Opening Statement by Ranking Member Reed at SASC Hearing on Strategic Threats, Ongoing Challenges and the National Defense Strategy
Thank you, Mister Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses. Let me also thank the Chairman for scheduling this important hearing to review the strategic threats and ongoing challenges to our nation’s security. Today’s hearing is an opportunity to hear from our military leadership about how the Department is implementing the National Defense Strategy, or NDS, to meet these threats and challenges.
The NDS marked a shift in our strategic priorities, from a focus on counterterrorism operations in the Middle East and South Asia to prioritizing the long-term strategic competition with Russia and China. The NDS called for increased investment in the strategic competition with near-peer competitors, while moving to a more “resource-sustainable approach” for countering North Korea and Iran, defeating terrorist threats, and winning the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department has begun to shift its focus to this strategic competition, but much remains to be done. As the independent, non-partisan National Defense Strategy Commission assessed, the Defense Department and White House have struggled to clearly state how the United States will prevail in this strategic competition and still lack a whole-of-government approach for countering our adversaries in “grey-zone” operations below the level of traditional military conflict. In addition, the Administration’s impulses to alienate allies and embrace authoritarian strongmen have undercut our military’s ability to pursue a coherent defense strategy and have undermined U.S. national security interests globally.
In the Middle East, there is a clear disconnect between the objectives stated in the NDS and our actions in the region. Despite the NDS shift to a more resource sustainable approach to the threats posed by Iran and counterterrorism, we have deployed more than 14,000 troops to the region since May. In the case of Iran, the Administration has pursued a so-called “maximum pressure campaign” that has only succeeded in isolating us from many of our allies, made conflict more likely, and given Iran cover to violate constraints placed on its nuclear program by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Furthermore, Defense Department efforts to consolidate counterterrorism gains by the anti-ISIS coalition have suffered a major setback as a result of President Trump’s hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces from a Turkish-declared “safe zone” in northeastern Syria and abandonment of our partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces.
With regard to Russia, the National Defense Strategy stresses that one of our greatest military advantages is our alliances and partnerships, particularly NATO. A bipartisan, overwhelming majority of the Senate has endorsed the fundamental value of NATO to U.S. national security interests. Yet, President Trump’s failure to recognize the security benefits of close transatlantic ties, and his diversion of European Deterrence Initiative funds to pay for the Wall along the U.S. southern border, has caused some of our allies to openly question the reliability of the United States as we go forward.
Turning to Asia, the National Defense Strategy identifies China as our most challenging long-term competitor. China’s global economic and military expansion will challenge U.S. primacy in the decades to come. We can no longer assume we will have economic leverage over China, yet I fear we are not developing the tools of statecraft to adequately address the significant national security implications of China’s economic rise.
Even in Western democracies, the space to criticize Chinese aggression and human rights violations is narrowing. China is willing to punish any country that criticizes its authoritarian and coercive activities, whether it is the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Uighurs in western China or political interference in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In addition, we are spending pennies on the dollar compared to China’s multi-billion dollar propaganda campaign to whitewash its behavior in the public sphere.
We need to be working with likeminded allies and partners to push back on China’s coercive behavior, human rights violations, and predatory economic tactics targeting the sovereignty of its smaller neighbors. This administration, however, has taken a number of actions that have undermined our ability to collaborate with other partners in the Indo-Pacific region. By imposing tariffs on our closest partners, requesting that Japan and South Korea exponentially increase their annual contributions under burden-sharing agreements, and calling into question the value of our joint military exercises, this Administration has created divisions in the region. We must invest more heavily in our global network of partners and allies to push back on the authoritarian regimes that threaten our democratic principles, the rule of law, and human dignity.
Let me once again thank our witnesses for appearing before the committee. I look forward to their testimony.