By John Ubaldi
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Never in recent memory has the United States faced so many immense global challenges. But are we prepared for what confronts us today? Furthermore, is America’s preeminent global military advantage declining and opening an opportunity for others to overtake us?
Following the end of World War II, the U.S. built an international system based on prosperity, freedom and security that paid huge dividends to the U.S. It was predicated on a military unmatched in strength throughout the world. Today, however, the U.S. is being challenged by saber-rattling regimes in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
These regimes seek to neutralize U.S. technological advantages with their own advanced weapons systems. Our adversaries are conducting this strategy across a variety of economic areas normally dominated by the United States.
US Could Lose the Next War
At the beginning of November, the United States Institute of Peace issued a report by the National Defense Strategy Commission, which warned that America faces a grave national security and defense threat.
This threat is growing and spreading. U.S. military advantages have eroded and the strategic landscape is now increasingly more threatening. If the United States does not show greater urgency and seriousness in responding to this crisis – and does not take decisive steps to strengthen its military now – the damage to our security and influence could be devastating.
The proliferation of advanced technology has allowed other nations to challenge the U.S., an idea that was unthinkable only a few decades ago. Decisions by Republicans and Democrats – and the effects of the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 coupled with the failure to pass timely budget appropriations bills – have eroded and weakened America’s military.
The Decline of the US Military
Sharp funding decreases for the military have hampered the size, modernization and readiness of U.S. armed forces. The Assessments and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission noted that the U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and the loss of major capital assets in its next conflict.
It might even lose a war against China or Russia. The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed, should the military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.
No Detailed National Defense Strategy
The report points out a deficiency that has expanded in recent decades. Specifically, the U.S. has not developed a comprehensive National Defense Strategy (NDS) in line with the current national security strategy and real-world challenges.
For years, military analyst Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has said that U.S. strategic planning is little more than a facade for the annual line item budget debates in Congress.
“Arguably, U.S. strategic planning peaked when Harold Brown was Secretary of Defense in 1981,” Cordesman wrote recently. “From that point onwards, efforts to create and manage U.S. national security using some effective linkage between strategy and real-world planning, programming, and budgeting activity steadily declined.”
Military budget discussions have recently focused primarily on annual expenditures by each branch of the service. However, these discussions have not contemplated or incorporated a comprehensive strategic national security strategy that concentrates on present or future real-world contingencies.
US Faces China, Russia and Other Global Challengers
The 21st century has created numerous challenges for the United States. For example, how will the U.S. deal with China? Beijing increasingly exerts its influence by utilizing military, paramilitary and diplomatic measures that challenge the United States in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.
China has also invested billions of dollars in modernizing its nuclear and military forces. Simultaneously, the U.S. has failed to modernize its military capabilities – especially after 17 years of continued conflict in Afghanistan.
America’s former Cold War foe, Russia, has been pursuing its own regional ambitions. Moscow now has a presence in the Middle East for the first time in four decades, pursuing various tactics that test the U.S. presence in the region. Russia’s activities have wreaked havoc for the U.S. around the periphery of NATO and threatened NATO countries in the Baltics in the hopes of weakening U.S. influence.
Russia and China aren’t the only headaches. Other regional challengers are also close to having the capability to strike the United States.
North Korea is developing the ability to strike the U.S. by investing in ballistic missile technology. When perfected, that technology would complement the North’s nuclear weapons capabilities.
The most serious threat facing the U.S., however, centers on the budget. The national debt hovers around $21.5 trillion and growing. This presents a serious challenge to modernizing and strengthening the military.
Pentagon’s Numerous Defense Weapons Failures
Often, the Pentagon has wasted billions of dollars on weapons systems that never lived up to their costly price tags. In an Armed Forces Journal article, “Purge the Generals,” Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis cited a short list of Pentagon failures:
- The RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter (launched in 1991 and canceled after $6.9 billion spent)
- The XM2001 Crusader mobile cannon (launched in 1995 and canceled after $7 billion spent)
- The Future Combat Systems (launched in 2003 and canceled after $20 billion spent)
This waste is not only systemic to the Army. All branches of the armed forces have wasted billions of dollars that could have been used for readiness and modernizing the military.
There is much debate about cutting the defense budget, but there is very little discussion about reforming Pentagon spending. The Department of Defense procurement and acquisition system is broken; it is a colossal failure that wastes additional billions of dollars. Examples include the cost overruns for the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) which costs just under $100 million per plane.
Congress Also Culpable for Pentagon Waste
The Pentagon isn’t the only institution at fault for a disjointed defense budget. Lawmakers are equally culpable.
In 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his famous farewell address in which he warned of the growing influence of the “military-industrial complex.” A draft version of his remarks called it the “congressional military industrial complex.” But that phrase was later deleted as being too inflammatory.
The Democrats and the GOP are protecting their own districts and states with costly weapons systems that the Pentagon neither asked for nor wanted. This was on full display when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno informed Congress in 2013 that the Army didn’t need any additional M-1 Abrams tanks.
His words were ignored and lawmakers appropriated $436 million for the additional tanks. This is just one example of how both parties use the Pentagon as a job program for their states and constituents without ever considering the real impact on U.S. national security.
When the Pentagon begins its FY2020 national security planning, it must align its strategy with the real-world threats the U.S. faces and fully embrace a reform of the Pentagon’s acquisition and procurement systems.
After World War II, the U.S. dramatically reduced its military spending and left U.S. military forces unprepared for the Korean War. Many U.S. military servicemembers paid the ultimate sacrifice for such short-sighted decisions, so we must not repeat this mistake.