June 10, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned witnesses about Chinese and Russian defense spending and the risks of underfunding the U.S. military at a hearing on the Department of Defense budget posture in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022.
Witnesses included: the Honorable Lloyd Austin III, Secretary of Defense, and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Because of the interest we have here, I just have two brief questions. One: General Milley, in 2018, you testified that it’s hard to compare the U.S. and Chinese defense budgets because China’s budget is very different, and for a better comparison, we need to make some adjustments, and we have done that — little things like the cost of labor and all of that. Now, making those adjustments is not easy, and that is why we required in last year’s defense authorization bill that the Pentagon do a study to try to make this comparison. China and Russia combined probably spend more than we do; I made that point in an op-ed piece last May. So, I would ask you, General Milley, the Chinese and Russian economies and defense spending are unique, and given this, do you think their relative combined effort is similar to ours, and do you think that they understate the spending that they are doing?
Milley: Senator, both of our analyses — DOD’s analysis and the intelligence community’s analysis — of budgets for both Russia and China are classified. At an unclassified level, I would tell you that combined, the Russian and Chinese budgets exceeds our budgets, if all the cards are put on the table. Both governments do not put all their cards on the table when it comes to their budget. It’s a very difficult thing to discern that which is what being spent on their defense versus other priorities. With respect to China, they have put significant levels of effort of their economy — and of course their economy is second only to ours — significant levels of resources into building the Chinese military. The Chinese military, as we’ve noted many times before, is on a significant increasing rise in capability over the last 20 or 30 years, and they continue to invest heavily in that.
Inhofe: That’s right, and Secretary Austin, during your confirmation hearing in January, you said, and this is a quote, “I see China, in particular, as a pacing challenge for our department,” and that you need our help to deter China. Now, I am worried that if we underfund our military, we will undermine our alliances and weaken deterrence. Well, let me just say this, we have felt for some time, and have said, that when we have countries that it happened that Sen. Rounds and I went to six different countries last week, and one of those was Romania. They reminded us that we talked to them about two percent, that they should get two percent for defense spending, and they did that, and they told us that they did that. Yet, they are looking at us actually reducing our funding, and I would just like to have you to comment on what kind of effect that might have to other countries too.
Austin: Thank you, Senator. I would say that when you look at our overall contributions to NATO, we contribute a substantial amount to the NATO effort and will continue to do so moving forward. I think the budget gives us the right mix of capabilities and flexibility to be very effective in our efforts to deter China going forward, and Russia, or anyone else that might want to take us on. So, I am confident that this budget will allow us to match our resources to our strategy and our strategy to our policy.
Inhofe: Yeah, my concern has been that our insistence in the previous administration, which I agreed with, that we reach the two percent in these other countries, and they see that it appears that our expectations are much less in this administration. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.