Vice President Mike Pence expressed his support and gratitude to American service members in the U.S. Pacific Command on Monday, while attempting to address some of their concerns regarding the defense budget.

Pence’s arrival at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii punctuated a ten-day trip that included stops in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia.  He opened his remarks to the service members present in the briefing room by explaining that President Trump had asked him “to tell you how grateful we all are for your service. And as he said to me, ‘Just tell them I’m proud of them.’ And I promise all of you, the American people are proud of every man and woman in this room. Thank you for serving your country.”

Pence explained that while he did not serve in the armed forces, he has been deeply affected by the service of both his father and son.

“I am the son of a soldier — a combat veteran who served in the Korean War. And I’m the proud father of a United States Marine.”  Pence told the room.

“And so I stand before you today deeply humbled, because I really speak on behalf of the hundreds of millions of Americans, who each and every day benefit by the services and the sacrifices that you and your families make on our behalf.”

He then went on to address concerns many within the military have voiced regarding the defense budget.  Although the United States outspends every other nation on the planet when it comes to defense, the relative size and dispersal of American assets has made maintaining such a formidable force nearly impossible under current spending limits.

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Pence addressed these concerns by describing Trump as a commander-in-chief that intends to fight to rebuild the U.S. military and “restore the arsenal of democracy.”

“And we’re going to give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources you need to accomplish your mission for the American people. We’re going to do it,” Pence said to applause.

“There’s a spending bill that’s being considered as we speak.” Pence told PACOM.  “The president is working even in what remains of this budget year to begin to supplement our military spending. The president truly believes that the time has come for us to rebuild this military,” the vice president said.

Last month, president Trump proposed a 2017 defense spending hike that would add $54 billion to this year’s budget, followed by an increase in 2018’s defense budget to $639 billion.

“The core of my first budget blueprint is the rebuilding of our nation’s military without adding to our federal deficit,” Trump said in a letter attached to his budget proposal.

The president has made it clear that he hopes to increase the size of America’s Navy while returning America’s existing military assets to good working order through these increases, though many have worried that even Trump’s increases, if approved by Congress, won’t be enough to make America ready for the possibility of a conflict with a near-peer level opponent like China or Russia.

For years, the United States military has served as a stabilizing power all over the globe, in large part due to the presence of the American Navy is most major waterways and the ability to rapidly deploy troops to any location on the planet, but spending limitations have stifled the military’s ability to maintain such a stabilizing presence.  Many have taken to calling the Defense Department’s economic woes “strategic insolvency,” meaning America’s military commitments are beginning to exceed its capabilities.

“It is clear to virtually everyone that we have cut our military too much and that it has suffered enormous damage,” said Texas Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Unfortunately, the administration’s budget request is not enough to repair that damage and to rebuild the military as the President has discussed.”

While many political opponents of an increase in defense spending are often quick to point out that the United States pays more into its military than the next seven closest competitors combined, it becomes a much more difficult conversation when we must address which of our numerous strategic concerns and commitments to allies we should begin to ignore in the face of a reduced budget.

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In effect, the American military may be massive, but it is also in many ways regional – with assets spread all over the globe intended not only to dissuade potential enemy activity, but to defend allied interests and often, to intervene on behalf of innocent civilians – as was the case in the recent, and controversial, missile strike against the Syrian air base believed to be responsible for a chemical attack that claimed the lives of dozens of people, including many children.

Despite what many consider a ballooning budget, a recent study conducted by the Rand Corporation found that the United States, for all its military might, would be unable to defend Taiwan against a Chinese incursion.  Another study came to a similar conclusion regarding the outcome if Russia were to decide to invade the Baltics in Europe.

The U.S. military may be the most powerful in the world, but with America facing threats from global powers like Russia and China while simultaneously managing smaller conflicts with North Korea, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban among others, that military-might may be stretching too thin to be of use.  Powerful as it may be, the United States likely won’t be able to support its existing global strategy without an even more dramatic increase in defense spending.

The United States government is facing a far more complex and difficult decision than simply deciding how much money to funnel toward beans, bullets and band-aids.  In order to effectively maintain the American military, law makers may have to choose between increasing funding even more than the President’s proposal, or reassessing America’s place in the world.  Of course, reducing the footprint of America’s military could be an easy way to reduce the cost of doing business, but it’s important to consider the vacuums a withdrawal of U.S. military power would create in many places around the globe… and who would step in to fill them.

Reducing the size of our military while allowing China or Russia to dramatically increase their spheres of influence could leave the U.S. on even more uneven footing if ever tensions were to boil over into actual war with either nation.  Moreso, the United States would have to surrender its status as a world leader and global super-power, both important parts of ongoing international trade negotiations and geopolitical posturing.  A military presence may not be the only basis of America’s international influence, but it is certainly a significant factor.

A United States that doesn’t lead the world in military capabilities may indeed be possible, but it likely wouldn’t be the United States the world knows today – and America’s politicians will soon need to decide if they’re okay with that.

 

Image courtesy of the Associated Press