourselves in conflict with them. Nobody is predicting a war today or even tomorrow, but we have seen the nationalistic designs that China has in its region of the world, and we have seen repeated efforts by Vladimir Putin’s Russia to advance its sphere of influence, particularly in Eastern Europe—the taking of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine, the shooting down of a civilian airliner, the use of chemical agents—prohibited by treaties, by the way—on foreign soil to deal with people with whom it disagrees. Somebody has likened Vladimir Putin to the burglar in a hotel who walks down the hallway pushing on each door until he finds one that is not locked so he can go in and burglarize. He is an opportunist who takes advantage of weakness. The last thing we want to do is to suggest to him that we would not or could not respond to actions he takes. In other words, to prevent him from miscalculating, we have to deter conduct that could lead to conflict.
The way the Russian military doctrine works these days is, it starts with a hybrid war. It is not a fighting war to begin with. It is done through cyber attacks, through propaganda, through actions that perhaps utilize contractors rather than the Russian military to go into another country so that they have plausible deniability until they have achieved their initial goals and then have the Russian military move into the area and even potentially, according to Russian doctrine, use nuclear weapons. They would do this on a tactical basis to do what they call escalate to deescalate—in other words, to suggest to NATO, the United States, and other allies that our responding to that attack could lead to a nuclear conflagration.
The Russians have the tactical weapons. They have 10 times more than we do, so they can use them on a battlefield and then say: Look, we have taken the territory we want to take. We are done for now, and you just need to leave us alone rather than getting involved in this conflict.
That is the kind of way we could be drawn into a conflict even though there is not a big army attack or air attack to begin such a conflict. It is the escalation ladder where tactical nuclear weapons might be used, and then it is up to the United States to decide what to do next.
This is the kind of thing in which miscalculation can occur. The United States has to persuade countries like Russia and China that they shouldn’t begin the process of calculating whether they could defeat us with the assumption that we wouldn’t or couldn’t respond. That is what deterrence is all about. Nobody wants war, but you prevent war by demonstrating to the aggressor that it is not worth it for that aggressor to start the conflict, that he is going to lose more than he can potentially gain.
We don’t get to define whether we have adequate deterrence; that is defined by our potential adversary. What do they think we can do? In the past several years, both the Chinese and Russians have gone to school on the United States and the way we conduct our military activities, for example, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan. They understand our strengths and weaknesses. They have been spending a lot of money on research and development and readiness and weapon acquisition and doctrine to take advantage of our weaknesses in an asymmetrical way in order to defeat us if there should ever be a conflict between us.
The Chinese have put a lot, for example, into their space-based capabilities, trying to knock the United States out of space so that our satellites can’t tell our weapons where to fire or tell our troops how to get where they need to go.
The Russians are very good in cyber activity. They would like to be able to deny us the ability to communicate with each other and to do the other things we rely upon through cyber space. They have developed very capable modern technology and weaponry that in some cases is much better than ours. They have the ability to deny us access to battlefields through their long-range air defenses, for example. The United States no longer has superiority in all military fields. We can expect not to have air superiority, for example, in a conflict with Russia.
These are problems that have to be remedied, and they can’t be remedied overnight. What our Commission concluded is that we have to recognize the potential threat. The reason our adversaries have developed the kinds of weapons and doctrine they have is because they want to be prepared in the event of conflict between us. We are not going to start a conflict, but we want to make sure they don’t miscalculate and start one, and that starts with having a military that they understand is sufficient to defeat them. That is what real deterrence is all about.
This report should not be understood as a criticism of the Secretary of Defense or of the Defense Department. It is true that we say there are areas that need improvement, but Secretary Mattis knows as well as anyone what the nature of this threat is. He is able to say ‘‘I will make do with what the Congress gives us,’’ but I don’t think he is able to say ‘‘I know in my heart that will be sufficient.’’ In fact, earlier this year, he warned us that ‘‘our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare—air, land, sea, space, and cyber. The combination of rapidly changing technology, the negative impact on military readiness resulting from the longest continuous period of combat in our Nation’s history, and a prolonged period of unpredictable and insufficient funding, created an overstretched and under-resourced military.’’ He has recognized the problem.
I think it is up to the Congress to respond to his recognition of the problem and to the report of this bipartisan Commission. We have all heard plenty about the results of this underfunding. We have seen aircraft that aren’t able to fly or they crash. We have seen Navy ships that collide with each other and other kinds of catastrophes that have befallen our military. Today, our military is the smallest it has been since 1940, since before World War II. We face munition shortages. We obviously need to refresh our wornout troops and equipment. There are urgent requirements to modernize our nuclear deterrent—the deterrent that says to the Russians or the Chinese, for example, and in the future North Korea and perhaps Iran: Don’t even think about a nuclear conflict with us. We have the ability to destroy you. We are in the process of modernizing that, and it is going to take a long time and a lot of money to do that.
Defense spending is near historic lows. We think that because last year we made a deal to slightly increase it for a 2-year period of time that we solved the problem. That is not true. As a share of the Federal budget and the national economy, we are spending at near historic lows on defense. We now have enough evidence to know that mindless spending cuts, as would be required by sequestration, for example, don’t make the Department of Defense more efficient. There are always savings to be had in the Department of Defense, but that is not the way to achieve them. In fact, informing the larger drivers of the Pentagon’s budget would actually require legislative changes that the Congress has been unwilling to make. So let’s put the burden where it lies, and that is on Congress, to fix a lot of these problems.
Between the fiscal years 2012 and 2019, the Department of Defense will have sustained $539 billion in cuts over the budget plan proposed by Secretary Gates in the year 2010. So Secretary Gates said: Here is our 20-year plan, and we are almost half way through that plan, and we have already suffered almost half a trillion dollars in cuts over what he said we would need. If defense spending continues at the planned rate through 2021, it will take another 19 years to reverse all of the Budget Act cuts that occurred as a result of sequestration. Obviously, we have work to do.
I have talked about the threat. Let me just mention a couple of other points that we made in the report. We commented on the Defense Department’s national security report—the National Defense Strategy, which was published in 2017—and it actually helped to make this case for us. It argued that we face ‘‘an extraordinarily dangerous world,’’ and that threats ‘‘have intensified in recent years.’’ We face a world where ‘‘China and Russia challenge American power,’’ where ‘‘the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are determined to destabilize regions,’’ and where transnational threat groups ‘‘are actively trying to harm Americans.’’
So when I speak to China and Russia, I don’t mean to demean the threats posed by other actors like North Korea and Iran or the terrorists who continue to threaten us. I am simply noting the most serious threat should conflict arise. This focus on China and Russia, I think, is prudent because both countries, as I said, have extensively modernized their forces, including their nuclear weapons arsenals, and they have routinely taken actions that threaten, coerce, and intimidate others in the region.
For the last 17 years most of our forces have been organized, manned, trained, and equipped to fight smaller scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think in the meantime some of our planners have forgotten how to plan and operationalize large-scale military conflicts. This we have to relearn while we still have time.
Our adversaries are not waiting, as I said. They don’t face similar fiscal constraints as we do. I was asked the other evening: Well, isn’t it true that we spend a lot more in our military than Russia and China do? The answer is that this isn’t even an apples-and-oranges comparison. We are honest about our budget and transparent. We put out in the public what our intelligence community topline budget is. The Russians and Chinese don’t do that. They hide as much as they can. They don’t pay their forces the way we do, and 70 percent of our defense budget is for our forces—our manpower—in the pay and benefits and healthcare they need. We don’t have the combined industrial base with the military that the Chinese do, for example, and that the Russians do. What we spend is all out there. They can hide a lot of their spending in the activities of their industrial companies that are doing the work of the Chinese army, for example. So that is not a valid comparison.
I will just conclude this way. I was in the Congress for 26 years. I served on the House Armed Services Committee. I came to the Senate and served on numerous commissions and task forces— in the Intelligence Committee, for example, for 8 years, which looked into the threats that we face and what we need to do about those threats. I led efforts dealing with our strategic deterrent, our nuclear modernization effort, and I was sobered by the evidence that we received as a member of the National Defense Strategy Commission. I was taken aback. I had not been in the Senate for 5 years. I hadn’t had the advantage of classified briefings on the status of our adversaries’ efforts and our own, and I was shocked at the degree to which we have lost the advantage that we used to have. I shared the concerns with my colleagues that this could lead potential adversaries to miscalculate, to think that they could make moves that wouldn’t be resisted by the United States because we don’t have the capability any more to do that. That has to change if we are to avoid war.
Therefore, I urge my colleagues in the days and weeks to come to review this Commission report, to think about it in terms of a consensus document between Republicans and Democrats, who unanimously agreed that it was critical to tell the American people the truth—that we have a severe crisis in this country—and to recognize that we, the Congress—the House and the Senate—have the first obligation to do something about this by setting the policy through our National Defense Authorization Acts and then funding those policies adequately through a series of eliminating sequestration, funding through the regular order appropriation process, rather than continuing resolutions, and increasing the topline budget for the military enough to make up the gap that we discuss in this report here.
That effort will begin with an administration in the development of its budget, which is underway right now and will be submitted to the Congress in the early spring. I urge the administration, as well, to recognize that its leadership in this effort will have a lot to do with the success of Congress stepping up to do its job to fund that budget adequately.
So to my colleagues who are concerned about our national security— and who isn’t—and to those who said during the last campaign that we want to work across the aisle to solve problems that confront the American people, well, I can’t think of a more serious problem than this. This is a great opportunity to roll up our sleeves and work together. I pledge to work with my colleagues to do exactly that and commend to them this report of the National Defense Strategy Commission to review during the Thanksgiving break we are going to have here and to come back ready to do work.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.