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Growing National Security Threats and Budget Cuts
Growing National Security Threats and Budget Cuts
Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, addressed the Conservative Women’s Network in May 2012. This is an adaptation from those remarks.
Thank you for your very kind introduction. I feel very honored to be before this very important group to talk about something that is near and dear to all of our hearts, and that is the national security of our country.
I firmly believe there are only a few things we should be doing in Congress, and one of them is to provide for the common defense. We have to keep that as a priority. So as I grapple with the whole budget issue with my colleagues, this is the challenge we are trying to face. I feel very honored to represent the Fourth District in Missouri which is home to the Whiteman Air Force Base, Fort Leonard Wood, and the Missouri National Guard headquarters. Those are very important installations, not only to our area but to the entire nation and our national security. My father was U.S. Army Reserves, and I grew up with a very deep appreciation for what our men and women in uniform do for us and the sacrifices they make for our country. And so it is a privilege to be on the Armed Services Committee fighting on their behalf, and all of our behalf, for a strong national defense.
Certainly there are a lot of threats facing our country right now, both foreign and domestic. I had the opportunity this past year to see firsthand some of those threats when I led a Congressional delegation to Afghanistan last year over Mother's Day. I understand that this was the third or fourth year that a group of congresswomen have gone over there to take the heart of the American mother to our troops, to thank them for their service and to let them know how much we appreciate them. I've seen firsthand the challenges there as well as the gains made and to meet with General Petraeus and, at that time, Ambassador Eichenberry to see the before-and-after pictures of where Al Qaeda was and where they are now, to see where the poppy fields were before and where they are now, and to see the real progress made there. Of course the most important progress is that we have not had another attack on our soil since 9/11. We took the fight to them and were proactive in going after the terrorists.
I also had the opportunity to travel to Israel, a nation and relationship I believe so strongly in. It was very good to be able to see and understand the challenges they face and to emphasize the strategic partnership we have. We weren't able to go to the Gaza Strip because of the rocket attacks while we were there, but we were able to go to the border to see the areas where Syrian rockets are aimed right at them.
I've also worked very closely with the leadership and commanders of the bases in my district to get to know the military families and the veterans in our community, to hear their stories, to learn more of their sacrifice, and to be with families when their husbands or wives are deployed. Two Sundays ago, I got to be part of a welcome home ceremony. I have to share with you the most difficult, yet highest, privilege I've had as a representative, is having the opportunity to give a flag to a mother who lost her son in Afghanistan – a son who gave his last full measure of devotion to this country. All of those experiences shape what I do on the Armed Services Committee.
SECURITY THREATS AROUND THE WORLD
I thought today I would share some of the threats that I have seen, as well as where we are today in the House floor debate on the reauthorization act. So this is very timely.
Afghanistan—We can start with Afghanistan. It epitomizes the terrorist threat and how we've taken it to them. We have made a lot of gains there, but it's very tricky. It's a very complex society, a very complex issue with no easy answers. Of course we're starting now to draw down and to pull back our forces, and I want to make sure that the gains we have made are not lost, that the sacrifices that have been made are not in vain, and that the decisions that are made there are calculations made by commanders on the ground and not for political reasons. I have some concerns there, but certainly I’m thrilled for the families to see them coming home. Hopefully the Afghan army and police forces that are being developed and trained will be able to take over, and the government there will be able to carry on the good work of protecting the people.
One thing we were able to do in Afghanistan was to meet with a group of women Parliament members. Interestingly, their constitution requires a third, I believe it is, of the members of Parliament to be women. This is a huge, historic gain for them. About 50% of the women I saw while I was there were still wearing the burka. And as we had dinner with these women from the Afghan parliament, I was so impressed with their intellect, vision and courage. They shared stories of how they are on the Taliban hit list because they took the burka off and assumed a role in the leadership. If ever the government reverts back to Taliban hands, they will probably be no more. They each told horrific stories of family members who had perished over the last few years. Their stories are both very disconcerting and very inspiring. They say they want for their daughters a life better than they had, and they want them to have the opportunities that women have in other countries. That gives a different perspective on what we've been doing there and how important it is.
Terrorism—Threats of terrorism from other parts of the world—Yemen specifically—are growing. As we've pushed Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, they're moving to Pakistan and Yemen. Recently a terrorist plot was discovered through an operative we had working there. The operative was able to alert our government and thwart a planned attack on an airline, but they continue to be committed in coming up with ways to harm us.
Iran—Iran, of course, is a very real threat to us and to our best friend and ally in the Middle East, Israel. Iran's leadership has promised to blow Israel off the face of the map, and they continue to build their capacity and capabilities for nuclear weapons despite continued efforts by the UN and other countries to try to stop that. Certainly this is very destabilizing to the entire area. As a nation, Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world. They are supplying Hezbollah with rockets and supporting terrorist efforts through their friend, Syria.
North Korea—North Korea is very concerning as well. They have nuclear weapons and unpredictable leadership, and we don't know what provocation in the future could cause them to act. Recently they shot off a rocket supposedly to put a satellite in orbit, but we very much believe that it was just another step in their efforts to develop a successful long-range missile system to reach the western coast of the United States. Thankfully, it went up, and then it crashed. We hope they will continue to be unsuccessful.
We recently had a subcommittee hearing looking at the Pacific Region and the challenges there. Commander James Thurman (who oversees the training and readiness of more than 750,000 soldiers in active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve) shared this information: North Korea has, they believe, the largest number of special operations teams of any country in the world. They are highly trained and ready to drop into South Korea and elsewhere at a moment's notice. We need to be ready to meet any challenge there.
CHINA AND U.S. DEBT
The last nation I want to mention is China. They are a threat both economically and militarily. I had the opportunity when I was a state representative several years ago to go on a young government leader exchange trip to China for two weeks. I came away sobered by the things I saw and learned. The communist leaders told us in meetings, we plan to be the world's largest economic power in five years, and you can't stop us. This was one of their quotes.
Now it has been five years, and I don't think they are quite there, but they are very committed, very focused. With their type of government, they can direct resources to strategically do that. What is concerning to us is our debt. As you know we owe almost $16 trillion. Almost half of that is foreign-held debt, and approximately 29% of the foreign held debt is owned by China. That puts the U.S. in a very precarious position to owe so much debt to a country like China.
To put our Chinese debt in perspective, consider this. Our interest payments alone on the debt we owe give China the ability to buy 3 joint-strike fighters every week and have $50 million left over. We don't have evidence they are doing that, but we do know they are building their military. Last year they were building 14 nuclear submarines, and we were building one. Last year they came out with their version of stealth aircraft and their version of an aircraft-carrier-busting bomb that could be delivered at a 1200 mile range. That means they could reach Guam and are getting close to having Hawaii in range. China is increasing naval operations around Taiwan – our friend and ally – and they are very much engaged in trying to develop cyber technology to block our satellite communications. So China's military build-up gives us reason to be concerned.
CHINA AND U.S. TECHNOLOGY THEFT
We also have reason to be concerned from a commerce and business standpoint. After the fall of the Soviet Union, China saw it needed to be strong economically as well as militarily. However, since their government doesn't encourage or inspire innovation, it seems they have decided to proactively steal technology from us as a shortcut to developing their own. Every day there are thousands of Chinese whose job it is to try to hack into our commercial companies and military systems to steal our plans and formulas, and they're being very successful with it.
A couple of weeks ago in the House we passed a bill to address some of the cyber threats. While I can't share what we learn in closed security briefings, I can share that over the last few years Chinese hackers have stolen enough intellectual property from our companies that, if printed, would equal 50 times the volume of the Library of Congress. That is hard to believe, but it is reality. I'll give one small example. One American pesticide company was ready to go online in the production of its newly developed pesticide formula when suddenly China came out with the exact same pesticide formula at a lower price. The company claimed it cost the U.S. 20,000 American jobs. The same theft is happening in pharmaceutical formulas.
China has the largest espionage spy ring in the U.S. I've often thought, on the lighter side, that the next James Bond 007 movie should have Bond fighting the Chinese spy rings. Unfortunately there is no lighter side in our efforts to stop the theft, keep them from draining us of our intellectual property and use that theft to their economic advantage.
Thomas Jefferson said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and that holds true as we watch China. We've got to be vigilant to address the threat to our economy and make sure their efforts are thwarted. We've got to be vigilant to the military threat they pose in building their military capabilities and their efforts to become a dominant military power in the world.
Yet the cyber threats aren't from China only. Russia and Iran are also engaged in it. Russia seems to be particularly engaged in criminal activity. One US credit card company claims that hackers attempt to get into its systems 300 times each day trying to steal financial information, social security numbers, bank numbers and similar data. These threats highlight the need to find funding to maintain our national defense on all fronts. It is costly, and yet priceless as the commercial says.
FUNDING NATIONAL SECURITY
As I noted earlier, one of the few things our federal government is supposed to do is provide for the common defense of the nation. What we have now in Congress is a battle of priorities. How should we spend the limited dollars we have? I believe we need to invest in national security more than anything. Historically we're spending less on national defense than we were back in the Cold War days before the Kennedy presidency. Only 4% of our GDP now goes to national defense. Other countries like China are spending far more.
We seem not to learn from history. As you look back over time, you see the U.S. ramp up when there's a conflict, then ramp back down afterward. The next conflict comes. We're not prepared or the equipment is old, so we ramp back up again. Cyclical defense spending is not wise. We'd be better off having a stable adequate level of funding for national defense that endures because we simply never know what will happen tomorrow.
Right now we have 285 ships, and the Navy needs 300 to maintain readiness. Many of our airplanes are over 50 years old; and, this is a pretty sobering statistic, only 50% of our navy aircraft is mission-capable on any given day. They have to cannibalize parts from one aircraft to enable another to fly. In addition, after 10 years involved in conflicts, we need to reset and modernize existing equipment. Commanders in the field also tell us they will be leaving a number of Humvees, tanks, and other heavy equipment in Afghanistan because they are so old or worn out that it isn't worth the cost of bringing them home So we need to replace and modernize that equipment, and it all costs money.
Defense has taken some cuts in the last few years and certainly after the passage of the debt ceiling deal on the Budget Control Act in August, which automatically cut $487 billion over the next 10 years out of our national defense budget. That is already set in motion. It will mean about 100,000 fewer soldiers and marines ready to defend our country. Even though defense is only about 20% of the federal budget, it is absorbing about 50% of all the cuts. I don't think that's good.
The Budget Control Act also set up the Debt Ceiling Committee—some call it the supercommittee—and they were supposed to find $1.2 trillion in cuts. If they were unsuccessful, then sequestration would take place. That's where we are today. Come January 2013, we're facing another $500 billion in more cuts to national defense.
You put those two cuts together and it's almost a trillion dollars less to defense over the next 10 years. Such severe cuts are going to result in the hollowing out of our forces, according to Secretary of Defense Leon Pinetta. It will decimate us. All told it could mean 200,000 layoffs total in military personnel. Instead of coming back to ticker tape parades, they'll be coming back to pink slips. Instead of being able to stand strong for our country, they'll be standing in unemployment lines. I think that's wrong. It's going to mean that the Air Force will be the smallest in history with the number of aircraft they would put out of service. It means you couldn't modernize our nuclear deterrent, developed in the 1950s, which needs to be replaced and modernized.
There have also been calls for two rounds of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) as part of this. This action will have a devastating effect on the civilian defense industry, and we're already seeing it with layoffs in that industry. If sequestration goes into effect, they believe it would cost 1.5 million jobs down the line, raising our national unemployment rate back over 9 percent.
We have fewer and fewer companies in the US able to build a ship for the Navy or a fighter airplane for the Air Force. If the remaining civilian plants have to close down due to sequestration, then they may not be there if they are needed in the future. Beyond that, sequestration would stifle our research and development, which has given the US an edge in new emerging technologies.
I'm very much opposed to sequestration and I'm trying to reverse it. There are a couple of ways we are doing it. The Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, has introduced a bill to replace lost funding from sequestration for a single year. Another piece of legislation—passed in the House and pending in the Senate—works to find waste is other areas of federal spending to replace lost sequestration funding. I don't know if the Senate will pass it, but it should. The Committee currently has on the House Floor our 51st consecutive defense budget. I'm very proud that we completed our budget timely while other committees have not.
Bottom line, we are trying to reprioritize defense as it should be and to ensure that budget cuts don't decimate our national defense. Defense has a broad national purpose. There is so much that goes on in Washington that is beyond our Constitution, things that could be done by the individual or should be done by the state or local government. But neither individuals nor state and local governments can take on Iran, or the espionage efforts of China. This is something that we must do together through the federal government, and that's what our tax dollars are for.