In a speech this morning at AEI sponsored by the Center for Defense Studies, Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon reflected on America’s “quest for peace” since September 11, 2001. But just as we pass the ten-year mark, said McKeon, “we are sliding back to a place we pledged never to return to, and repeating the mistakes of a September tenth America.” Defense cuts threaten to degrade a military after a decade of conflict—a military whose sacrifice has been enormous, and whose role in sustaining the peace is vital.
As the United States considers defense spending cuts, McKeon invoked Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength.” From Hamilton to Marshall and Eisenhower, American leaders have understood, intuitively and acutely, the importance of a strong defense to a prosperous and peaceful future. Today, with an aging inventory of platforms, rising global uncertainty, and a force that has given so much over the past ten years, holding the line on the defense budget is more important than ever.
Tomorrow, CDS Director Tom Donnelly will testify before McKeon’s House Armed Services Committee in its hearing “The Future of National Defense and the U.S. Military Ten Years After 9/11: Perspectives from Outside Experts.”
The Defending Defense project, a joint initiative of AEI, the Foreign Policy Initiative and The Heritage Foundation, brought together Senators Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl as well as Representatives Randy Forbes, Duncan Hunter and Allen West in the Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday to discuss defense spendingin light of the Super Committee deliberations. Tom Donnelly from the American Enterprise Institute, Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard and the Foreign Policy Initiative, and Mackenzie Eaglen from The Heritage Foundation participated as well, with Kristol delivering opening remarks and moderating, and Donnelly and Eaglen providing commentary after the event.
Senator Kyl, a member of the Super Committee, argued that defense spending was not the cause of America’s budget woes and “should not be the answer” to righting our budget deficit. “When we had our first meeting, the Chairman asked, ‘Well, what do we think about defense spending?’ And I said, ‘I’m off the committee if we’re going to talk about further defense spending,’” the senator said of Thursday morning’s first Super Committee meeting. “First we did discretionary spending in the budget act, second, defense was half of that, even though it’s not half the budget, obviously. And, third, we can’t afford any more and that’s what your defense secretary, past and current, and others have said. So we’re not going there.”
After Senator Kyl delivered his remarks, Representative West reflected on his experience as an army officer, and discussed the strategic, operational and tactical implications for lower defense budgets, pointing specifically to the imperative for strategy to drive budget-setting, not vice-versa. Senator Graham gave a broad-ranging address on American strategy, invoking Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength” and discussing the progress made in securing America since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Graham went on to say, with regard to the treatment of defense spending in the budget deal, “This pisses me off beyond belief that our party would subject the Department of Defense not just to more cuts, but to the end of the finest force ever created in the history of the world… This budget deal is a philosophical shift that I will have no part of.”
Representative Forbes spoke of the need for sound and thorough assessment of risks and necessary resources, and of the relationship between America’s economic and military strengths. Senator Ayotte reminded listeners of the constitutional obligation of Congress to keep America safe, as well as the consequences for our men andwomen in uniform of cutting defense spending more deeply. Representative Hunter, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who enlisted following the September 11 attacks, called for America to take stock of its role in the world, the risks to which it is exposed, and the vast interests tied to having a strong military when shaping its defense budget.
Click here for Senator Kyl’s uncorrected transcript.
Thanks to the provisions of the Budget Control Act and the subsequent directions of President Obama’s budget director, Jack Lew, the Department of Defense is figuring out how to trim $1 trillion from its current and planned budgets. Perhaps the principal target in the sights is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (aka the Lightning II)—a fact that neatly encapsulates the Pentagon’s severe budgetary, programmatic, operational, and strategic problems. It’s only modest hyperbole to conclude that as fares the Lightning, so fares America’s military power.
Taking away the F-35 would render the surface Navy and Marine Corps all but useless in responding to the kind of “anti-access” challenges China now presents and others like Iran are developing.
There are only three places they can go to harvest cuts of that magnitude: military personnel, operations and maintenance, and the “acquisition” accounts that reflect both weapons research and procurement. The costs of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have skyrocketed over the last decade. Even if the costs of combat or “hazardous duty” pay are factored out, Stephen Daggett of the Congressional Research Service has calculated that the annual per-troop price of the All-Volunteer Force has risen from less than $60,000 from 1972 to 2001 to almost $90,000 today. Thus, even though reductions in Army and Marine manpower are already baked into Pentagon plans, the overall personnel budget will continue to rise. Making the cuts contemplated in the Budget Control Act will likely mean further reductions of tens of thousands, but deeper troop cuts would be difficult—and extremely risky.
The “O&M” pot would appear to be a more lucrative target, and savings from these accounts are the dream of every good-government Pentagon reformer. The dream, but never the reality, as former Pentagon chief Robert Gates discovered in his quixotic 2010 quest for “efficiencies.” Cost growth in operations and maintenance is staggering: Daggett estimates that even if defense spending remained the same (after inflation), O&M would consume half the Pentagon’s budget by 2020. But the category is a catch-all: It includes elements such as the defense health service, which treats veterans, reservists, and families as well as active troops. And the effect of past O&M cuts has been felt in reduced training and unit readiness—the most deserving suffer first. The dream of big O&M savings will remain a dream. The best that can be hoped for is to constrain the rate of growth.
Much of the budget-cutting pain will thus inevitably be felt in acquisitions. Daggett forecasts that such spending, about $185 billion in 2010, will drop to less than $127 billion by 2020—and could be less than that, if the super committee either does its worst or simply does nothing. And here’s how the F-35 finds itself in the center of the bull’s-eye: It’s where the acquisition money is.
Welcome to the world of the defense programmer. The first two rounds of Obama defense cuts eviscerated a generation’s worth of weapons projects. The 2009 round, in particular, short-circuited big-ticket items like the F-22 Raptor fighter, the Zumwalt destroyer, and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. The 2010 round policed up some of the smaller fry like the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. By the reckoning of the Pentagon’s last “Selected Acquisition Report,” the annual scorecard for weapons programs, the F-35 dwarfs all other efforts. And if one simply calculates money planned but not fully programmed or spent—in other words, the most fertile fields for harvesting future savings—the F-35, with about $300 billion needed to complete the planned buy, is an order of magnitude larger than any other program on the books. Considering that it’s long been planned to replace nearly the entire fleet of aging U.S. fighters and a good number of support aircraft, the cost is no surprise and still, in fact, a bargain. Nonetheless, the temptation to plunder the F-35 budget is overwhelming.
The Navy is almost eager to do so. On July 7, Navy undersecretary Robert Work told Navy and Marine Corps planners to develop alternative aviation plans that look at terminating both the short-take-off “B” model for the Marines and the carrier “C” model for the Navy. In standard Goldilocks fashion, Work called for three options: Cut $5 billion, cut $7.5 billion, cut $10 billion. And, ominously, Work directed his minions to divine “the best-value alternative, factoring in both cost and capability. . . . This relook must consider every plan and program. Even cuts to long-planned buys of JSF must be on the table.”
Now to the operational rub. Since World War II, America’s sea services have been, first and foremost, organizations built around the virtues of carrier aircraft—this includes the Marine Corps, whose big-deck “amphibs” are almost as large as any non-American aircraft carrier. Clever defense analysts have begun to castigate carriers as “wasting assets,” too vulnerable to the kind of ballistic missile and other attacks that the Chinese military is developing. But it’s equally the case that a carrier without a front-line aircraft—that is, the fifth-generation F-35—is an entirely wasted asset.
In sum, it makes no sense to retain massive carrier fleets with ever-more-limited capability. If the Navy and Marine Corps can’t afford to put a China-relevant plane aboard their carriers—and a China-relevant “unmanned” aircraft is not on the horizon—they should stop building the carriers, too, and even mothball some of the ones they have now.
Terminating the “B” and “C” models of the F-35—let alone reducing the numbers of “A” models intended for the Air Force—would have dire strategic consequences. The F-35 is an international program, and the roster of countries who have contributed money to the development of the Lightning or who want to buy the plane is a veritable who’s who of America’s allies. Britain alone has committed about $2 billion to the project, and the Italians, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Australians, Norwegians, and Turks are already on board and will build parts of the jet. The Israelis want to get F-35s by 2014 if they can, and the Singaporeans are lined up just behind; both countries—states little larger than aircraft carriers—are interested in the short-take-off “B” variant on the assumption that their current air bases are increasingly vulnerable. Japan and South Korea—absolute linchpins of U.S. posture in East Asia—are likely candidates for sales, assuming there’s still something for them to buy in a few years.
A big hit on the F-35 program would also be catastrophic for the defense aviation industry, both in this country and in the West generally. A generation ago, seven companies made airplanes for the U.S. military. Now Lockheed Martin, the only firm to have made a fifth-generation aircraft, leads an international consortium of companies who make pieces of planes. The F-35 factory in Fort Worth is enormous, with the capacity to accommodate the Pentagon’s original plans to buy over 230 Lightnings a year. But with past reductions keeping production at just 30 or so airplanes annually for the next couple of years, and talk of making similar cuts beyond that, the capacity will be increasingly unused—and the workers laid off.
Defending the F-35 program is politically incorrect. It’s been a favorite punching bag for congressional overseers and often in “breach” of the cost-growth targets of the so-called “Nunn-McCurdy” law—a 1982 provision that was a grandstand play back then and is entirely outdated and irrelevant now. Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have proposed a new amendment that threatens to end the program while also renegotiating past contracts. Even Gates put the F-35B on “two-year probation,” whatever that means.
But preserving the program is essential for America’s defense for the foreseeable future. We’ve put an immense number of eggs in this basket, and it’s just about the last basket we have—there are no short-term alternatives, and taking away the F-35 would render the surface Navy and Marine Corps all but -useless in responding to the kind of “anti-access” challenges China now presents and others like Iran are developing.
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
(U.S. Air Force /Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/wikimedia commons)
The Islamic Republic of Iran has cultivated and supported terrorist groups in the broader Middle East for decades. Hamas, operating in the Gaza Strip, and Lebanese Hezbollah, now a leading party in the coalition running the Lebanese government, are among the groups continuously receiving funding, weapons, and other assistance from the Iranian regime. Through these activities, Iran has developed the capability to project force by proxy and threaten American interests and allies in the region, including Israel.
Public professions of support for Hamas and Hezbollah are commonplace among Iranian officials and clerics. Often times, these statements also shed light on the nature of their ties and on how these proxies fit into Iran’s expansionist regional map. Recent remarks by Iranian leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are illustrative in this regard. Ali Saidi, a cleric appointed to serve as a sort of commissar for Khamenei, told a recent audience that “The world’s people should know that today the positions of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are considered as Iran’s ‘border’ with Israel, and any threat to these regions is seen as an attack on positions and interests of the Islamic system.”
Saidi’s statement is significant in its suggestions that Hamas and Hezbollah are not simply accessories but limbs of the regime and that Gaza and Lebanon are essentially forward bases for the regime. As a statement of Iranian doctrine, such a declaration would have dangerous implications for regional stability and Israel’s ability to defend itself, particularly as the regime continues its drive toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Moammar Qaddafi’s rule might be crumbling, but the colonel refuses to quit. On the evening of August 23, Qaddafi loyalists launched Scuds at the rebel-run town of Misrata. The missile strikes will be a footnote to the last days of the Transitional National Council’s struggle to unseat Qaddafi, but Western policymakers should not ignore them, for reasons that have less to do with Libya and far more with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Both Pres. George W. Bush and Pres. Barack Obama declared that they would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. “The free world cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” Bush declared on CBS’s Face the Nation in 2006. Obama, for his part, told the Associated Press in 2009 that he’s “not reconciled” with Iran’s theoretical possession of nuclear weapons during his presidency. Bush left office with his policy in tatters. Obama sought renewed diplomacy, but this too has failed.
Both inside and outside the State Department, Pentagon, and Old Executive Office Building, officials whisper privately what they will not state publicly: The United States is not prepared to use military force to deny Iran a nuclear weapon. Instead, the United States will rely on traditional deterrence.
Those around the administration, as well as respected analysts, agree. “I don’t think this is a suicidal regime. I don’t dismiss out of hand at all the idea that they could be deterred,” Thomas Fingar, one of the primary authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, told National Public Radio two years ago. Joshua Pollack, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and government consultant, argued on the same program that deterrence is the least bad option. “The alternatives to deterrence are what, after all?” he explained, pointing out that the costs associated with military action against Iran would be greater than those in Iraq.
Fareed Zakaria, a pundit close to the Obama administration, also dismissed the notion that the regime is suicidal or liable to act on more extreme interpretations of its ideology. The mullahs, he argued in 2007, are “building up bank accounts in Dubai and in Switzerland. This does not strike me as the kind of ravings of, you know, an end-of-days millenarian,” he declared. In an excellent overview of the debate last year about the character of Iran’s regime, RealClearWorld’s Kevin Sullivan came down firmly against the notion that the Iranian regime remains suicidal, even if it once was. “Even history’s most suicidal of states can — and have — changed. Iran is already one of them. So if Iraqis can trust a once suicidal Iran, why can’t Americans and Israelis?” he asked.
When considering Iran’s nuclear weapons, however, the character of the regime is less important than the ideology of those who would have custody, command, and control of the nuclear arsenal.
It is safe to assume that should the Iranian regime develop a nuclear weapon, the most elite and ideologically trusted unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps would retain custody. After all, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the Revolutionary Guards to be the elite ideological guardians of his regime. The army’s officers had for too long supported the shah, and while they might help defend Iran’s borders, Khomeini had no confidence that when push came to shove, they would stand firm against the political winds.
Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Guards remain effectively a big black box to the American analytical and academic communities. Scholars and pundits often discuss reformers and hardliners, but only in the context of Iranian politics; parallel analysis of factions within the Revolutionary Guards does not exist. Some academics downplay the Revolutionary Guards’ ideology, suggesting that they, too, have become post-revolutionary. But while it is true that some Iranians may join the Guards for the associated privileges, others are true believers in the regime’s most extreme ideologies. Still, no matter how extreme they may be, the future custodians of an Iranian nuclear device may not be suicidal — so long as the regime’s grip is secure.
No Iranian leader, however, can bet on stability. The revolutionaries who seized power in 1979 represented a broad coalition united in opposition to the shah, not in allegiance to Khomeini. Almost immediately, the revolution turned on its own; the range of acceptable political discourse in Iran has shrunk with every subsequent year. Polls show that most Iranians today neither believe in Khomeini’s philosophy of clerical rule nor think that their current system can be reformed.
That does not mean Iranians are revolutionary; most are apathetic, scarred by a revolution that brought not freedom but renewed dictatorship and contributed to a war that killed perhaps one million people. Still, Iran is a tinderbox: The question for analysts is simply whether the government is better at extinguishing sparks than the opposition is at fanning the flames. In 1999, 2001, and 2009, Iranians poured into the streets in protests that briefly threatened the continuity of the regime. It is certain that when the regime miscalculates and contributes a new spark, there will be new mass protests in Iran. Eventually, the fire will take hold and some security forces may defect to the protesters, a parallel more akin to the last days of Nikolai Ceausescu in Romania, or perhaps Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, than to Libya, which required the involvement of outside forces.
In a case where regime collapse is inevitable, assumptions that the regime will act to moderate its own behavior become moot. When Qaddafi recognized his hours were numbered, he launched Scud missiles at his own people. What might the Revolutionary Guards do in a parallel situation? Ideological hatred toward the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia may be rhetorical among many Iranians, but for those in the Qods Force or other elite units, the embrace of ideology is sincere. While they might not normally be suicidal, if they believe the regime and perhaps their lives are over regardless of their actions, why not make good on the ideological goal and launch a nuclear weapon against external enemies? After all, would the United States or Israel really retaliate against a regime that would already have changed even before the smoke cleared? It is doubtful that the United States or Israel would gratuitously kill 20 million Iranians in such a situation.
Qaddafi’s last stand should provide a wake-up call for those who wish to tie American national security to deterrence. Placing a bet on a nuclear Islamic Republic’s desire for self-preservation discounts two important factors: The determination of the Iranian people to be free, and the ideological sincerity of the small elite whose fingers would be on the nuclear button.
Cross-posted from National Review Online.
Lest we forget our ally on the far side of NATO, it is worth recalling Turkey’s role and importance in Afghanistan. Today, Turkey contributes 1,786 troops to the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), directing two provincial reconstruction teams partly responsible for the development of the security capabilities of the Afghan Police Force and the fulfillment of various civilian reconstruction projects. As part of the ISAF mission, Turkey has trained twelve Afghan companies – a total of 1,123 soldiers –at its Isparta Turkish Commando Basic Training Course, instructing Afghan National Army recruits in reconnaissance, special operations, and urban warfare tactics. But more influential than these military contributions may be Turkey’s soft power potential in Afghanistan, derivative of religious and cultural affinities between the two countries. As Mohammad Halim Fidai, governor of the insecure Wardak Province where Turkey maintains one of its PRTs, attests, “Turkish programs are very well received and readily accepted by Afghans because they work within Afghan culture. They are sensitive to Afghan values.” Turkey’s cultural and religious sensitivities may prove as valuable as its hard power contributions to the western effort in Afghanistan.
But Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan is more complicated than meets the eye, tied to Ankara’s soaring regional ambitions—and Turkey’s pursuit of its interests may not align with American objectives in the region. Beyond its ISAF commitments, for example, Turkish leaders have engaged independently with both Afghanistan and Pakistan in trilateral meetings. The most recent of these meetings, entitled “Summit for Friendship and Cooperation at the Heart of Asia,” yielded a series of agreements to coordinate domestic and defense policies of the three nations including a tactical urban warfare exercise successfully completed in March of this year. In a more controversial diplomatic maneuver, Ankara has broached the possibility of opening a Taliban political office in Istanbul with a view to facilitating negotiations between NATO allies and the insurgent group. Ankara’s overture to the Taliban mirror Turkey’s collaboration with other aspirant great power Brazil in negotiating a fuel swap deal with Iran under the Tehran Declaration—only weeks before the United Nations approved a fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for repeated evasion and violation of UN directives.
Despite its recent erratic—and in some cases unhelpful— behavior of late, Ankara still holds the potential to play a constructive role in central Asia. As combat operations in Afghanistan are reduced over the next three years, American interests in the region would be well-served by a close, cooperative relationship with the largest troop-contributing, majority-Muslim state participating in ISAF (Azerbaijan deploys 94; UAE, 35) and the sole Muslim country in the NATO alliance, what one scholar appropriately describes as a natural “bridge between East and West.” Looking ahead, US policymakers must learn to leverage Turkey’s regional ambitions for the United States’ own good. And, if it’s prestige that Ankara wants, it must better coordinate future efforts in the region with those of Washington.
Tehran recently filed suit against Moscow in the International Court of Arbitration for its decision to cancel sale of Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile system. Iran and Russia signed an $800 million contract in 2007 to supply Tehran with five battalions of the anti-aircraft system, which would substantially boost Iran’s capacity to defend its nuclear installations. But last September President Dmitry Medvedev banned transfer of the S-300 to Tehran. He argued that the most recent round of Security Council sanctions against Iran—adopted in June 2010—prohibited their delivery.
Tehran disagrees. In an interview on Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador to Russia reiterated his government’s view that the S-300 is a defensive weapons system that falls outside the confines of the sanctions regime. It’s a position that the Iranians have maintained since Medvedev issued his decree last fall. Russia, however, was apparently shocked by Iran’s lawsuit. “We recognize the statement by Iranian officials about the intention to dispute Russia’s actions in an arbitrational procedure,” a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. “At the same time, taking into account the traditionally friendly character of bilateral relations, it arouses surprise that our Iranian partners chose such a course.”
But a potential slip by the Iranian ambassador during his interview brings into question Russia’s purported surprise. “We filed suit so that the decision of the court would help Russia to realize these deliveries [of the S-300], so that Russia would have a legal trump,” the ambassador said. In other words, an evaluation by the court that existing UN sanctions don’t legally forbid sale of the S-300 to Iran—or an ambiguous verdict that fails to explicitly state that they do—would give Moscow a pretext to move forward with the transfer. And Russia has real interests in selling the S-300 to Iran. The system’s producer announced earlier this month that absent new costumers production of the S-300 will be halted by the end of the year. From Moscow’s perspective, the Iranian arms market looks increasingly attractive as two of its largest weapons buyers—Syria and Venezuela—face uncertainty at home.
The recent Russian-Iranian rapprochement makes Moscow’s supposed bewilderment at Tehran’s lawsuit even less credulous. This might be a coordinated effort. Don’t be surprised if Iran ultimately acquires the S-300. And if it does, expect Tehran to be even more bold in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
(wikimedia commons/Agencia Brasil/Marcello Casal Jr)
Governor and president wanna-be Rick Perry is not the only Texas politician making news these days when it comes to doing battle with the administration. Republican Senator John Cornyn is pushing the White House to approve the sale of 66 much-needed new F-16C/Ds to Taiwan. For several years now, Taiwan has made it clear that it wants to buy the fighters in an effort to upgrade its own air fleet and replace existing fighters that need to be retired. But neither the Obama administration nor the Bush administration before it has been willing even to receive a formal “letter of request” from Taipei to at least begin discussions about a sale—this, in spite of the fact that report after report, including the just-released Chinese Military Power Report by the Pentagon makes it clear that the balance of military force across the Taiwan Strait increasingly favors the People’s Republic.
To his credit, Senator Cornyn has been leading the effort to turn the situation around. This summer he put “a hold” on the nomination of Bill Burns to be deputy secretary of state until Secretary Clinton agreed to make a decision on the sale of the F-16s by October 1. Of course, the expectation both here in DC and in Taipei is that, out of fear of upsetting Beijing, the administration will still say “no” to the sale and, instead, offer upgrades to F-16s bought by Taiwan in the early 1990s. Like Solomon, the administration will suggest that it can “split the baby”—except in this case, the baby really will die. What Taiwan needs now (and what the Taiwan Relations Act requires) is both new capabilities and more of them if it is to have a reasonable chance of defending itself in the face of the relentless buildup of Chinese military forces.
And because it is the law of the land that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” Senator Cornyn is now suggesting that, should the administration not go forward with the sale, he will propose adding an amendment to the defense authorization bill this fall to force the deal through. If he does, the senator will be acting fully in accord with the long-standing role of Congress as watchdog over U.S.-Taiwan ties ever since the Carter administration’s decision to terminate formal relations with the island in 1979.
Almost certainly there will be administration officials who, on background of course, will suggest that the senator is pushing this matter because the F-16s would be built in Texas and there are thousands of jobs involved. To which the senator ought to respond: “Hell, yes. Not only is selling Taiwan F-16s good policy but it’s also good for our economy, an economy that, by the way, needs all the help it can get.”