A member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committee is calling for a $26 billion addition to this year’s emergency defense spending bill to rebuild readiness — starting with increased flying and training times and increasing the end-strength of the Army and Marine Corps.
“Most [of the immediate spending agenda] comes from the service chiefs’ unfunded priority lists,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), said during his remarks at AEI on Monday.
“We need more of just about everything,” including modernized nuclear forces. “Nuclear strategy can no longer be bilateral” [between Washington and Moscow] because China and North Korea, both potential adversaries, are nuclear powers.
He added he also was backing a 15 percent increase in defense spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
“Our defense budget is not responsible for our national debt,” he said in answer to an audience question.
“I think we can find the money” for the supplemental increase and for the upcoming fiscal year and not upset the “Freedom Caucus” deficit hawks. In part, Cotton said this would come from having a new administration and a majority in Congress both saying that each dollar increase in defense spending does not have to be matched on domestic programs.
Cotton also warned allies and partners that “no alliance should be a one-way street,” and they need to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on their own security, not military pensions.
“Right now we have to strengthen the bilateral” alliances the United States has with Japan and South Korea and work for better ties with India and countries, such as Myanmar [Burma] “that don’t want to be vassal states” of China. “We have to give them … more incentives to stay with us” and that includes the Philippines and Thailand, two allies who have been distancing themselves from the United States in recent months.
The United States itself and all its partners need to understand they “are engaged in global geo-political competition,” particularly with Russia in Eastern Europe and China in the East and South China seas.
“The Big Stick is important,” Cotton said, not only recalling President Theodore Roosevelt, who first used the term in 1901 as a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, but also President Ronald Reagan’s position on rebuilding the military and meeting the challenge from the Soviet Union when he took office in 1981.
In dealing with Moscow and Beijing, “we have to negotiate with them in a position of strength.”
Cotton said President Donald Trump’s policy to the Russia is yet to be determined and should not be judged on a few comments he made. He cited Ambassador to the United Nations Nicki Haley’s recent remarks condemning Russia on renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine as showing what the administration’s policy will be.
In answer to a question, he said, “We should not recognize a single inch of soil where Russian troops stand” in Ukraine as belonging to Moscow. He added he doubted that Russia would have seized Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine if Kiev retained the nuclear arsenal on its soil when the Soviet Union collapsed.
As for the president of Russia, “Vladimir Putin is KGB, always will be.” Cotton was “skeptical” about working with Moscow in Syria, a country where the United States now find its “allies fighting each other” [Kurds fighting Turks]. He said other partners in the region are leery of involvement in the Syrian civil war. “They are not going to install a [Muslim] Brotherhood or Quds Force government” in Damascus to replace President Bashar al-Assad.
The Muslim Brotherhood briefly governed Egypt following the Arab Spring. The Quds Force is a special forces unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and is operating in Syria in support of Assad
In his remarks, Cotton said Trump’s “America First” rhetoric resonates with most of the public. He termed it “plain spoken nationalism” in the manner of President Andrew Jackson.