February 02, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned Dr. Kathleen Hicks, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense, at a Committee hearing. Inhofe’s line of questioning focused on defense priorities, including the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the defense budget, and nuclear modernization.
Inhofe: Thank you very much, Dr. Hicks. I’m going to cover four questions real quickly to kind of set this thing off. First of all, on the document that we’ve referred to, the National Defense Strategy Commission [report], to me, that tells the whole world the significance of [the threats we face and of] the 12 people who put this document together that we’ve adhered to. Some people are saying that maybe it’s already outdated since that was put together back in 2018. I would ask the question — well, first of all, there’s a lot of things people keep talking about on the floor, climate change, and yet nowhere in the commission’s analysis can I find that phrase. In your view, and given your experience as a member of the NDS Commission, does the 2018 NDS accurately assess the current strategic threat that we are faced with?
Hicks: Senator, the 2018 NDS, I think, was a remarkable reflection of strong bipartisan consensus around the growing challenges presented by China, in particular, and also the opportunistic challenges presented by Russia. And I think those factors continue to endure. The job of the National Defense Strategy Commission was to evaluate that NDS 2018, and Congress has established a requirement every four years for a new national defense strategy. I would imagine the Biden administration will be moving quickly to undertaking a full assessment, not only of the 2018 document and hopefully the Commission's recommendations, but also the current threat environment and other challenges we face. An example, in addition to climate, might be COVID, which did not appear in the 2018 document. The world changes, and we need to always be assessing our forces against the needs.
Inhofe: I think that’s right. One of the documents and statements in this document is, we would need to establish a real growth of three to five percent. Do you still think that's a good goal?
Hicks: Senator, I think that was an accurate reflection of what it would take, in a ballpark way, to meet the requirements of the 2018 NDS as it was laid out. So I stand by that as a general rule of thumb for that document.
Inhofe: Okay, and I'm going to cover two other areas real quickly here. One, I'm going quote from this NDS, quote, “civilian voices have been relatively muted on issues at the center of U.S. defense and national security policy, undermining the concept of civilian control,” and we talked to General Austin about this also. Would you give, what kind of concrete steps would you recommend to correct this if you agree with this statement?
Hicks: I do agree with that statement, and Secretary Austin, Senator, has laid out already in his confirmation hearing, and my understanding is in the steps he's implementing in the department, several concrete approaches. One is about who is in the room, who has a seat at the table and whose voices are engaged in major issues of force deployment and force operations as well as policy, and he's been very clear that if confirmed that would include me as the Deputy Secretary of Defense. His Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, when confirmed, would also be an important figure in that, alongside other civilian officials.
Inhofe: Very good. Lastly, I want to mention the nuclear triad. This is something that most people, many people agree is the most significant problem that we are faced with right now. We have both Russia and China, they're modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces as well as North Korea and some others that are moving in that direction. Also, Secretary Austin has recused himself, potentially for the entire entirety of his term as Secretary of Defense from any matters involving Raytheon Technologies. So I understand that you will be making the decisions for DOD about the long range standoff weapon, the ground base support. I'd like to get you on record right now: Do you agree with the assessment of the past Secretaries of Defense, and I believe Secretary Austin, as well, that the modernizing of the nation's nuclear forces is the most critical national security priority, and including — we're talking about the triad of land, air and sea. Critics quite often talk about that as if that's, you can get by with two out of three, and I don’t think you can. What's your thought?
Hicks: Senator, I think first that nuclear deterrence is the cornerstone of American national security. As long as there are threats out, nuclear threats out there, and there certainly are those. I also think the triad has been as Secretary Austin has put it the bedrock of our nuclear deterrent, and I think it must be modernized in order to be safe, secure, credible. I would just add that I am worried about the state of the readiness of the nuclear triad, and, if confirmed, that's an area I would want to get my team in place and start to look at right away.
Inhofe: That's excellent. Thank you. Senator Reed.