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Restore Military Readiness
A bipartisan panel warns of the crisis facing our military and national security.

Marines conduct live-fire drills at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. (Photo: Corporal James Mast)

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The National Defense Panel (NDP) issued its report last week, and from the muted response the report has received, you’d think it was another irrelevant Washington blue-ribbon commission. Think again.

The composition of the panel is enough to spark intrigue: What happens when you combine President Clinton’s defense secretary and a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, often referred to as Obama’s general, with former vice president Dick Cheney’s national-security adviser and Mitt Romney’s senior adviser for defense issues? One might have expected acrimony. The result was the exact opposite: a consensus report that highlights the crisis facing our military and national security. One shouldn’t conclude that the consensus suggests that the panelists abandoned their political scruples. (Any of a number of them could be the secretary of defense or the national-security adviser in a future Republican or Democratic administration.) Rather, it reveals that the precarious state of the military and our national security is of such a magnitude that it transcends political differences and makes partisan affiliation irrelevant.

This doesn’t happen often in Washington, and it should alarm anyone who cares about national security. There are many takeaways from the report, but one that exists between the lines of the findings and conclusions is that, amid all the global instability and threats posed by rogue states, terrorist groups, and rising powers such as China, the biggest threat we face may be the way Washington has mismanaged the Pentagon over the past five years. The report suggests that, from steep budget cuts to bureaucratic bloat, we’re doing all the wrong things with our armed forces and, absent immediate action, we may not recover from these mistakes.

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The NDP deftly avoids assigning blame for the shocking state of our military, though there’s certainly enough to go around for both the executive and the legislative branches. The NDP chose not to revisit how we got here, and that may be what enabled such a diverse group of defense experts to tackle some of the thorniest issues facing the defense policymakers, such as the amount of funding the military requires, the security threats and level of risk that the United States faces, and the type of conflicts we must be prepared to fight.

To the first question on the Pentagon budget, the so-called top line, the panelists are direct and to the point: The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, coupled with the law’s sequestration provision, constitutes “a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States.” Thus, to the Republicans who voted for sequestration, particularly those who still think sequestration is a good idea, and to the president, who signed the measure into law, the report’s message is that the BCA and sequestration have not only “caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities” but also “prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve.”

This latter consequence — the impact that sequestration has made on our allies and adversaries — should resonate with anyone who has even a passing familiarity with recent world events. From Eurasia to the Middle East to the East and South China Seas, the world is ablaze with conflicts. America seems paralyzed by these events and unable to shape or influence outcomes. The implication of the report is that our weakening military posture is one reason that the U.S. no longer figures prominently in the calculus of our allies and, most alarmingly, our adversaries. To be sure, military strength is not a replacement for foreign policy or leadership, but it is the stick that Roosevelt famously carried, and, according to the panel, that stick is shrinking at an alarming rate.

Only a couple of years after the White House and the Pentagon decide to reduce the size and capabilities of the armed services, world events quickly reveal the fallacy of such budget-driven decisions: The examples of this are countless. Whether the issue is a complete withdrawal from Iraq that has now boomeranged, with U.S. advisers back in Baghdad and U.S. targeted airstrikes in northern Iraq, or a reduction of forces in Europe that appears to be in reversal in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the report successfully argues that the U.S. does not have a strategy or force structure in place to accomplish the missions it will continue to task the military.

Simply saying sequestration is weakening our military and that it invites risk is not a novel claim. In fact, the military service chiefs have been warning of that with greater urgency for the past few years. What is new is that the panel recommends that the military undergo a robust rebuilding program, that Congress immediately pass emergency appropriations to restore military readiness, that the Pentagon receive funding at pre-BCA levels (over $100B more a year), and that when the military rebuilds it should tailor itself in a manner that conforms to the current threat environment. So, whereas the Obama administration seemed to depart from fielding a force capable of prevailing in two conflicts, the panel, taking heed of the “worsening threat environment,” calls for a more expansive force capable of deterring and defeating large-scale aggression in one theater while simultaneously and decisively deterring or thwarting aggression in multiple other theaters. That’s military speak for fielding a military sized to accomplish a peace-through-strength policy.

Perhaps the lack of attention paid to the NDP reflects that few believe that the report’s ambitious recommendations can be accomplished in the current political environment. That may be the case for now. But hiding behind the political impasse afflicting Washington carries its own political risk. It’s neither hard nor alarmist to contemplate a crisis triggering a public outcry over the state of our military. And while Congress and a lame-duck administration might be able to avoid dealing with the legacy of sequestration and the recommendations of the NDP, candidates vying for their party’s nomination in the upcoming presidential-primary season will not have the luxury of ignoring the state of the U.S. military. Anyone who hopes to be the next commander-in chief would be well advised to heed the recommendations of the panel.

— Roger Zakheim is an attorney and a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. He is a former deputy staff director and general counsel on the House Armed Services Committee. Follow him on Twitter @Rogerreuv.


RIMPAC 2014
Rim of the Pacific 2014, the latest edition of the world’s largest international maritime exercise, has drawn to a close after six weeks of extensive sea, air, and land training involving personnel from the U.S. and more than twenty regional nations. Here’s a look. (Pictured, the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu leads the way.)
Held every two years and hosted by the United States at its bases in Hawaii, RIMPAC is the largest exercise of its kind in the world. Pictured, MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters assigned to Sea Combat Squadron HSC-4 (the “Black Knights”). (Photo: Navy Ensign Joseph Pfaff)
RIMPAC brings together the militaries of twenty-two nations for training exercises involving 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft. Pictured, the littoral combat ship USS Independence (foreground) conducts maneuvers with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Dustin Kelling)
RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helponships that are critical to ensurins participants foster and sustain the cooperative relatig the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. Pictured, soldiers from New Zealand and Canada on the flight deck of USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Bryan M. Ilyankoff)
RIMPAC exercises include simulated combat operations involving beach assaults, air operations, and special-forces missions. Pictured, Marines with Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment board a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter for a fast-rope training exercise. (Photo: Marine Corps Corporal Erik Estrada)
RIMPAC participants also train for combat casualty evacuation and the evacuation of civilians from natural disasters. Pictured, sailors transport a New Zealand sailor from a Sea Hawk helicopter during a medical evacuation training exercise. (Photo: Navy Mass Communcation Specialist First Class Amanda Chavez)
The exercises are also a chance to put new and experimental systems through their paces. Pictured, Marine Corps Lance Corpora. Brandon Dieckmann, India Company, Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, leads the experimental Legged Squad Support System at Kahuku Training Area. (Photo: Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Callahan)
SURFACE FLEET: The scale of the RIMPAC exercises is demonstrated in this aerial view of some of the ships involved. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Shannon Renfroe)
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan steams towards Hawaii to take part in RIMPAC 2014.
The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (at right) and the guided missile destroyer USS Spruance (left) conduct a replenishment at sea with the fast combat support ship USNS Rainier (middle) en route to RIMPAC 2014. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Dustin Knight)
Sailors man the rails aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as she arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Brian T. Glunt)
Aircraft line the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jonathan Nelson)
Sailors aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (right) toss mooring lines to crew members aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Chosin at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Brian T. Glunt)
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force guided missile destroyer JS Kirishima and USS Lake Erie observe morning colors at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (Photo: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Petty Officer First Class Makoto Maeda,)
FLIGHT OPS: An E/A-18G Growler with Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-136 (the “Gauntlets”) prepares to land aboard USS Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Conor Minto)
Two Army AH-64E Apache helicopters with First Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, prepare to launch from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Dustin Knight)
A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-161 and a CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron HMH-465 during flight operations aboard USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist third Class Will Gaskill)
Sailors assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore direct a MV-22 Osprey, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-161 onto the flight deck for a personnel transfer. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Amanda R. Gray)
Navy Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Recruit Everett Dorsey launches an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-21 from the flight deck of USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Chavez)
Navy Aviation Boatswain's Mate Second Class David Willsey signals a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron HMH-465 during flight operations aboard USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Chavez)
Air Force Captain Vaiman "Tiki" Conner, an F-22 Raptor pilot with the 199th Fighter Squadron, prepares for takeoff. (Photo: Air Force Senior Airman James Richardson)
Captain Patrick Hickie III, a weapon systems officer with the 391st Fighter Squadron, prepares to enter his F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. (Photo: Air Force Staff Sergeant Alexander Martinez)
An Air Force F-22 Raptor with the 199th Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard takes off from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. (Photo: Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson)
An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft flies alongside a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft near Hawaii. (Photo: Air Force Staff Sergeant Caleb Wanzer)
A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet aircraft flies alongside an RCAF CC-150T Polaris to refuelling off the coast of Hawaii. (Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera Sergeant Matthew McGregor)
A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet aircraft connects to the basket on a RCAF CC-130T Hercules aircraft during an aerial refuelling maneuver. (Photo: Canadian Forces Sergeant Matthew McGregor)
Air Force Master Sergeant Mark McGougan, a boom operator with 465th Air Refueling Squadron, controls the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. (Photo: Staff Sergeant Caleb Wanzer)
Navy Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Austin Ellis conducts F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft cockpit safety training with Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Leigh Kim aboard USS Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Timothy Schumaker)
Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic First Class Rylan Gorby (right) works with Aviation Machinist's Mate Second Class Kerry Mullina, to prepare an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-6 (the “Indians”) aboard USS Independence. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Corey T. Jones)
Royal New Zealand Navy Petty Officer Naval Police Nicole Mattsen directs an SH-2G Seasprite helicopter No. 6 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force on the multirole vessel HMNZS Canterbury. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Third Class Jonathan Connor, directs fueling flight deck crew members during flight operations aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)
A Navy MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-6 (the “Indians) prepares to lift off from the littoral combat ship USS Independence. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Corey T. Jones)
An CH-53E Super Stallion assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron HMH-465 hovers over the flight deck prior to landing. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Katarzyna Kobiljak)
A Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopter with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-4 flies off the coast of Hawaii. (Photo: Navy Ensign Joseph Pfaff)
PARTNER NATIONS: An Australian soldier participates in an amphibious beach assault exercise at Pyramid Beach. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Shannon Renfroe)
Sergeant Curtis Baglee, Third Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, laughs during noncombatant evacuation operation training. (Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera Sergeant Matthew McGregor)
Indonesian Marines prep for exercises aboard USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Chavez)
Japanese soldiers participate in an amphibious assault exercise July 1 at Pyramid Rock Beach. (Photo: Marine Corporal Matthew J. Bragg)
A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldier waits for his squad leader to give the signal to advance positions during a simulated amphibious assault at Pyramid Rock Beach, Hawaii. (Photo: Marine Corporal Matthew J. Bragg)
Australian soldiers with Delta Company, Fifth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, conduct a tactical live-fire demonstration at a range at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. (Photo: Marine Lance Corporal Victor A. Mancilla)
New Zealand soldiers train with Canadian service members and U.S. Marines. (Photo: New Zealand Defense Force Leading Aircraftsman Maria Oosterbaan)
Marine Corps Lance Corporal Kien T. Do, India Company, Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, compares the weight of an Austyer F88 rifle to an M-16. (Photo: Marine Corps Lance Corporal Aaron S. Patterson)
A Marine with Third Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, waits to conduct helicopter rope suspension training and amphibious insert capabilities training with Japanese and Canadian soldiers. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Shannon E. Renfroe)
GOING ASHORE: Corporal Keean Jones, Third Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, provides perimeter security as a U.S. Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter lifts off during non-combatant evacuation operation training. (Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera Sergeant Matthew McGregor)
Canadian service members exit a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during noncombatant evacuation training at the Kahuku Training Area. (Photo: Marine Corporal Erik Estrada)
Navy Operations Specialist First Class Jeremy Sutton, Assault Craft Unit 5, guides an LCAC craft toward the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Ryan J. Batchelder)
Navy Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Brooks Graham directs an LCAC assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5 into the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Will Gaskill)
Boatswain's Mate Second Class Robert Pucel, Beachmaster Unit BMU-1, signals an LCAC with Assault Craft Unit ACU-5, to hold it's postition after landing during an equipment transfer operation. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Dustin Knight)
Marines drive an amphibious assault vehicle towards the well deck of USS Rushmore after small boat operations exercises. (Photo: Navy Mass Communcation Specialist Second Class Amanda R. Gray)
Service members from partner nations jump out of a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion during a simulated amphibious beach assault. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Charles E. White)
Members of a U.S. Marine Corps special operations team and South Korean SEALs climb a ladder into a U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopter with Helicopter Combat Squadron HSC-14 during an air assault exercise at U.S. Marine Corps Training Area Bellows. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Daniel Gay)
U.S. Marines with Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, land a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter at the Kahuku Training Area in Oahu. (Photo: Marine Corps Sergeant William L. Holdaway)
An Army CH-47D Chinook and two UH-60M Black Hawks wait to transport patients to area hospitals during a mass casualty drill. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Tiarra Fulgham)
Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicles assigned to AAV Company, Combat Assault Battalion, Third Marine Division prepare to launch from a beach in Kaneohe, Hawaii. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Shannon E. Renfroe)
Marines with Combat Assault Company, Third Marine Regiment, wait in Amphibious Assault Vehicles prior to launch from the beach to amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist First Class Shannon E. Renfroe)
A U.S. Marine Corps prototype half-scale Ultra Heavy-lift Amphibious Connector, developed by Navatek Ltd. and the Office of Naval Research, lands at a training area at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. (Photo: Marine Corps Corporal Matthew J. Bragg)
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the at-sea phase of exercises. (Photo: Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Petty Officer First Class Makoto Maeda)
Updated: Aug. 08, 2014

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