11/30/2017 — 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on the National Defense Strategy that is currently being drafted within the Defense Department.  I would also like to welcome our distinguished witnesses this morning, and I look forward to their thoughts and suggestions on crafting a new defense strategy.

The Department of Defense faces many complicated and rapidly evolving challenges.  This is not the first time in our nation’s history that we have had to confront multiple threats from abroad, but it is an incredibly dangerous and uncertain time.  Russia remains determined to reassert its influence around the world, most recently by using malign influence and active measures activities to undermine the American people’s faith in our election process, as well as other Western countries.

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile efforts are an immediate and grave national security threat, and the U.S. continues to grapple with the fact that there are no quick and certain options.  China continues to threaten the rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region by economic coercion of its smaller, more vulnerable neighbors, and by undermining the freedom of navigation.

Iran continues their aggressive weapons development activities, including ballistic missile development efforts, while pursuing other destabilizing activities in the region.  Likewise, countering the security threat from ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its spread beyond the Middle East must remain a high priority, while at the same time, we must build the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces and deny any safe haven for extremists.

Crafting a defense strategy that provides guidance to policy makers on how to most effectively confront the aforementioned and emerging challenges is not a simple task.  In fact, during the fall of 2015, when this Committee held a series of hearings to evaluate potential revisions to the Goldwater Nichols Act, one of the predominant themes was that Department suffered from a “tyranny of consensus” when crafting defense strategy.  In other words, too often the Department is consumed by the need to foster agreement among all interested parties regarding strategic policy goals rather than focusing on the most critical and pressing threats facing our country along with the strategies necessary to thwart those threats.  While consensus should not be discounted, crafting strategy focused on the “lowest common denominator” of agreement often means difficult strategic choices and alternative policy decisions are deferred.

To address this imbalance, this Committee carefully reviewed how the Department crafts and generates strategy documents.  The FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision mandating a new National Defense Strategy intended to address the highest priority missions of the Department, the enduring threats facing our country and our allies, and the strategies that the department will employ in order to address those threats. 

The Committee understands that the Department is working diligently to finalize the National Defense Strategy by early 2018.  To help inform the Department’s submission, I hope our witnesses today will give their assessment of the threats facing our country; the anticipated force posture required to address those threats; the challenges confronting military readiness and modernization; and, finally, the investments necessary for the U.S. to retain overmatch capability against near-peer competitors. 

Finally, I believe the effectiveness of the National Defense Strategy may be adversely impacted by circumstances outside the control of senior civilian and military leadership within the Department of Defense.  While it does not fall within the purview of this Committee, I am deeply concerned about the Department of State and the health of our foreign service.  Robust international alliances are critical to keeping our country safe.  That requires a diplomatic corps ready and able to coordinate closely with allies and partners.  It is also critical that they have the tools necessary to help partner nations proactively address political and social challenges that give rise to conflict and extremism.  Rather than prioritize the State Department’s mission, the current Administration has sought draconian budget cuts that have devastated morale and created a mass exodus of seasoned diplomats.  Let me be clear, weakening the State Department makes the Defense Department’s mission that much more difficult. This should be a concern for every member of this committee.

In addition, the President has consistently shown a fondness for foreign leaders who have been dismissive of core American values like human rights and the rule of law.  At the same time, the President has discounted the importance of longtime allies and the global order the United States helped establish following World War II.  As I have stated previously, such actions isolate the United States and weaken our influence in the world – ultimately leading to uncertainty and risk of miscalculation.

Therefore, I would be interested in the views of our witnesses on these issues as well as the current interagency process for developing national security policy.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.