Washington, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today provided the following open statement at a hearing titled “Impact of Sequestration on the National Defense:”
Today’s hearing comes at a critical time. Our military –the backbone of our security, economic prosperity and the foundation of America’s global leadership— is at extreme risk.
Our naval fleet is at a historically low level of ships. The Air Force is the smallest in its history. The Army may shrink to a force not seen since the beginning of the 20th century. Military leaders now warn of being unable to protect our interests and citizens around the world. At a time when our security is being increasingly threatened by terrorism, a rising China, and rogue nations like Iran and North Korea, the men and women charged with protecting this nation are being undermined and forced to endure devastating cuts to the tools they need to keep America safe.
Over the last three decades we have built the most powerful fighting force in history and filled it with the most talented men and women ever to wear the uniform. We cannot break our promises to them or our responsibility to protect the nation. But recent budget turmoil has forced our generals and admirals to worry about our military’s ability to fulfill its critical national security role in an increasingly dangerous world.
There is no end in sight. The military started this fiscal year with a government shutdown. They have no guidance and no budget to deal with the harsh reality of sequestration. We have been told that over the next three years much of the $150 billion in sequester cuts will be taken from accounts used to ensure our military men and women are better trained and better equipped than our enemies, further undermining their ability to protect this nation and return safely home to their loved ones.
I know some Americans are wondering why any of this matters or how these cuts may affect their everyday lives. The simple reality is that the world around us is not getting safer. The threats to our nation’s security are getting more dangerous and more volatile every day. Just look across the Middle East and North Africa. Chaos and violence are on the rise and Al-Qaeda is growing and establishing new safe havens from which to plan and launch attacks against American interests. Rogue nations like Iran and North Korea continue to develop weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, potentially here to our shores. And China and Russia continue to advance their military posture and capabilities, threatening our partners and undermining U.S. national interests.
No one believes the hollow political rhetoric about the tide of war receding. It’s not the tide of war that’s receding – it’s American leadership, trust of American security partners, and our ability to protect this country that’s receding.
As American might and influence declines further, our adversaries will quickly fill the growing void we are leaving behind, likely at the expense of our interests and security. We’re already seeing the ill effects of an absent America. Long-time partners are refusing to cooperate with us and Russia and China now increasingly dictate the trajectory of global events in places like the Middle East and the South China Sea. We’re at a point where our allies don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us.
The longer we allow these issues to fester, the more likely the threats to our security will grow. As America retreats from its role as the global leader, we will have more tragedies like Benghazi where our military doesn’t have assets postured to protect American citizens abroad; we will have more failed states like Syria and Libya as cauldrons of chaos that breed terrorism; we will have more missed opportunities like Iraq as its security spirals out of control; we’ll have more brutal dictators like Kim Jong Un pursuing and acquiring weapons of mass destruction; and more aggressive adversaries like China attempting to bully our partners in the South China Sea; but we’ll have fewer options for how to deal with them and we’ll have fewer partners who trust the United States and are willing or able to support our efforts to bolster regional stability.
This is why I am so troubled by the disastrous path we’re on. In the face of mounting threats to America, we’re crippling our military – the very people who are vital to our security. For the first time since the Clinton Administration, our military leaders use the term “hollow” to define their forces’ future. Like a tree that rots from the inside, the outside may still look strong, but eventually the tree will fall without warning. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently warned that continued national security cuts will ‘‘severely limit our ability to implement our defense strategy. It will put the nation at greater risk of coercion, and it will break faith with men and women in uniform.’’
This faith is sacred to me. Our nation relies on a small part of our population to volunteer to risk their lives on its behalf. When these brave men and women are ordered into harm’s way, they will salute with courage and accomplish the mission with professionalism and overwhelming effectiveness. In return, they rightfully expect that a supportive nation will provide them with the best training, technology, and equipment to accomplish the mission and come home safely. Tragically, this faith is being threatened by the growing divide between the security our nation expects and the resources being provided to those who provide that security.
Our witnesses testified before the House in September about the potential of not having the readiness or capabilities to succeed in even one major contingency operation if sequestration is allowed to continue. In an unprecedented admission, our Combatant Commanders for the first time this year assess that current forces will be unable to support various operational plans around the world. In response, they have been ordered to revise their plans to reflect reduced budgets and resources, despite the fact that the capabilities of our potential adversaries are advancing.
Put simply, top military leaders are telling us that continued cuts to national security spending are making this country less safe. These cuts are making it more likely that our military men and women will not return from the battlefield alive. This is immoral. If we expect the men and women of our military to go to foreign lands to protect this country, we have an obligation to provide them with the technology and capabilities needed to decisively overwhelm any adversary at any time. Only then can we reduce the risk of ever having to use our military forces. Peace is obtained through strength. We know this because President Regan effectively demonstrated it.
In the midst of a dangerous world filled with adversaries seeking to do us harm, Reagan led the way to preserve and protect American prosperity and security for future generations through a strong and capable national defense. This fundamental approach to foreign policy led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of millions from the harsh grip of oppression, and preserved the American way of life. Its lessons are as applicable today as they were over two decades ago.
Today’s hearing is an opportunity for our witnesses to make a difference. Over the last three decades the proven effectiveness and professionalism of our Armed Forces when placed in harm’s way has rightly earned the respect of the American people. This respect comes with the responsibility to speak bluntly about the current state and future trajectory of our national security and the consequences of inaction. Members of this committee and the American people need to hear what’s really at stake if we continue down this dangerous path.
Editor’s Note: These remarks presented as prepared for delivery.