The primary job of the federal government is to provide for the common defense, yet today only 15 percent of the budget is devoted to that task. While our military personnel will always try to do whatever is asked of them, years of inadequate and unpredictable funding have taken a real toll. Much of their equipment is old and worn out, and too often they have not been getting the training they need to do what the nation asks. In 2017 about four times as many service members lost their lives in routine training and operations than in hostile actions.
Defense Secretary James Mattis testified recently that “our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare – air, land, sea, space, and cyber.” Others have put our position compared with rival states, such as Russia and China, in much starker terms. There can be little doubt that this erosion of American military strength has encouraged a variety of adversaries to be more aggressive and that the world has grown more dangerous as a result.
The budget agreement recently passed by Congress and signed into law begins to reverse this decline. At the same time, sufficient resourcing comes with additional responsibility, for both the Congress and the Department of Defense. While the added funding will allow us to begin to repair our planes, ships, and equipment, we must also continue to drive significant reforms needed within the Department and other agencies to stay ahead of rapidly changing technologies and a wide range of current and anticipated future threats. In addition, the first full audit of the Department will occur this year, which will help uncover areas for financial improvement.
Over the past three years, Congress has enacted significant reforms with strong bipartisan support. We have modernized military benefits, reorganized much of the Defense bureaucracy, and reformed the way the Pentagon buys goods and services. All of this was done with a goal of making the Pentagon, and especially the acquisition system, more agile. As a result, anyone entering military service today will witness these reforms, over the course of their career, save the taxpayer billions. We have more work to do, and top officials in the Department seem willing to work with Congress towards this important goal.
A military starved of resources, training, and equipment will not long be able to protect the country physically or economically.
Still, some have opposed restoring military budgets by trying to revive the old “guns versus butter” debate. In fact, American economic prosperity and our national security are more like the chicken and the egg – we cannot have one without the other.
We need a strong, vibrant economy to produce the tax revenue to fund our military. We also need economic growth and innovation to ensure that our military technology stays ahead of authoritarian, directed economies like China’s that can force a whole-of-nation effort against us.
But a strong military is also an essential prerequisite to a healthy economy and to our quality of life. Since World War II, the rules-based international order created and maintained by the United States has benefited peoples around the globe and none more so than Americans here at home. We are living longer with a higher material standard of living than ever before.
When we talk about the necessity of a strong military, it is not only to protect our people and allies from North Korean missile and terrorist attacks. It is also to guarantee freedom of navigation in the sea and in the air and to ensure that there are fair, enforceable international rules that give American companies and American workers a fair chance to compete.
Allowing our military strength to continue to wane adds fuel to China’s narrative that America is a nation in decline so that Asian nations would do better to enlist in China’s alternative economic and military order. If China sets the rules for much of the world’s economy, America will feel the consequences in our pocketbooks as well as in our security.
A military starved of resources, training, and equipment will not long be able to protect the country physically or economically. That is why Congress came together this month and ended the era of asking our troops to do too much with too little. To make the most of that investment, we must now apply equal effort to agility driven reforms.
The brave men and women in the military serve the nation unconditionally, and our support for them should be unconditional as well. They deserve the best training, equipment, and support that our nation can provide. By providing that kind of support for them, we are also helping ensure that future Americans will inherit a country of growth and opportunity.