Meanwhile, American military strength ebbs. The military is approximately 40 percent smaller than it was when Desert Storm was fought in 1991, and the Pentagon’s inventory of “platforms” — primarily ships, aircraft, and tracked vehicles — is old, less and less reliable, and increasingly out of date technologically. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916. The Air Force is as small as it was before Pearl Harbor. The Army needs to replace its inventory of combat vehicles.
In short, the military faces a crisis in modernization that can no longer be ignored. Earlier this year, Congress created a blue-ribbon independent panel to review the Pentagon’s strategic plans. Chaired by former defense secretary Bill Perry and former national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, the panel included members from across the political and ideological spectrum. It concluded that the military was headed for a “train wreck” unless the basic inventories of the services were recapitalized. The panel endorsed various reform measures to achieve savings in current programs, but it also determined that, even if those savings could be achieved, “a substantial additional investment, beginning right away and sustained through the long term,” would be necessary to meet the crucial modernization needs.
Fortunately, it is well within the government’s capacity — even in these difficult budgetary times — to find the necessary funding. Congress could reverse the decline in military capability simply by capturing the unspent portion of the stimulus package and spending it judiciously on modernization over the next five years. As the panel report demonstrated, it is possible to marshal a strong bipartisan consensus for such an effort.
The problem is not budgetary. The problem is getting our government leaders to focus on the vital connections between strength, prosperity, and freedom. The best and cheapest way to protect American security is to sustain American power at a level that reduces risk, encourages global economic growth, and deters the wars that cost America so much in lives and treasure.
As Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “Of the four wars that happened in my lifetime, none occurred because America was too strong.”
— Jim Talent, now a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, served on both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees during his years in Congress.