May 11, 2021
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), lead Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today spoke on the Senate floor about the need to increase the U.S. defense budget to support the strong U.S. military that underwrites the nation’s alliances and partnerships. President Biden has stated that strengthening our alliances and partnerships is one of his top national security priorities, but his budget proposes a defense topline that amounts to a cut below last year’s funding levels because it does not keep pace with inflation.
As Prepared for Delivery:
Winston Churchill famously said: “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”
Republicans and Democrats agree: Strong alliances and partnerships are a key asymmetric advantage the United States has over our strategic competitors.
Like every president before him, President Biden has rightfully made America’s alliances and partnerships a cornerstone of his administration’s national security policy, but alliances and partnerships are not a substitute for a strong American military.
A strong military is the foundation of our alliances. Military power creates leverage and credibility for our diplomats, and just as importantly, it creates deterrence.
Real deterrence cannot be achieved unless it is credible, and it cannot be credible unless we properly fund our military AND have our allies and partners with us.
Why? Because our partnerships are two-way streets. Alliances aren’t just for show. They’re not about empty statements or blindly sending money to support vague goals.
These relationships are built on mutual interest — they benefit us just as much as they benefit other countries. Just look at the billions of dollars some of our allies have contributed to U.S. bases in their countries.
The National Defense Strategy says, “Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to our strategy, providing a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match.”
But maintaining that asymmetric advantage requires much more than simply saying nice things about our allies and partners.
The bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission report, written by six Republicans and six Democrats, says, “These alliances and partnerships…have ultimately rested on a foundation of military strength.”
So when President Biden says, “America’s alliances are our greatest asset,” and then he goes and underfunds the military — it defies common sense.
Underfunding our military threatens that very foundation that underwrites the effectiveness of our alliances and partnerships.
Let me explain a little bit of how this works. We’ll start with nuclear modernization.
The United States maintains a safe and effective nuclear arsenal to protect American families, but also to protect our partners and allies. Our nuclear umbrella has three benefits: First, it makes clear to China and Russia which countries stand with us. Second, it has the benefit of giving those countries the security of relying on our deterrence, rather than feeling like they have to develop their own nuclear weapons. Third, our umbrella of extended nuclear deterrence is a pillar of our goal of global nuclear nonproliferation.
If we cut back our own nuclear deterrent and take away that umbrella — which is what would happen if we reduce our defense budget or make certain policy changes — it’s likely that that nuclear weapons will become MORE common, not less.
President Biden has said nuclear nonproliferation is one of his priorities. Do you see the disconnect here?
That’s why it’s so concerning to me that some administration officials are talking about drastically reducing our nuclear modernization efforts.
I’m also concerned that some in the administration and in Congress are targeting our fifth-generation stealth airpower. Don’t get me wrong, the F-35 program certainly has its challenges, but it is the cornerstone of our ability to operate with our allies and partners.
The F-35 program has 21 allies and partners in it. For many, it is their main capability and will be their primary contribution in a high-end conflict.
When we talk about cutting the program or moving away from it, their governments question our commitment. There is no substitute aircraft or capability for these countries. Don’t we want our allies and partners to fight alongside us?
We’re already behind on our fifth-generation fighters. We were supposed to buy more than 700 F-22 aircraft, but we only bought 187 of them.
Our combatant commanders have already told us that we’ll be outnumbered in terms of stealth fighters in the western Pacific by 2025, and it’ll be even worse if American F-35 cuts lead to Japanese or Australian F-35 cuts.
That’s just one of the many serious problems we’ve got in the Indo-Pacific. Our partners and allies are worried about U.S. force posture and our ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat China’s use of military force.
I heard that for myself back in 2018 when I visited many of our allies and partners in the region. They were clear – they saw firsthand how China was preparing to swiftly defeat our forces in the Pacific.
They were trying to figure out if we would be there for them when that happened…or if they needed to start cozying up to China.
Fortunately – our significant investment in the military under President Trump was an encouraging sign to our allies and partners.
But after watching the Chinese Communist Party dismantle democracy in Hong Kong and commit genocide on the Uyghirs in northwest China, our partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific are now worried that China will try to invade and annex Taiwan.
General McMaster testified that Taiwan is “the most significant flashpoint that could lead to large-scale war,” saying China could take military action against Taiwan as soon as 2022. The former and current commanders of Indo-Pacom both emphasized the near-term threat.
This is a primary reason why the Armed Services Committee, with overwhelming bipartisan support, has put in place our Pacific Deterrence Initiative, or “PDI.”
PDI is intended to bolster our degraded force posture in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s military build-up.
We must restore a favorable balance of power in the region where the problem is most acute — west of the International Date Line where our partners and allies are most immediately threatened by Chinese aggression.
PDI is fundamentally about building basic infrastructure so that we can operate with our allies and partners. It will mean more distributed and smaller bases, hardened communications, as well as increased and more realistic exercises with allies and partners.
If we want PDI to succeed, we need to resource it properly. Both Admiral Davidson and Aquilino told the Armed Services Committee as much.
After the hollow promises of the Obama administration to “Pivot to the Pacific,” and after almost no change in the U.S. military posture in the region over the last two decades — our partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific are worried.
They want to see sustained investment matching sustained commitments—especially after President Trump rightfully pushed them to step up their own investments.
They answered the call — but President Biden will create a credibility problem if we don’t continue to invest as well.
Our INDOPACOM allies and partners throughout the region are watching closely to see what we do with the defense budget topline and with PDI.
What they see is President Biden’s defense budget that does not even keep up with inflation, let alone match the real growth we need to implement the National Defense Strategy.
Over in Europe, Biden proclaimed, “America is back,” claiming a reversal from the previous administration — which isn’t true. But, again, actions aren’t matching words. Rhetoric without resources will devastate our credibility and undermine our alliances here, too.
If defense cuts impact the European Deterrence Initiative, it will serve to weaken our European posture and make our allies and partners more susceptible to Russian aggression.
Without a strong defense budget, the Biden administration’s bold pledges to support NATO and deter Russia will ring hollow for our European allies and partners.
Sharing the burden is a key benefit of our international alliances and partnerships, but our NATO allies might see the administration’s military reductions as a signal that they no longer need to meet their commitments to spend two percent of GDP on defense.
Don’t forget: Whether we’re facing Russia, China, or another adversary in another part of the world, operating jointly with our allies and partners is a core part of our ability to deter conflict in multiple theaters — but it requires investment.
Take the refueling support we provide for our French allies in Mali — 6 million pounds of fuel to allow the French to take on that critical counterterrorism mission and support their troops on the ground. But it would have cost us billions to do this mission ourselves.
The same goes for Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. A good portion of our defense budget pays for our military to support our allies and partners so that we don’t have to send our own troops — and it gives us insight into those operations.
So do you see what would happen if our military’s ability to posture forward and stay ready is choked by inadequate defense funding? Our alliances and partnerships will suffer — not improve — and the U.S. will end up spending more money for less security.
This goes directly against the Biden administration’s stated goals.
Thinking that alliances and partnerships can substitute for U.S. military capability and capacity is wishful thinking. It’s illogical, lacks strategy, and will harm our national security.
As former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said: “Throughout history, we see nations with allies thrive, and nations without allies wither.”
If we want to win against our strategic competitors, it will take both a strong, fully-resourced military as well as strong alliances and partnerships. But let’s be clear: One is not an alternative for the other.
It’s clear then — we need our allies. So how do we maintain this mutual relationship? With robust defense spending: three to five percent real growth each year as proscribed by the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission report.
We already know President Biden’s topline isn’t near enough. It doesn’t even increase defense enough to keep up with inflation.
Eric Edelman, one of the co-authors of the National Defense Strategy Commission report, said it best in an article this week: “…it remains a fact that allies and adversaries will see the U.S. commitment to defense as a crucial benchmark for assessing U.S. willingness and ability to success at long-term competition with its authoritarian adversaries.”
He continued: “A tough declaratory policy without adequate military means to reinforce it is a recipe for disaster, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.”
President Biden walks the walk when it comes to supporting our allies, but they — and I — know that it is meaningless without a strong defense budget to back it up. We need a higher topline.