Our military is again being called upon to defend the nation against one of the most complex global security environments the United States has faced in recent history. Tragically, over the past six years, that same military has borne the brunt of President Obama’s misguided fiscal priorities. This must change. Our military needs a budget that reflects the reality of the threats our nation faces.
Significant cuts to the defense budget—from the $487 billion the president cut in his first few years in office to the $500 billion more defense cuts he set into motion with sequestration in 2011—have eroded the military’s readiness and capabilities to levels that poses an unacceptable risk to our national security at a time when our armed forces are being called upon to respond to a growing array of security challenges around the world. Just in recent years, the military has been tasked to support the U.S. pivot to Asia, reassure our European partners in the face of Russian aggression, successfully transition the mission in Afghanistan, support the Ebola response in West Africa and, now, conduct a likely long-term operations against Islamic State militants. Yet, just last year, our top military officials testified that, if the defense budget continues on its current trajectory under the automatic defense cuts imposed by sequestration, our military might not have the readiness to succeed in even one of these major contingency operations. Under President Ronald Reagan—a peacetime president—the military was prepared to handle at least two such potential operations. President Obama can’t have it both ways—asking our military men and women to do it all while at the same time slashing their budget.
What our armed forces need most during this time of unprecedented challenges is the assurance that they will be provided the tools they need to accomplish their mission and return home safely. The first step eliminating defense sequestration. Rather than holding our military’s resources hostage to higher taxes and more domestic spending, the president needs to come to Congress without any preconditions and work toward a defense budget that reflects the reality of the security environment we must contend with. Second, we must move away from using our military as a laboratory for the president’s liberal agenda. It is unconscionable that at a time when our troops are not receiving the training and equipment they need, defense dollars are being spent on programs like building bio-fuel refineries that have nothing to do with protecting this nation. Finally, the defense budget must protect the capabilities that are vital in today’s counterterrorism fight, like special operations forces, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, and precision strike capabilities. But the budget must also invest in the capabilities required to address the emerging threats of tomorrow. This means supporting end-strength levels that reflect the uncertain nature of the world (unlike the levels forecasted under sequestration), as well as supporting the modernization of the military through investments in new technology to ensure our superiority over increasingly belligerent adversaries like Russia and China.
The president’s defense budget falls dangerously short in these areas. At a time of growing instability and rising threats, our nation cannot afford to shortchange the men and women it relies on for its security.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.