America's Military Strength

Floor Speech

Date: March 16, 2015
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COTTON. Mr. President, I speak for the first time from the Senate
floor with a simple message: The world is growing ever more dangerous
and our defense spending is wholly inadequate to confront the danger.
To be exact:

During the last four or five years the world has grown
gravely darker. . . . We have steadily disarmed, partly with
a sincere desire to give a lead to other countries, and
partly through the severe financial pressure of the time. But
a change must now be made. We must not continue longer on a
course in which we alone are growing weaker while every other
nation is growing stronger.

I wish I could take credit for those eloquent and ominous words, but
I cannot. Winston Churchill sounded that warning in 1933, as Adolph
Hitler had taken power in Germany.

Tragically, Great Britain and the West did not heed this warning when
they might have strangled that monster in his crib.

Rather than let the locusts continue to eat away at the common
defense, the Axis Powers were stronger and the West weaker,
conciliating with and appeasing them, hoping their appetite for
conquest and death might be sated. As we all know, however, that
appetite only grew until it launched the most terrible war in human

Today, perhaps more tragically because we ought to benefit from those
lessons of history, the United States is again engaged in something of
a grand experiment of the kind we saw in the 1930s. As then, military
strength is seen in many quarters as a cause of military adventurism.
Strength and confidence in the defense of our interests, alliances, and
liberties is not seen to deter aggression but to provoke it.

Rather than confront our adversaries, our President apologizes for
our supposed transgressions. The administration is harsh and unyielding
to our friends, soothing and suffocating to our enemies. The President
minimizes the threat we confront, in the face of territory seized,
weapons of mass destruction used and proliferated, and innocents

The concrete expression of this experiment is our collapsing defense
budget. For years, we have systematically underfunded our military,
marrying this philosophy of retreat with a misplaced understanding of
our larger budgetary burdens. We have strained our fighting forces
today to the breaking point, even as we have eaten away at our
investments in future forces, creating our own ``locust years,'' as
Churchill would have put it. Meanwhile, our long-term debt crisis looks
hardly any better, even as we ask our troops to shoulder the burden of
deficit reduction, rather than shoulder the arms necessary to keep the

The results of this experiment, it should come as no surprise, are
little different from the results from the same experiment in the
1930s. American weakness and leading from behind have produced nothing
but a more dangerous world. When we take stock of that world and our
position in it, there can be no doubt a change must now be made.

An alarm should be sounding in our ears. Our enemies, sensing
weakness and hence opportunity, have become steadily more aggressive.
Our allies, uncertain of our commitment and capability, have begun to
conclude that they must look out for themselves, even where it is
unhelpful to stability and order. Our military, suffering from years of
neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.

Let's start with the enemy who attacked us on September 11: radical
Islamists. During his last campaign, the President was fond of saying
Al Qaeda was ``on the run.'' In a fashion, I suppose this was true. Al
Qaeda was and is running wild around the world, now in control of more
territory than ever before. This global network of Islamic jihadists
continues to plot attacks against America and the West. They sow the
seeds of conflict in failed states and maintain active affiliates
throughout Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Greater Middle East, and
South Asia.

Further, Al Qaeda in Iraq was let off the mat when the President
disregarded its commanders' best military judgment and withdrew all
troops from Iraq in 2011. Given a chance to regroup, it morphed into
the Islamic State, which now controls much of Syria and Iraq. The
Islamic State cuts the heads off of Americans, burns alive hostages
from allied countries, executes Christians, and enslaves women and
girls. The Islamic State aspires and actively plots to attack us here
at home, whether by foreign plots or by recruiting a lone wolf in our

The President's suggestions, in other words, that the war on terror
is over or ending, are far from true. Indeed, the Director of National
Intelligence recently testified that ``when the final accounting is
done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in
the 45 years such data has been compiled.'' Yet the President will not
even speak our enemy's name.

The threat of radical Islamic terrorism brings us to Iran, the
world's worst state sponsor of terrorism. My objections to the ongoing
nuclear negotiations are well known and need not be rehearsed at length
here. I will simply note that the deal foreshadowed by the President,
allowing Iran to have uranium enrichment capabilities and accepting an
expiration date on any agreement--to quote Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu--``doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb; it paves Iran's
path to the bomb.'' If you think, as I do, the Islamic State is
dangerous, a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic is even more so.

Recall, after all, what Iran already does without the bomb. Iran is
an outlaw regime that has been killing Americans for 35 years, from
Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, to Iraq. Unsurprisingly, Iran is only growing
bolder and more aggressive as America retreats from the Middle East.
Ayatollah Khamenei continues to call for Israel's elimination. Iranian-
backed Shiite militias now control much of Iraq, led by Qassem
Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, a man with the blood of
hundreds of American solders on his hands.

Iran continues to prop up Bashar al-Assad's outlaw regime in Syria.
Iranian-aligned Shiite militants recently seized Sana'a, the capital of
Yemen. Hezbollah remains Iran's cat's paw in Lebanon. Put simply, Iran
dominates or controls five capitals in its drive for regional hegemony.
Moreover, Iran has rapidly increased the size and capability of its
ballistic missile arsenal, recently launching new a satellite. Just 2
weeks ago, Iran blew up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier in naval exercises
and publicized it with great fanfare.

Iran does all of these things without the bomb. Just imagine what it
will do with the bomb. Imagine the United States further down the road
of appeasement, largely defenseless against this tyranny.

You do not have to imagine much, though; simply look to North Korea.
Because of a naive and failed nuclear agreement, that outlaw state
acquired nuclear weapons. Now America is largely handcuffed, watching
as this rogue regime builds more bombs and missiles capable of striking
the U.S. homeland and endangering our allies.

But perhaps an even more obvious result of this experiment with
retreat is the resurgence or Russia. The President aspired for a reset
with Russia and made one-sided concessions such as withdrawing
ballistic missile defenses from Poland and the Czech Republic.
So Vladimir Putin saw these concessions as weakness and continues to
violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The West refused
to assist the new Ukranian President, so Putin invaded and stole
Crimea. The Western response was modest sanctions. So Russian-supplied
rebels shot a civilian airliner out of the sky in the heart of Europe.
The President dithers in providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, so
Putin reignites the war, takes Debaltseve, and stages outside Mariupol.
When bombs and bullets were called for, blankets were rushed to the

That is just in Ukraine. Putin is also testing NATO's resolve. Russia
has tested a ballistic missile with multiple warheads, designed to
threaten our European allies in direct violation of the INF treaty.
Russian bombers recently flew over the English Channel, disrupting
British civil aviation. Estonia asserts that Russia kidnapped an
Estonian security officer on its Russian border. And Russia continues
to intimidate and harass other NATO partners such as Sweden, Moldova,
and Georgia.

Finally, Russia's ability to continue its aggression will only grow
because its defense spending has more than quadrupled over the last 15
years. Moreover, the Russian military today is qualitatively better
than the old Soviet military, despite its smaller size, as Admiral Bill
Gortney, Commander of NORAD testified just last week.

Some say that falling oil prices will restrain Putin. In fact,
Russia's Finance Minister recently announced 10 percent across-the-
board budget cuts to all departments of their government--except
defense. This should give us some insights into Putin's intentions and

Among major nation-state competitors, Russia's military buildup is
exceeded only by China's. Over the same period of the last 15 years,
China's military spending has increased by 600 percent. Moreover, the
bulk of the spending is directed quite clearly against the United
States as China pursues its anti-access and area denial strategy. This
strategy is designed to keep American forces outside the so-called
first island chain and give China regional hegemony from the Korean
Peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago. Thus, China is on a spending
spree for more submarines, aircraft carriers, antiship ballistic
missiles, and other air and naval systems.

The impact of China's rapid military expansion is clear. China has
challenged Japan's control of the Senkaku Islands and purported to
establish an exclusive air defense zone over the East China Sea. By
expanding its activities in the Spratlys, China is precipitating a
confrontation with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
Further, China's repressive actions against protesters in Hong Kong
only serve to undermine Taiwanese support of reunification, which
itself could spark further Chinese aggression. All of this is to say
nothing of China's cyber theft and economic espionage against American
interests or its atrocious record on human rights.

While America has retreated, not only have our enemies been on the
march, our allies, anxious for years about American resolve, now worry
increasingly about American capabilities. With the enemy on their
borders, many have begun to conclude they have no choice but to take
matters into their own hands, sometimes in ways unhelpful to our

Even our core NATO allies appear unsettled by our recent experiment
with retreat. The French intervened in Mali to confront Islamic
insurgents, but without adequate advance coordination, they quickly
found themselves in need of emergency logistical support from our Air

Turkey just announced a new missile defense system that will not be
interoperable with NATO systems. Greece has a new governing coalition
that is hinting at greater cooperation with Russia.

The picture is no better outside NATO. Japan has significantly
increased its defense budget because of a rising China and may feel
compelled to reinterpret its post-war constitutional ban on overseas
``collective self-defense.'' Saudi Arabia just entered a nuclear pact
with South Korea, likely a response to Iran's nuclear program.
Similarly, the Persian Gulf States have increased defense spending by
44 percent in the last 2 years. While we should encourage our partners
to carry their share of the defense load, the Sunni states are building
up their defenses, not to help us, but because they fear we won't help
them against Iran.

We should never take our allies for granted, but we also shouldn't
take for granted the vast influence our security guarantees give us
with our allies' behavior. Germany and Japan are not nuclear powers
today because of our nuclear umbrella. Israel didn't retaliate against
Hussein's Scud missile attacks in the gulf war, and thus we preserved
the war coalition because we asked them for restraint and committed
significant resources to hunting down Scud launchers. This kind of
influence has been essential for American security throughout the
postwar period, yet it has begun to wane as our allies doubt our
commitment and our capabilities.

Make no mistake, our military capabilities have declined. In recent
years, we have dramatically underfunded our military to the detriment
of our security. To fully understand the military aspect of our
experiment with retreat, some historical perspective is needed.

Defense spending reached its peak in 2008, when the base budget and
wartime spending combined was $760 billion. Incredibly, the total
defense budget plummeted by $200 billion in the last year.

Today, defense spending is only 16 percent of all Federal spending, a
historic low rivaled only by the post-Cold War period. To give some
context, during the Cold War, defense spending regularly accounted for
60 percent of Federal spending. But if we don't end the experiment of
retreat, this President will leave office with a mere 12 percent of all
Federal dollars spent on defense.

The picture is no prettier when cast in the light of our economy. In
the early Cold War, defense spending was approximately 9 percent of
gross domestic product. Today, it sits at a paltry 3.5 percent. But our
defense budget isn't just about numbers and arithmetic. It is about our
ability to accomplish the mission of defending our country from all

The consequences of these cuts are real, concrete, and immediate. As
former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained, these cuts to
defense spending have put us on the path to the smallest Army since
before World War II, the smallest Navy since World War, and the
smallest Air Force ever. Let's look more closely at each service.

Our Army has shrunk by nearly 100,000 troops. The Army has lost 13
combat brigades, and only a third of the remaining brigades are fully
ready to meet America's threats. Further, investments in modernization
have fallen by 25 percent. If we continue on the current path, the Army
will lose another 70,000 soldiers, and every modernization program
designed to preserve the Army's technological advantage will be

The Navy, meanwhile, has had to cancel five ship deployments and
significantly delay the deployment of a carrier strike group. The
Navy's mission requires it to keep three carrier strike groups and
amphibious readiness groups prepared to respond to a major crisis
within 30 years, but the Navy can only fulfill a third of its mission
because of cuts to maintenance and training.

Similarly, the Air Force is less than one-third of its size 25 years
ago. Moreover, the Air Force depends upon modernization to preserve its
technological edge, perhaps more than any other service, but current
funding levels could require cancellation of airborne-refueling tankers
and surveillance aircraft, set back fighter and nuclear weapons
modernization, and shorten the life of tactical airlift and weapons
recovery programs.

Nor are these impacts just immediate; they will be felt long into the
future. Key programs, once divested, will be difficult to restart.
Manufacturing competencies will be lost, the skilled-labor pool will
shrink, and the defense manufacturing base will atrophy. Today's
weapons systems and equipment will begin to age and break down. Our
troops won't be able to train, and their weapons and equipment won't be
ready to fight. In short, we will have a hollow force incapable of
defending our national security.

What is to be done then? Our experiment with retreat must end. This
Congress must again recognize that our national security is the first
priority of this government. Our national security strategy must drive
our military budget rather than the budget setting our strategy. The
military budget must reflect the threats we face rather than the budget
defining those threats.

In the face of these threats and after years of improvident defense
cuts, we must significantly increase our defense spending. After
hundreds of billions of dollars of these cuts, the base defense budget
next year is set to be only $498 billion. That is wholly inadequate.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently testified: ``I want to be
clear about this--parts of our nation's defense strategy cannot be
executed under sequestration.'' All four of the military service
chiefs, in addition, have testified that these cuts put American lives
at risk.

The President has proposed a modest increase to $534 billion, which
is better than nothing. Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called
for the full repeal of sequestration, which would raise the base
defense budget to $577 billion. I applaud and thank these veterans of
both the Senate and our military for this correct and clear-eyed

Yet I also want to highlight their support for the recommendation of
the National Defense Panel, which estimated that base defense spending
for fiscal year 2016 should be $611 billion at a minimum.

The National Defense Panel was a bipartisan group of eminent national
security experts convened by Congress to analyze the Quadrennial
Defense Review. They unanimously concluded that then-Secretary of
Defense Bob Gates' fiscal year 2012 budget was the proper starting
point to analyze our current defense needs--for at least two reasons.

First, Secretary Gates had already initiated significant defense cuts
and reforms totaling $478 billion. It is hard to say, given those
efforts, that his 2012 budget had left much fat in the Department of

Second, Secretary Gates and the Department assembled and submitted
this budget in late January 2010 and early 2011, or just months before
the Budget Control Act with its draconian defense cuts became law. That
budget, therefore, was the last time the Defense Department was able to
submit a threat- and strategy-based budget, instead of the budget-based
strategies we have seen over the last 4 years.

This logic is compelling, even unassailable. Thus, I agree we should
spend not merely $611 billion on the base defense budget next year but
substantially more than that. After all, as we have seen earlier, and
as the National Defense Panel has noted, the world has become much more
dangerous since 2011. Islamic terrorism, Iranian aggression, Russian
revisionism, and Chinese interventionism have all worsened--to say
nothing of other challenges. The $611 billion is necessary, but it is
not sufficient.

What then should our defense budget be next year? I will readily
admit we cannot be sure how much is needed above $611 billion. As the
National Defense Panel explained, ``because of the highly constrained
and unstable budget environment under which the Department has been
working,'' the Quadrennial Review ``is not adequate as a comprehensive
long-term planning document.'' Thus, the panel recommends that Congress
``should ask the Department for such a plan, which should be developed
without undue emphasis on current budgetary restraints.''

I endorse this recommendation. In the meantime, though, even if we
can't specify a precise dollar amount, we can identify the critical
needs on which to spend the additional money.

First, our military faces a readiness crisis from budget cuts and a
decade of war. Our young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are the
greatest weapons systems our country could ever have, but they need
training--live-fire exercises, flight time, and so forth. Their
weapons, equipment, and vehicles need maintenance and reset. If we
faced a major crisis today, our troops would no doubt suffer more
casualties and greater likelihood of mission failure. Of course, they
know all of this, and morale suffers because of it.

Second and related, our military is shrinking rapidly to historically
small levels. This decline must be reversed. Our Navy probably needs
350-plus ships, not a budget-dictated 260 ships. The Army needs to
maintain its pre-9/11 end strength of 490,000 Active-Duty soldiers, as
the Marine Corps needs 182,000 marines. The Air Force needs more
aircraft of virtually every type--bomber, fighter, airlift, and
surveillance. It is the deepest folly to reduce our military below its
1990s size as the world has grown considerably more dangerous since
that quiet decade.

Third, we should increase research, development, and procurement
funds to ensure our military retains its historic technological
advantage, particularly as our adversaries gain more access to
advanced, low-cost technologies. This should start with the essential
tools of command and control: cyber space, space, and intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance. The Air Force needs to modernize its
bomber and mobility aircraft, in particular. The Navy needs to continue
to improve its surface-ship and especially its submarine capabilities.

These critical priorities will no doubt be expensive, probably tens
of billions of dollars more than the $611 billion baseline suggested by
the National Defense Panel. Because the massive cuts to our defense
budget resulted in part from record deficits, the question arises,
however: Can we afford all of this?

The answer is yes--without question and without doubt, yes. The facts
here, as we have seen, are indisputable. The defense budget has been
slashed by hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 6 years. The
defense budget is only 16 percent of all Federal spending, a historic
low and heading much lower if we don't act. And using the broadest
measure of affordability and national priorities, defense spending as a
percentage of our economy, last year we spent only 3.5 percent of our
national income on defense, which is approaching historic lows and may
surpass them by 2019.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that our military needs $700
billion in the coming year, an immediate increase of $200 billion. To
some, that may sound staggering and unrealistic, yet it would still be
barely 4 percent of our economy--a full 1 percent lower than the 5
percent from which President Reagan started his buildup. If we
increased spending merely to that level--which both President Reagan
and a Democratic House considered dangerously low--we would spend $885
billion on defense next year.

Furthermore, trying to balance the budget through defense cuts is
both counterproductive and impossible. First, the threats we face will
eventually catch up with us, as they did on September 11, and we will
have no choice but to increase our defense budget. When we do, it will
cost more to achieve the same end state of readiness and modernization
than it would have without the intervening cuts. This was the lesson we
learned in the 1980s after the severe cuts to defense in the 1970s.

Second, we need a healthy, growing economy to generate the government
revenue necessary to fund our military and balance the budget. In our
globalized world, our domestic prosperity depends heavily on the world
economy, which, of course, requires stability and order. Who provides
that stability and order? The U.S. military.

Finally, in the short term, ephemeral gains in deficit reduction from
defense cuts merely mask the genuine driver of our long-term debt
crisis: retirement and health care programs. The Budget Control Act
ultimately failed to control these programs--a failure not only of
promises made to our citizens but also because the deficit-reduction
default became annual discretionary funding, particularly the defense
budget. In the 4 years since, relative deficits have declined,
alleviating the imperative to reform these programs yet doing nothing
to solve their long-term insolvency and our debt crisis.

A better question to ask is: Can we afford to continue our experiment
in retreat? I suggest we cannot. Imagine a world in which we continue
our current trajectory, where America remains in retreat and our
military loses even more of its edge. What would such a world look

It is not a pretty picture. Russia might soon possess the entire
north shore of the Black Sea. An emboldened Putin, sensing Western weakness for what it is, could be tempted to replay his Ukrainian playbook in Estonia or Latvia, forcing NATO into war or obsolescence.

China could escalate its island conflicts in the East and South China
Seas. Without an adequate American response--or worse, with China
denying American forces access to those seas--countries as diverse as
South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines would feel compelled to
conciliate or confront regional stability.

While North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons, Iran appears to
be on the path to a nuclear bomb, whether it breaks or upholds a
potential nuclear agreement. Not only might Iran use its weapon, but
its nuclear umbrella would also embolden its drive for regional
hegemony. Moreover, Iran could provide its terrorist proxies with
nuclear materials.

And does anyone doubt that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states will
follow Iran down this path? Nuclear tripwires may soon ring the world's
most volatile region, increasing the risk of nuclear war, as well as
the possibility that Islamist insurgents might seize nuclear materials
if they can topple the right government.

Islamic terrorists, meanwhile, will continue to rampage throughout
Syria and Iraq, aspiring always for more attacks in Europe and on
American soil. Emboldened by America's retreat and by their own
battlefield successes, they will continue to attract thousands of
hateful fighters from around the world, all eager for the chance to
kill Americans.

All these are nightmare scenarios, but sadly not unrealistic ones.
The alternative, however, is not war. No leader--whether a President, a
general or platoon leader--wishes to put his troops in harm's way. War
is an awful thing, and it takes an unimaginable toll on the men and
women who fight it and their families.

But the best way to avoid war is to be willing and prepared to fight
a war in the first place. That is the alternative: military strength
and moral confidence in the defense of America's national security. Our
enemies and allies alike must know that aggressors will pay an
unspeakable price for challenging the United States.

The best way to impose that price is global military dominance. When
it comes to war, narrow margins are not enough, for they are nothing
more than an invitation to war. We must have such hegemonic strength
that no sane adversary would ever imagine challenging the United
States. ``Good enough'' is not and will never be good enough.

We can look to a very recent historic example to prove this point.
Just 25 years ago, a dominant American military ended the Cold War
without firing a shot. If we return to the dominance of that era,
aggressive despots such as Vladimir Putin, rising powers such as China,
and state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran's Ayatollahs will think
long and hard before crossing us. And while we may not deter terrorist
groups such as the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, we will kill
their adherents more effectively, while also sending a needed lesson to
their sympathizers: Join and you too will die.

Bringing about this future by being prepared for war will no doubt
take a lot of money. But what could be a higher priority than a safe
and prosperous America, leading a stable and orderly world? What better
use of precious taxpayer dollars? What more lessons from history do we

I began with Churchill's prescient words from 1933. Alas, the West
did not take his advice, did not rearm and prepare to deter Nazi
Germany. The predictable result was the German remilitarization of the
Rhineland and the long march to war. Now let me close with his
regretful words from 1936:

The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing
and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close.
In its place we are entering a period of consequences.

Churchill later called World War II the unnecessary war because it
could have been stopped so easily with Western strength and confidence
in the 1930s. I know many of you in this Chamber stand with me, and I
humbly urge you all--Democrat and Republican alike--to join in
rebuilding our common defense, so that we will not face our own
unnecessary war, our own period of consequences.

I will now yield the floor, but I will never yield in the defense of
America's national security on any front or at any time.