U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned witnesses at a SASC hearing to receive testimony on strategic competition with China and Russia.
Witnesses included Mr. Elbridge Colby, Director of the Defense Program Center for a New American Security and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development; Mr. Ely Ratner, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies of the Center for a New American Security and Former Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President; and Mr. Damon M. Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council..
Inhofe: Well thank you very much. Those are excellent opening statements. Mr. Colby, I think that you commented a little bit about this without identifying anybody out there doing it, but I remember, I think it was in March, the RAND Cooperation did a very effective article that woke up a lot of people. Saying if Russia should take on NATO, including our contribution to NATO, we'd probably lose. That's the type of thing that people need to be talking about. I know it's a little bit controversial. I had this discussion with some of the uniform people who say that we shouldn't be talking so much about the capabilities of our opponents. On the other hand, you've got to do that if you're going to end up getting the resources necessary for us to combat that. So that's a little bit of a problem that we have.
Let's start with you Mr. Colby. First of all you're probably aware that we have kind of adopted this as our blueprint. Which you had a lot to do with and we appreciate the good work that you did there.
Sometimes the debate about defense budget is posed as a choice between an increased budget on one hand and making tough choices on the other hand. When I listened to all three of you and the committees that we've had, I think the challenge is so great that we need to do everything. I'd like to have your comment about that choice argument that's being made.
Colby: Well, yes sir Mr. Chairman, I agree with you. I think that were going to have to maintain an increase as necessary spending just to stay competitive. If you look at the scale and scope of the Chinese military buildup over that last 20 - 25 years it's slowed a little bit but it's basically almost a 10 percent year-in-year increase. Meanwhile our allies have lagged, which some of them are starting to improve. But no, I think we’re going to have to make hard choices to maintain very robust spending just to keep up.
Inhofe: Well, I agree with that. I am concerned that our message isn't getting across. Mr. Ratner, you talked about the South China Sea. We were in the South China Sea watching. As the initial stages of the building of the islands by China and our allies over in that part of the world are very much aware of what China is doing there. They won the argument in my opinion. If you look and analyze what they're doing with the islands it's like they're preparing for World War 3. And when you're talking to our allies over there you wonder who's side they're going to be on. So they see that- I think it's working in that part of the world and other parts of the world. They're now involved in places in Africa that they never even thought about before. So I don't think we're making a lot of headway.
What I'd like to do, is in terms of educating the American people, I'd to get from all three of you. First of all, do you think you agree with our discussion here that it's necessary that there needs to be a wake-up call as to the talent that's out there from our adversaries. And secondly, what we can do to bring this to bring this to the public's attention. It's a difficult thing to deal with. Any thoughts on that?
Colby: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I completely agree with you. I think the benefits of trying to hide these things is far outweighed by the importance that you and other members of the Congress and the political leadership of this country can have in helping the American people understand the gravity and severity of the threat. I think there are two things going on here.
One is great powers like particularly China are the only countries that could change the way our whole world operates and ultimately our country.
And the American military could lose a war- that's the reality. The Chinese and the Russians know that. They have sophisticated satellites, they have various means of electronic communication and they pick up a lot of stuff. I more concerned that the American people understand that and have the urgency so that we can stay ahead of this threat which is very urgent.
Inhofe: Mr. Ratner, what's your plea about that?
Ratner: Sure, I would just add two comments.
The first, I think what's lacking today in American discourse, including from our leaders, is a clear articulation of what's at stake. I think bringing this all together not thinking of it as just islands in the South China Sea or intellectual property theft but bringing it together in terms of a comprehensive. In the case of China, a challenge to the international order and the threats posed to U.S. peace and prosperity associated with a Chinese sphere of influence is something we need to paint a picture of - look at the end and work backwards that would be the first thing I would say. So I think we need to be clear about the stakes.
And the second thing is like I mentioned in my testimony, I think the importance of a bipartisan message on this couldn't be more important, because I think the American people can get confused sometimes that what we’re seeing today is a product of the Trump administration. And having members of Congress and others going out together - republicans and democrats with a clear message on this issue couldn't be more important to sending the signal that the country as a whole is in it to get this right.
Inhofe: That's good. Mr. Wilson, we’re going to have to do the rest of my questions for the record to try and keep our timing right but I’ll be asking the same question of all three of you so that'll be forth coming. Senator Reed.