This week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke on the Senate floor with two Common Sense for the Common Defense floor speeches as part of his ongoing series designed to highlight key national security policies.
Inhofe first held a colloquy with Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.), where they talked about the National Defense Strategy Commission report. Sen. Kyl was a member of the commission.
Inhofe: “Mr. President, we have talked about this recently more than we have in quite some time: Defending America needs to be our No. 1 commitment. To many of us, it has always been. That is why we have been coming to the floor, talking about the national defense strategy, the Armed Services Committee, and we have had the honor and privilege of hearing from some really well-informed people—Members and people from the outside—and they look and see the threats that we are facing… I like the idea the administration came up with as we were looking at our peer competitors, which are China and Russia. These are countries that actually have passed us up in many areas…
“Senator Kyl, why don’t you kind of talk about, maybe, the Senate and its bipartisan nature and how this thing came together, which would be very similar as to how it was expressed when we had our meeting, I think, 2 or 3 weeks ago for this Commission. It has been very successful, and I applaud the Senator for his work on it.”
Kyl: “Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee for engaging in this brief colloquy and for specifically calling for a hearing a couple of weeks ago at which the two cochairmen of the National Defense Strategy Commission presented the findings of the Commission’s report. I agree that the hearing, which was attended by, I believe, every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was a remarkable hearing because the members of the Commission, represented by the two co-chairs, made it clear that their report—our report—was, indeed, a bipartisan document and nonpartisan, as co-chairman Admiral Roughead said…
“We concluded, first of all, that the Secretary was correct in that we had to reorient the priorities of our national defense to reflect the fact that China and Russia now both presented a challenge to the United States that had not existed in the prior several years but that the challenge was increasingly difficult to confront and important to confront because of the attitudes of those two countries and that the other threats from Iran, from North Korea, and from terrorists, while still very significant, would be relegated, in effect, to a secondary position. We thought, in that regard, the Secretary’s strategy was correct, and we commended him for that. We also found the basic strategy he laid out for confronting the challenges was satisfactory but with a big caveat, and that was that unless the Defense Department was adequately reauthorized to confront these challenges, the strategy could not succeed. So much of what the Commission dwelt on was what we would need to do in the near and medium future in order to rebuild our military to successfully defend the United States against these emerging threats.”
Inhofe: “That is one of the things I was really impressed with on this report. You guys didn’t hold any punches…”
Later, Inhofe also spoke on the need for nuclear modernization.
“Mr. President, I want to finish up where Senator Kyl and I started off this morning and elaborate a little bit more about what responsibilities are concerning the nuclear modernization program. Defending America should be our No. 1 priority. In most all of the administrations throughout the years, it has been our No. 1 priority. Today we are talking about the need to modernize our nuclear forces. The reason I think this is important, there are a lot of people who say the nuclear forces are a relic of the past. This is not true. Some in Washington believe we don’t need to modernize forces or that we can cut off one of the three legs—the three legs being the ICBM, bomber, and the submarine. It is not true. Our nuclear triad has to be kept intact. The arsenal is aging, and most of it has not been modernized since it started in the 1960s. In the 1980s, the last modernization actually took place during the Obama administration. They had a bet. They believed if we reduced our role in the number of nuclear weapons, the other countries would come along and do the same thing. That didn’t work out.
“In fact, they have done just the opposite. As the Nuclear Posture Review said, very clearly, ‘‘Since 2010 no potential adversary has reduced either the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, or the number of nuclear weapons it fields.’’ There is a comparison. The lighter color there is in development. In fact, Russia and China are both way ahead of us in that. In terms of fielding a system, we haven’t even fielded a system. We are clearly behind in that respect.
“Russia is modernizing every leg of the nuclear triad, but it is not just that. They are also building a vast arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons in addition to their triad. We heard Putin talk about some of these things last spring, like the nuclear-armed hypersonic weapons. Those are the hypersonic weapons that react not like six per minute but many per tenth of a second. He claimed he is ahead of us in that respect; that they have a nuclear-powered cruise missile and nuclear-armed missiles and defenses. We are talking about in both offensive and defensive capability. That is what Putin has been doing. What is more, Russian doctrine emphasizes using nuclear weapons to coerce the United States and NATO. Putin threatens NATO allies with nuclear strikes. This is interesting. You have to keep in mind, we are a nuclear NATO ally. In fact, that is about the time Putin made the statement that if they were to declare war on NATO— and that includes us and Western Europe—they would win. That is how things have become more and more serious and how they are very proud of themselves that they have been putting together a program faster than we are.
“Meanwhile, there is China. They are also further along in modernizing its nuclear arsenal. I think they claim or others claim that soon they will have a complete nuclear triad, including an ICBM, a bomber, and a submarine. I suggest that they very well have that already. This doesn’t even get to North Korea’s capabilities, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or the threats from terrorism. It should be clear, looking at all of these, that nuclear weapons are no Cold War relic. We need to modernize them for the current threat of the environment we face.
“Some of the critics say nuclear modernization is too expensive. I will not say it is going to be cheap, but it is going to be affordable. At its peak, in 2029, nuclear modernization will cost about 6.4 percent of the military budget, the DOD budget. On average, over the next two decades, it will be about 5 percent of the DOD budget. I think that is a pretty good price, especially when you consider that we haven’t been investing in it for over two decades. This investment will get us a new B– 1 bomber with modernized cruise missiles and a Columbia-class submarine. With this necessity to increase our capabilities comes some good news and helps us with our buildup. It will also bring command control to the 21st century and will help revitalize the infrastructure, including the Department of Energy.
“Some critics also say we have to choose between nuclear forces and conventional forces; that we can’t modernize both at the same time. This report we talked about this morning is the best report I have seen in showing where we are right now, where the other side is, what their capabilities are. They make it very clear that the nuclear and conventional forces are both indispensable to a balanced, effective defense. The Nation should not hollow out one set of capabilities to pay for another. I think we are in a position now to go forward, and people will recognize what we are now trying to do and keep up with what our adversaries are doing. In the past, there are some who have had very bipartisan support for our nuclear deterrent. In fact, some of the current modernization programs were started under the Obama administration when all the other parts of our national defense were deteriorating.
“Secretary Mattis said last year, it is not possible to delay modernization of our nuclear forces if we are to preserve a credible nuclear deterrent, ensuring that our diplomats continue to speak from the position of strength on matters of war and peace. I couldn’t have said it better myself. We need to keep our deterrent credible. Let’s keep in mind, though, that, yes, this is true. The only reason we are bringing up and emphasizing at this point the necessity for a nuclear modernization is that we have been neglecting it for so long.
“While we have been neglecting it, the other side has been paying attention to their capabilities. This book we talked about this morning—I didn’t mention some of the highlights in the book that I think are important because we in the United States have to understand that we don’t have the capabilities some of our adversaries have. Here are some of the highlights in this manual that has been lauded as probably the most accurate bipartisan manual on defense we have ever analyzed. It says, and these are quotes, ‘‘assesses unequivocally that the NDS’’—that is the defense system—‘‘is not adequately resourced.’’ Another quote: ‘‘America is very near the point of strategic insolvency.’’ Further, it says that ‘‘America’s military superiority has eroded to a dangerous degree’’ and that ‘‘America’s combat edge is diminishing or has disappeared.’’ That is all in this manual. But we knew that.
“We saw this coming. Remember, back in the early days of the Obama administration when Chuck Hagel was the Secretary of Defense, he said—and I read this to more people around the country back when the quote actually came out, which was 2014. This is a quote from our Secretary of Defense under the Obama administration: ‘‘American dominance of the seas and the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted.’’ Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, said: ‘‘In terms of artillery, the Army is outgunned and outranged by our adversaries.’’ The Vice CNO of the Navy, Admiral Moran, said that for our entire Hornet fleet—F/A–18 fleet—we have 62 percent that are not flyable today.
“So we are rapidly recovering right now. In fact, we are entering into a defense authorization bill, and one of the commitments we made is that we are going to have a defense authorization bill that will come up currently so that we will have it done well before the new year starts. That being the case, that will allow us to then go in with appropriations. One of the problems we have had before is that we are depending on renewing the previous year, and that is not going to work in this case. So I think we are coming out ahead. I think we have pretty much convinced most people who are making the decisions that we are going to have do something to renew our nuclear modernization and get on with the rebuilding that is taking place at this time.”