Much of the future is hazy and unknowable. But we can discern certain trends, and we can take steps to ensure that we are as prepared as possible to meet uncertainty.
It is clear, for example, that unless Congress and the president act to bring fiscal responsibility to government, the quality of life for us and especially for our children will erode. It is also clear that the world remains a dangerous, unpredictable place where threats to our way of life, our values and even our safety are multiplying.
Economic challenges have become commonplace around the world and are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. We still face crushing debt in the United States, and the questionable status of Greece, Spain, Ireland and other countries injects further uncertainty about what an unsteady European Union could mean for our own economy. The policies of newly elected leaders in France and Greece could further put into question the path forward for an already turbulent European financial state.
Meanwhile, our country faces a host of challenges that could affect our physical and economic security in any number of unforeseen ways. From turmoil in Syria to political anxieties in China, from the increasing dangers in West Africa to the fragile advances in Afghanistan, the world is an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable place. Recent missile tests in North Korea, the increasing cyber-attacks directed against both the government and the private sector, as well as news of another foiled attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner, represent a range of threats our military must handle.
The number of threats to our nation’s future security demand smart and meaningful action from our country’s leaders. We must address the spending and debt problem and, at the same time, we must be prepared to protect the country. Failure to address either is not an option.
We also cannot spend some money on defense and hope for the best. Instead, we have to be able to deliver an appropriate response to the full range of dangers — even in unlikely places, even at inconvenient times. We must build — and support — a military that is capable of responding to these and countless other threats whenever and wherever they emerge.
Most officials agree, in light of the multitude of threats we face, that additional, deep cuts to the defense budget through sequestration would be irreversible and devastating. Last fall, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of the “catastrophic” effects that sequestration would have on defense. He has also said that the automatic cuts will “truly devastate our national defense.” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also noted that “indiscriminate cuts would cause self-inflicted and potentially irrevocable wounds to our national security.”
The House has acted by passing a budget that reduces debt and would restore the essential building blocks of a growing economy while preventing sequestration. It also passed a reconciliation bill that protects our path into the future by reprioritizing the savings in a way that will still reduce spending while protecting a strong national defense at home and abroad.
This blueprint begins to reform the mandatory spending programs that make up the largest portion of our spending and annual deficit. The goal is not only to save money but to make the programs do a better job of helping the people they were designated to help.
There is broad consensus that entitlement programs must be reformed to ensure their sustainability for future generations. And it is hard to deny the financial trouble these programs are immediately facing and the shackles their costs are placing on future generations. We cannot risk the future by refusing to address this problem now. Yet some seem content to allow sequestration to take place, impairing both our ability to defend the country and our ability to shape a prosperous future by restraining and reforming entitlements.
Our focus must be on maintaining a strong defense and a robust economy. They are not mutually exclusive; they are interconnected. We cannot sacrifice one in place of the other.
The sequester we are facing today is the result of failed attempts to achieve the budget cuts we need to make.
But the haphazard, across-the-board cuts to defense — on top of the nearly half-trillion dollars in defense cuts put into law last year — are a thoughtless, short-sighted solution to the structural problems in need of repair or replacement. We should reject the meat-ax approach of sequestration and find equivalent savings through entitlement reform and modernization.
Our economic prosperity is dependent on our military’s capability to defend our nation, just as our military capability is dependent on a strong, growing economy. And we must work to secure them both. Our future depends on it.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He also leads the House GOP Cybersecurity Task Force.