Ensure Military Strength

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the world has become a more dynamic, dangerous, and destabilized place. While these dangers may be less apparent to some Americans than they were in the months following 9/11, they are no less real. Indeed, the failure of President Obama’s foreign policy of weakness and disengagement from the world makes it urgent for conservatives to build the case for the alternative.

Leadership in security affairs is not a rhetorical exercise. It is a matter of action and real-world choices about our capabilities. American power projected globally undergirds and makes possible stability in diplomatic affairs; it facilitates free trade and commerce; it sustains a system that has done more good for more people than any other in history. Though others gain from our efforts, the United States has been the chief beneficiary.

Consequently, defense is not just a budget line item. It is the primary responsibility of our federal government and a responsibility that we are increasingly ill-prepared to meet.

Our defense establishment must always be held accountable as the most trusted stewards of taxpayer monies. Thus, every effort must be continually made in the areas of acquisition reform, the rooting out of waste and inefficient use of limited resources, and adherence to the highest standard of moral and ethical conduct. Our nation has come to expect no less from our military. In the same spirit, however, we must provide the resources necessary to secure the defense of our country and our geopolitical interests in all corners of the world. Our current defense budget trajectory is not merely inadequate to the task; it poses a fundamental threat to the long-term security interests of the United States.

No clearer indication of this can be found than in the decline of our military forces when it comes to modernized capability, their capacity for operations, and their daily readiness.

Under sequestration levels of funding mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, our Army—already at 80 percent of the size necessary to meet national security needs—is on track to fall to 50 percent of strength. The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, has testified that under sequestration, only 20 percent of his operational forces will be ready to meet strategic requirements.

Similarly, the Marine Corps has dropped from a high of 202,000 Marines to 190,000 and is on its way to 175,000 or fewer by 2019. This comes at a time when our field commanders have registered a greater demand for such forces than at any time since Vietnam.

The Navy is no better off. It has consistently validated a requirement for 313 ships to meet security needs. Yet as China aggressively expands its fleet and intimidates its neighbors, our Navy is on track to be downsized to roughly 250 ships in the next five to 10 years.

As for the Air Force, it is being forced to sacrifice both capability and capacity in order to modernize: eliminating entire inventories of attack aircraft, platforms, and support vehicles to preserve enough funding for the next-generation fighter, bomber, tanker, and unmanned air systems essential to serving future needs.

Across the board, our commanders have been forced to choose between keeping a much smaller force combat-ready or sacrificing readiness to replace and modernize key equipment. That situation is dangerous and unacceptable.

The American people deserve a thorough, transparent defense appropriations process that supplies their sons and daughters with the tools they need to ensure our nation’s safety in the most cost-effective way possible. Defense spending should be set through an analysis of the threats our nation faces, the capabilities needed to meet those threats, and—only then—the programs needed to achieve those capabilities.

No such process would commit our military to the atrophy it is currently undergoing. Across the world, we face serious threats to American interests—threats for which our military prepares contingency plans every day. The Obama Administration’s defense policy can be defended only with shallow platitudes; conservative defense policy should focus on creating and supporting the warfighting capacity needed to ensure that we have the force to defend America’s interests now and in the future.

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