Concerns about looming defense cuts

Published 7:00 am Thursday, February 19, 2015

One of the biggest challenges facing our military today is the return of sequestration on October 1 of this year.
These meat-ax defense cuts – which have been limited for two years under the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013” – threaten to impair our armed forces’ ability to respond to emerging threats around the world. They were a last-ditch effort to reduce federal spending, which is desperately needed, but are indiscriminate rather than strategic.
The Navy is already down to its fewest ships since World War I, and the Air Force is smaller than it has been since it was established in 1947. Now is not the time to ask our service members to shoulder more sacrifices because of America’s debt problem.
Rising Debt & Military Strength
The onus is on the White House and Congress to reach an agreement that addresses the real drivers of our country’s debt. At the very least, we should provide military leaders with the flexibility to mitigate the cuts. Otherwise, we jeopardize the capacity of our troops to fulfill their missions and remain prepared for unforeseen contingencies.
I am hopeful that the budget resolution produced by the House and Senate this year will offer these reforms.
As a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Budget committees, I will be actively involved in efforts to protect our service members while putting America on a sustainable financial path. Retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis offered a profound warning to the Armed Services Committee late last month. He said, “No nation in history has maintained its military power if it failed to keep its fiscal house in order.” Addressing America’s debt problem is crucial to protecting our national security interests. It should not, however, require a draconian approach that guts our defense capabilities.
Warning From New Defense Secretary
Dr. Ashton Carter discussed the consequences of sequestration during his confirmation hearing earlier this month. The new Secretary of Defense told the Armed Services Committee that sequester “conveys a misleadingly diminished picture of our power in the eyes of friends and foes alike.”
He also reiterated the need for less wasteful spending and more accountability.
As Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, I asked Dr. Carter specifically about sequestration’s impact on the Navy and Marine Corps.
He responded that sequestration could cause both services to “become smaller, less ready, and less modern,” not to mention the negative impact on our vibrant shipbuilding industrial base.
These services are crucial to maintaining a forward presence in volatile parts of the world, in addition to advancing the Administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Amphibious ships, in particular, are versatile and responsive components of our maritime strategy, but they take time to build and require a long-term investment. The current budget situation fails to offer this certainty to military planners, disrupting efforts to safeguard the future viability of our forces.
Fighting the Islamic State
Solving America’s budget challenges is made more difficult by global unrest, from an increasingly aggressive Russia to horrific violence in the Middle East. Not only does Congress play an important role in providing oversight of the defense budget, but it also approves any authorization for the use of military force. The President recently submitted such an authorization request regarding the fight against the Islamic State. This provides us an opportunity to begin a serious debate on a strong and appropriate allied response to ISIS.
These terrorists pose a real and formidable threat to our national security interests.
I look forward to working with my colleagues, military leaders, and the Administration on a plan that engages our allies in the Arab world to eliminate this evil.

By Senator Roger Wicker

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox