Why National Defense is more than a line in the budget

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Recently, I attended a briefing in which military officers and intelligence experts sought to explain the various national security crises confronting the United States. The information itself was not particularly new — the brutality of ISIS, Russia’s adventurism in Eastern Europe and China’s continued military advancements and regional provocations are well-known. However, what especially caught my attention was the sheer number of experts, representing nearly every region of the world, appearing before us to explain the serious security problems impacting their area of responsibility. This reaffirmed for me a disturbing trend over the last several years: not only is the international situation becoming increasingly dangerous, but that instability is becoming more and more global.

The proliferation of national security challenges facing our country, from aggressive regional powers to transnational terrorists, should remind us of an essential Constitutional responsibility that too many in Washington have recently chosen to overlook: providing for the common defense. Ensuring that the United States military is capable of protecting our country and guaranteeing our liberties is not merely another line in a budget: it is the core responsibility of the Federal Government.

For the past several years, administrative officials and many elected representatives have treated our national defense budget like a faucet that one can turn on and off. In the process, they’ve attempted to put band-aids over any leaks. But the problem with this is that a strong national defense is not something that can be turned on with the push of a button.

The devastating cuts imposed by sequestration have not only severely impacted our military’s training and readiness; they have made it nearly impossible for our services to plan for the future. Over the long run, these cuts threaten the military’s ability to deter potential aggressors, prevent unnecessary wars and, if absolutely needed as a last resort, prevail in a conflict.

But don’t just take my word that we are rapidly approaching a crisis for national defense. The chiefs of our military services have all warned of the dangers facing their organizations due to unnecessary and harmful budget cuts. The Commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific warns that, should the United States Navy continue to shrink, we risk becoming merely a regional rather than a global power. Other combatant commanders have sounded similar alarms.

Unfortunately, the budget recently introduced by President Obama fails to solve this impending crisis. As the leaders of the Army and Marine Corps recently told me, this budget can merely prepare the military for the conflicts of the previous decade rather than readying it to meet future threats. To truly reverse these trends, policymakers must start investing in the type of military this country requires — both today, and tomorrow.

To begin with, defense must be removed from sequestration. I recently asked the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter what the impact of sequestration will be on our military. He replied that it would be “devastating.” I could not agree more, and it is essential that Congress and the administration begin working together before further harm is visited on our men and women in uniform.

But while ending sequestration for defense will begin the process of rebuilding our military, it is not enough to prepare us for the challenges of the future. The rise of China, the resurgence of Russia and the rapid progress of Iran toward a nuclear weapon have shown that the traditional American advantage in technology is not guaranteed. We must continue to invest in research and development, and encourage the types of innovative, unconventional thinking that gave us stealth technology, guided missiles like the Tomahawk and advanced satellites. The investments we make today will ensure that our children and grandchildren continue to enjoy the freedom and security we have enjoyed.

Ultimately, national defense is about the men and women who choose to wear our nation’s uniform. They will fight to defend this nation, no matter what. The real question is whether we will adequately equip and empower them to accomplish their mission, both now and in the decades to come. Congress holds the purse strings. And it’s time we made a wise, long-term investment in the future security of our nation. It’s not just about what we should spend, it is about what we must spend. Because if we get defense wrong, nothing else matters.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see http://randyforbes.house.gov.