January 26, 2021
The greatest threat to U.S. national security comes from China and Russia; that won’t change just because our president does. The 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Senate Armed Services Committee and I have unambiguously endorsed this foundational concept, and President Joe Biden must, too.
If the Biden administration is serious about the security of our nation, it must ensure a strong national defense that will deter China and Russia. That means providing the funding needed to implement the NDS. It means using the bipartisan NDS Commission report as a blueprint. It means conditions-based troop levels in key locations across the globe.
These aren’t partisan policies — they are policies that the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, and I have focused on and will work toward in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. As long as President Biden understands and follows through on these priorities as well — and I intend to ensure he does — we will be able to work together to keep our nation safe.
While the United States faces many challenges, China and Russia uniquely threaten our way of life. Both seek to undermine democratic political institutions, including our own. They seek to damage our credibility with foreign partners and redraw borders to suit their ambitions. China in particular is increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea while fielding new capabilities like aircraft carriers and expanding existing ones like ballistic missiles.
This is what we’re up against. So first and foremost, our nation needs leadership at the Pentagon that genuinely understands and agrees to prioritize these challenges. I was concerned that in one of his first, and arguably his most important, national security nominations — secretary of defense — President Biden selected retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, whose career has been focused primarily on the Middle East and didn’t mention China or Russia once in his rationale of the nomination.
However, I was encouraged by what I heard from Gen. Austin at his nomination hearing, and I believe he will work to effectively enable implementation of the NDS and counter the threats posed by these strategic competitors.
Our other top order of business must be making sure our troops have the resources they need to achieve our strategy. Over the past decade, as a result of the Budget Control Act and sequestration, the U.S. military lost $550 billion of planned spending — and that was before China and Russia ramped up their military spending. As a result, our military has been doing too much with too little for too long, and in a constantly unpredictable environment.
First, readiness plummeted — and these readiness-related problems have not yet been fully addressed. Second, shortsighted cuts across the Pentagon drove talented service members to leave and rendered Pentagon civilians unable to conduct critical oversight activities, like the audit. Third, force modernization was put on hold and still moves too slowly. As a result, maintenance costs for aging and outdated equipment are eating the defense budget alive. Now, we must simultaneously upgrade and replace existing equipment and develop weapons technologies where our adversaries lead, such as artificial intelligence.
On top of this, the Biden administration must fully fund priority efforts to counter the threats we face from China and Russia, like the Pacific and European Deterrence Initiatives. This will guarantee we have the right force posture — the right capabilities in the right places — to ensure resiliency in a highly contested combat environment.
Four straight years of increased funding for the military was just a start. We can’t make up for lost time, but President Biden, working with Congress, must replace the $550 billion of defense funding cut by sequestration. Providing this investment — with predictability and certainty — would represent the down payment required to maintain our position against China and Russia over the next several decades.
To preserve nuclear deterrence and cement our most critical alliances, we must continue to modernize our nuclear forces. For decades, we starved investments in our nuclear weapons and infrastructure. In stark contrast, China and Russia expanded their stockpiles, building thousands of additional missiles to threaten the U.S. and our allies. The Biden administration must not ignore these realities. Under President Donald Trump, we’ve made progress in updating our nuclear forces. But again, there’s still a long way to go, such as completing the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and W93 programs.
China and Russia will be the primary focuses, but not the only ones. I believe Congress and the Biden administration share the goal of sustaining the progress we’ve made against ISIS and al-Qaida. This will require maintaining an effective global counterterrorism posture, including in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, to prevent the resurgence of terrorist organizations and to limit their ability to attack us.
Thus far, President Biden has chosen to prioritize diplomatic efforts — that’s clear from his nominations so far — but he would do well to remember that a strong military underwrites strong diplomacy. He cannot discount the need for a combat-credible military force that deters adversaries, reassures allies and partners, and ensures a global balance of power that defends U.S. national security.
Working with Chairman Reed, I will continue to fight for this. President Biden must do the same.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
This commentary originally appeared on DefenseNews.com.