This is one in a series on the importance of achieving peace through strength and keeping U.S. national security strong. Both long have been Heritage Foundation principles and a great foundation for America’s national power. Some voices call for reducing defense spending to focus on the response to COVID-19, but the need to fully fund our military never has been greater. Read the first and second entries in the series here, here, and here, and learn more about the state of our military in the 2020 Index of U.S. Military Strength.
It is clear the world is getting more dangerous. While long-standing threats such as North Korea, Iran, and terrorism continue, America faces growing challenges from authoritarian regimes in China and Russia. These are not just threats to our security, but truly threats to our way of life.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are putting their money behind their dark vision of the world: building up their militaries, expanding their global influence, and growing more confident that military aggression pays off.
Yes, the world is more dangerous than it’s been in a long time—and that was true before another seismic event occurred: the coronavirus pandemic.
While threats have increased in number and severity, progressives in the House of Representatives are renewing their demands to slash defense spending. Here’s the choice they’re giving us: cut defense spending—and not by just a little—in a short-sighted attempt to funnel more and more money into liberal domestic priorities, or responsibly fund and invest in our national defense to protect American families.
To me, this is an easy choice.
The National Defense Strategy, which debuted in late 2018, was designed for our current reality. This multiyear strategy acknowledges that our threats aren’t just military—they are political, economic, and technological as well.
It positions the United States to deal with the challenges we see on the horizon, but also to adapt quickly to those we do not—like, say, a global pandemic. It does so by ensuring that no other military can possibly be a match for that of the great United States.
A credible military deterrent doesn’t come for free. If we want to meet the ambitious goals of the National Defense Strategy, we need the platforms, equipment, weapons, personnel, and resources that allow us to compete successfully against China and Russia. That’s why the National Defense Strategy Commission Report—the bipartisan document I’ve used as my roadmap for steering the Senate Armed Services Committee—calls for annual increases to the defense budget of 3% to 5% above inflation.
That’s why the proposal by House progressives to cut the defense budget would be tantamount to cutting off our nose to spite our face. We saw what happens when we make imprudent cuts to defense funding under President Barack Obama: more waste and inefficiency.
A further reduction in funding means we can’t train our troops as well, at a time when the leading cause of military deaths continues to be accidents. It means we can’t field a Navy or Air Force the size our military and civilian leaders say we need. It means we can’t procure the weapons our adversaries already have or accelerate development of the weapons they hope to have soon.
Compare this with China and Russia, which certainly aren’t cutting back on spending. According to The Economist, China increased its military spending by 83% from 2009 to 2018. One analysis shows that adjusted Chinese defense spending is 87% of U.S. defense spending.
Similarly, the adjusted Russian defense budget is almost three times as large as commonly assumed, and has grown faster than most observers realize.
We’re already falling behind, and there’s no way we can keep up if we cut the defense budget. The asymmetric military advantage that is foundational to our national security strategy requires actual, substantive investment to succeed.
Don’t think China and Russia aren’t watching what we choose to do. As the world reels from the effects of the novel coronavirus, they’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that’s come their way.
China has been using everything from cyberattacks to trade embargoes to coerce Australia into abandoning its call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. It’s cracked down on Hong Kong. It’s been harassing Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian vessels in the South China Sea. It’s conducting aggressive flights of military aircraft against Taiwan, and launching military incursions in areas claimed by India, in one case killing 20 Indian soldiers.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in our national security supply chain, particularly when it comes to overreliance on nations like China. If we cut our defense budget now, we play right into their hands.
The Senate is currently debating the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2021. This bipartisan bill is all about strategic, responsible spending and putting resources in all the right places.
The end goal? A strong signal of deterrence: a message to our potential adversaries—who we know are watching—that they don’t stand a chance, not today, not tomorrow, not 20 years from now.
Here are just a few examples of what we do with smart investments in our bill. We start a new initiative—the Pacific Deterrence Initiative—to reposition and strengthen our forces in the Indo-Pacific.
We invest in the technologies where we’re falling behind China and Russia, including hypersonic weapons, 5G wireless, biotechnologies, and artificial intelligence.
We facilitate the purchase of the next generation of aircraft, battle force ships, weapons, and ground vehicles.
We pay our service members—the backbone of our military—a wage that tells them “your country supports you 100% of the way.”
We even support vaccine research that could be critical to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
Defense spending isn’t the end-all and be-all, and there are also plenty of conservatives who bemoan the size of the federal budget. No matter what, we’ve got to make sure we’re getting a good bang for our buck—literally—and not give a carte blanche to the Pentagon.
That said, I would remind everyone about an old document no one reads anymore called the Constitution. It says what we’re supposed to be doing here: defending America. This is why annual defense authorization and funding bills garner strong bipartisan support year after year—it’s something we can all agree on, Democrats and Republicans alike.
We can’t allow a vocal, fringe minority to rearrange these long-held priorities and put our national security at risk.