March 19, 2014 | Backgrounder on National Security and Defense
Two key bills guide the policies of the U.S. Department of Defense: (1) the appropriations bill, which provides defense funding, and (2) the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets policies and guidelines for how the money will be spent. Over the past half-century, the NDAA has been the only bill that has made it to the President’s desk for his signature each year. A Heritage Foundation team of top national security experts has identified 12 key policy issues that Congress should address in the next NDAA. Confronting these policy concerns will strengthen U.S. safety and security, as well as alliances and partnerships at home and abroad.
Two key bills guide the policies of the U.S. Department of Defense: (1) the appropriations bill, which provides defense funding, and (2) the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets policies and guidelines for how the money will be spent. The NDAA has been the only bill that has made it to the President’s desk for his signature each year over the past half-century.
As both houses of Congress brace for the deliberations for fiscal year (FY) 2015, there are 12 key policy issues the next NDAA should address. Confronting these policy concerns will strengthen U.S. safety and security, as well as alliances and partnerships at home and abroad.
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has significantly decreased its reliance on nuclear weapons and cut investments in its nuclear weapons complex. The nation has stopped conducting nuclear weapons experiments that produce nuclear yield and has shifted the focus of the nuclear scientists and engineers from innovating and modernizing to sustaining U.S. nuclear weapons. Other countries have not taken these steps. China maintains a massive nuclear weapons production complex, as does Russia. Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, since the end of the Cold War. Moscow is also in breach of its legal and political arms control obligations. Nuclear weapons have played, and will continue to play, a significant role in deterring adversaries and assuring allies.
The NDAA should mitigate some of the ill-advised steps the Obama Administration has taken since coming into office. Congress should:
Nuclear weapons continue to play an essential role in U.S. security. Other countries are not only modernizing, but also increasing the role that nuclear weapons play in their security strategies. The NDAA is a key tool to mitigate some of the Administration’s damaging steps.
The U.S. military has been one of the largest, if not the single largest, adopters of technologically advanced devices. From communications systems to weapons guidance systems, the Department of Defense has readily adopted new, powerful technologies that make the military more effective, efficient, and responsive. With the power and speed of these technologies, however, have also come cyber vulnerabilities. Whether through Internet-based attacks or malicious cyber hardware, many modern military systems can be the target of cyber attacks, jeopardizing or seriously impairing military operations.
Since the U.S. benefits greatly from modern systems, it must do more to secure those systems and prevent enemies from using cyber vulnerabilities against the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. must leverage its strengths in cyber operations for offensive purposes where needed. To this end, Congress should use the NDAA to:
Implementing these policies, together with expanding existing policies, such as cyber information sharing between the public and private sectors, will better prepare the Department of Defense to face serious cybersecurity challenges. From defending U.S. military networks to disrupting an enemy’s, the U.S. military should continue to improve its cyber capabilities and policies.
Today, more than 30 nations around the world possess ballistic missiles that can strike the U.S., its allies, and forward-deployed troops within minutes. This leaves a very short time to react and protect what the U.S. values most: its population and economic centers. U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems can provide this protection. Some, like the Aegis sea-based BMD program, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, or the Patriot systems, are already fielded. The quantity of deployed interceptors is not enough to keep up with the threat. North Korea has ballistic missiles that can strike the U.S. homeland. It has nuclear weapons and an extensive cooperation with Iran.
To keep up with ballistic missile threats and develop capabilities necessary for adopting the “protect and defend” strategy, Congress should:
Congress must ensure that the U.S. is ahead of the ballistic missile threat. A viable missile defense enterprise is the way to do so.
The U.S. military presence in Europe deters adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests. Whether preparing U.S. and allied troops for deployment to Afghanistan or responding to a humanitarian crisis in the region, forward-based military capabilities in Europe allow the U.S. to project power and react to the unexpected more quickly and effectively. Reducing this capability would only make America and NATO weaker on the world stage.
The commonly held belief that U.S. forces are in Europe to protect European allies from a threat that no longer exists is simply wrong. In fact, forward-basing U.S. troops in Europe is just as important now as it was during the Cold War, for different reasons. One of the most obvious benefits of having U.S. troops in Europe is its geographical proximity to some of the most dangerous and contested regions in the world. Although largely peaceful itself, broader Europe has physical borders with Russia, the Arctic, Iran, Asia Minor, the Caspian Sea, and North Africa. Most of these areas have long histories of instability and a potential for future instability that could directly impact the security interests and economic well-being of the U.S. Some of the most important energy security and trade corridors—such as the transit routes in the Caucasus, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Gibraltar—are on the periphery of Europe and are located in some of the world’s most dangerous and unstable regions.
For example, in 2013, the U.S. deployed a detachment of Marines to a small American air base in Spain to form a U.S. rapid-reaction force for the North African region. This deployment was clearly linked to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and gave the U.S. more options for responding to a crisis in the region. This deployment would not be possible if the U.S. did not already have a military presence in Europe.
U.S. military bases in Europe provide American leaders with increased flexibility, resilience, and options in a dangerous world. As part of a policy that is shrinking America’s military presence in the world, the Obama Administration’s defense cuts heavily impact the U.S. military footprint in Europe. Ultimately, these cuts will reduce the ability and flexibility of the U.S. to react to the unexpected in places on Europe’s periphery, such as North Africa.
Under the tight budget caps in the Budget Control Act, the Pentagon needs to get a handle on its outdated practices more than ever. “Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive,” quipped then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in March 2010. So far, the executive and legislative branches have been unable to come together to find a solution to this serious issue. Additionally, defense acquisition reform, outdated export controls, and reducing the Pentagon’s bloated bureaucracy should be part of an effort to make the Department of Defense more efficient. Savings should be reinvested to maintain and modernize the armed forces’ capabilities.
Congress should allow military leaders to reinvest all funds recovered from pursuing these types of reforms in order to pay for the priority of modernization. This should include developing cutting-edge technologies that keep the U.S. ahead of its potential adversaries and purchasing new sets of equipment for all of the military services.
The United States faces a number of security threats in the Asia–Pacific, and the Administration’s “pivot to Asia” places a premium on ensuring a modern, capable U.S. military to support its political and economic goals. As China’s military modernization and improvements proceed, the ability of the United States to dominate the western Pacific in the event of a crisis or conflict is becoming ever less clear. This limitation to domination is due not only to China’s development of anti-access/area denial capabilities, but also to China’s pursuit of comprehensive modernization of its entire military, including nuclear, conventional, space, and cyber systems. Meanwhile, North Korea under Kim Jong-un remains an unpredictable threat, exacerbated by the North Korean dictator’s apparent lack of interest in reform or improved ties.
The visible commitment of resources is made even more urgent given the increasing doubt from America’s regional allies about the viability of U.S. resolve and military capabilities. U.S. allies and opponents in Asia reading U.S. defense budgets see the mismatch between the bold rhetoric of the Obama Administration’s Asia pivot strategy and the lack of necessary military resources devoted to fulfilling it. By overdramatizing and overselling an evolutionary development of U.S. foreign policy, the Obama Administration risks providing false reassurances to allies of Washington’s ability to deliver on its promises. Japan’s 2013 Defense White Paper is premised on declining U.S. military strength vis-à-vis China, while South Korea worries that the planned 2015 transfer of wartime operational command could lead to America retreating from its security commitments.
The U.S. must fully fund its defense requirements. It is unrealistic to think that the United States can cut defense spending by an additional $1 trillion over the next decade and maintain its current level of commitment. Shortchanging U.S. defense spending may appear to provide short-term budgetary gains, but any such gains will come at an unacceptable risk to America’s armed forces, allies, and national interests in the Asia–Pacific.
As China modernizes its nuclear forces, fielding new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and deploying a new generation of ballistic missile submarines, and as North Korea’s nuclear development program continues to progress, it is essential that the United States maintain a robust nuclear deterrent, including more modern warhead designs and a follow-on sub-surface ballistic nuclear (SSBN) capability, as well as sustaining investment in ballistic missile defenses. Similarly, adversary interest in fostering asymmetric advantages through counter-space and cyber capabilities means that corners cut in these key areas will create intolerable vulnerabilities.
To maintain American security interests, then, the U.S. should:
As a result of the fiscal pressures, the Pentagon is planning on significantly reducing its end strength. By FY 2017, the Army is slated to drop from the current level of 570,000 active-duty members to 490,000. The U.S. Marine Corps will shrink to about 174,000 by the end of 2016 (from 202,000 in 2010). This reduction should be accompanied by reducing excess infrastructure where appropriate. In the past, efforts to conduct new rounds of Base Realignment and Closures (BRACs) faced fierce opposition from Congress. The Pentagon and the Services can take advantage of the lessons learned from the previous BRAC rounds and conduct the next process in a manner that does not hamper U.S. security.
Around the world, American interests are coming under attack. At home, President Obama has dramatically reduced U.S. military ability to fight and win wars of the future. The negative trends must be addressed. A properly conducted BRAC process would help to assess the U.S.’s ability to respond flexibly and in a timely manner to international crises.
The Obama Administration has pushed the use of biofuels in the Navy, directing significant funds in an attempt to replace oil with this alternative. The Administration has entered the Department of Defense into agreements with the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to direct additional taxpayer dollars to this initiative.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and others have argued that, since much of the world’s oil originates in the Middle East, it is subject to volatile price fluctuations and potential shortages. However, America’s accessible domestic oil supply has grown immensely in recent years. The price of oil has been declining as a result, and oil supply is more consistent. In comparison with biofuels, the environmental arguments against oil are also not valid. Biofuels create as much carbon dioxide waste as oil and are, in fact, less fuel-efficient.
Biofuel use is fraught with strategic and operational problems. First, the U.S. will continue to rely on oil in foreign ports, as there is no global biofuel infrastructure. Also, as mentioned, the fuel is less efficient than oil. If the Navy wants to consider strategically viable alternatives to oil, it should consider those that reduce reliance on fuel transport and consumption. Finally, studies have shown that biofuels may corrode ships’ mechanical systems more rapidly than oil. This would lead to more frequent breakdowns of vessels, reducing at-sea hours and increasing maintenance costs. At $26 per gallon, biofuels are about seven times more expensive than conventional diesel. This cost premium, on top of other cuts in fleet readiness and modernization that the Obama Administration has overseen, will place unnecessary strain on funding.
Congress can support a robust U.S. Navy through the following NDAA actions:
As the U.S. military continues to struggle with the implementation of broad defense cuts, it cannot afford to waste yet more taxpayer dollars on unproven and potentially damaging programs. Biofuels represent one of the clearest examples of misguided spending in the Defense Department. The NDAA can promote fiscal responsibility and provide for the common defense by stopping this initiative.
On September 11, 2001, the United States was drawn into a new kind of war. That war continues to this day. One of the flashpoints of controversy and debate over U.S. conduct in this war is the detainment of enemy combatants. Over the past decade, the United States and coalition partners have held over 75,000 detainees (security internees) in Iraq, over 25,000 detainees in Afghanistan, and 779 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Today, the United States is holding only 155 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Despite the comparatively low number, public interest in the Guantanamo detainees is high because the principles involved are vital. Under the international law of armed conflict, and as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court and authorized by Congress, the United States has the lawful authority to detain enemies who have engaged in combatant actions, including acts of belligerence, until the end of hostilities. The U.S. can detain captured enemy fighters not as punishment, but to keep them from returning to the battlefield. Detaining select enemy combatants during wartime under safe, secure, and humane conditions is vital for this war and any future armed conflict.
The NDAA should continue to place commonsense restrictions on the Obama Administration and provide guardrails on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees. Congress should:
Sexual assault is a real and recognized problem, both in the military and in civilian life. Sexual assault in the military harms victims, of course, and is detrimental to general morale, destroys unit cohesion, disrespects the chain of command, and damages the military as a whole. The military exists to defend the nation; that is its mission. To accomplish that mission, military leaders must ensure that those who serve are combat ready and, once ordered into armed conflict, combat effective. Maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces is essential to accomplishing the mission. The military justice system is integral to the military’s mission. Last year’s (FY 2014) NDAA contained prudent, sweeping, and meaningful reforms aimed at preventing and reducing sexual assault in the military. The major reforms will take effect in June 2014, and the modifications of Article 32 (the preliminary hearing) do not go into effect until December 2014.
Additionally, Congress and the President have each established panels of experts to study various aspects of sexual assault in the military. Most of those expert panels, set up over a number of years, have not yet reported their findings and recommendations. These reforms and those that may result from expert panel recommendations will take time to affect the military criminal justice system. Some of the new policies will have an immediate and visible effect. Others will not take effect for a year or more. Congress and the Administration should give these changes time to take root. Then, and only then, should they make any necessary additional changes.
The NDAA should retain the ability of commanders to refer cases of sexual assault and all other crimes to court martial. Congress should:
Treaties have the potential to significantly affect America’s national defense. Some treaty matters that Congress should monitor in the NDAA either to preserve U.S. protections or to block unwarranted impediments and restrictions include:
A positive provision included in the FY 2013 NDAA was a restatement of policy under the Arms Control and Disarmament Act with respect to outer space. That provision explicitly states:
No action shall be taken that would obligate the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in outer space in a militarily significant manner, except pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President set forth in Article II, Section 2, Clause II of the Constitution or unless authorized by the enactment of further affirmative legislation by the Congress of the United States.
The provision further requires briefings, updates, and notifications on negotiations involving binding international agreements relating to this matter. Congress should adopt it as a standard provision in all treaties that could impact U.S. foreign and defense policy that are under negotiation or under consideration for signature or ratification.
State militias have helped to defend the United States since the Revolutionary War. Today, 23 states and territories have organized militias, most commonly known as State Defense Forces (SDFs). SDFs provide governors with a cost-effective, vital force multiplier and resource, especially if state National Guard units are deployed out of state. SDFs are underfunded and undersupported. Some states that are at high risk of natural or man-made disasters, or of terrorist attacks, have not created SDFs. The U.S., as well as individual states, can no longer afford to sideline these security assets.
State Defense Forces have proven vital to homeland security and emergency response. After 9/11, the New York Guard, the New York Naval Militia, and the New Jersey Naval Militia were activated to assist in response measures, recovery efforts, and critical infrastructure security. An estimated 2,274 SDF personnel participated in support or recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. They assisted directly with recovery efforts or stayed in their states to fill the roles of the state National Guard units that were deployed to assist in the recovery. Most recently in the response to Superstorm Sandy, both New York and New Jersey used their SDFs extensively.
Expansion and enhancement of SDFs remains vital to homeland security. To further such efforts, the NDAA should:
There are clear historical, legal, and practical justifications for strengthening the State Defense Forces. Since the country’s founding, militias have played a vital role in fulfilling the constitutional duty of providing for the common defense. SDFs continue to provide critical manpower at minimal cost.
In the upcoming NDAA process, focusing on the priorities outlined above will benefit U.S. national security. While these priorities alone will not solve all problems or repel all threats that the U.S. will face, they are essential and warrant special attention by policymakers.
 Ariel Cohen and Michaela Dodge, “Russia’s Arms Control Violations: What the U.S. Should Do,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4105, December 11, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/12/russia-s-arms-control-violations-what-the-us-should-do.
 Baker Spring, “Disarm Now, Ask Questions Later: Obama’s Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2826, July 12, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/07/disarm-now-ask-questions-later-obamas-nuclear-weapons-policy.
 Michaela Dodge and Baker Spring, “Nuclear Certification for a New Bomber,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3408, November 7, 2011, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/nuclear-certification-for-a-new-bomber.
 Michaela Dodge and Baker Spring, “Bait and Switch on Nuclear Modernization Must Stop,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2755, January 4, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/01/bait-and-switch-on-nuclear-modernization-must-stop.
 Dean Cheng, “Chinese Cyber Attacks: Robust Response Needed,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3861, February 23, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/02/chinese-cyber-attacks-robust-response-needed.
 Mark B. Schneider, “Does North Korea Have a Missile-Deliverable Nuclear Weapon?” Heritage Foundation Lecture No. 1228, May 22, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/2013/05/does-north-korea-have-a-missile-deliverable-nuclear-weapon.
 Andrei Shoumikhin and Baker Spring, “Strategic Nuclear Arms Control for the Protect and Defend Strategy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2266, May 4, 2009, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2009/05/strategic-nuclear-arms-control-for-the-protect-and-defend-strategy.
 Thom Shanker, “Gates Takes Aim at Pentagon Spending,” The New York Times, May 8, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/us/politics/09gates.html?_r=0 (accessed February 10, 2014).
 Baker Spring, “Saving the American Dream: Improving Health Care and Retirement for Military Service Members and Their Families,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2621, November 17, 2011, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/saving-the-american-dream-improving-health-care-and-retirement-for-military-service-members?ac=1.
 Baker Spring, “The Culture of Over-Regulation Must Stop,” The Heritage Foundation, The Foundry, September 10, 2012, http://blog.heritage.org/2012/09/10/the-culture-of-over-regulation-must-stop/.
 Hope Hodge Seck, “Amos Defends Marine Corps Force of 174,000,” Marine Corps Times, November 5, 2013, http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/article/20131105/NEWS05/311050034/Amos-defends-Marine-Corps-force-174-000 (accessed February 10, 2014).
 Michaela Dodge, “Beyond BRAC: Global Defense Infrastructure for the 21st Century,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2791, May 3, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/05/beyond-brac-global-defense-infrastructure-for-the-21st-century.
 Baker Spring, “Performance-Based Logistics: Making the Military More Efficient,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2411, May 6, 2010, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/05/performance-based-logistics-making-the-military-more-efficient?ac=1.
 Steven P. Bucci and Michaela Dodge, “Top Five National Security Priorities for Congress in 2014,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4128, January 15, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/01/top-5-national-security-priorities-for-congress-in-2014.
 Michaela Dodge and Brian Slattery, “Biofuel Blunder: Navy Should Prioritize Fleet Modernization over Political Initiatives,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4054, September 24, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/09/navy-s-green-fleet-a-biofuel-blunder.
 The Heritage Foundation, “Detention of the Enemy During Wartime,” http://www.heritage.org/research/projects/enemy-detention/detention-of-the-enemy?ac=1.
 Charles Stimson, “Law of Armed Conflict and the Use of Military Force,” testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, May 16, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/testimony/2013/05/the-law-of-armed-conflict.
 Charles Stimson, “The National Defense Authorization Act and Military Detention of U.S. Citizens,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3497, February 10, 2012, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/02/facts-about-the-national-defense-authorization-act-and-military-detention-of-us-citizens.
 Section 1035 of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, in Committee Print, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014: Legislative Text and Joint Explanatory Statement to Accompany H.R. 3304, Public Law 113-66, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, 113th Cong., 1st Sess., December 2013, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CPRT-113HPRT86280/pdf/CPRT-113HPRT86280.pdf (accessed February 26, 2014).
 Charles Stimson, “Sexual Assault in the Military: Understanding the Problem and How to Fix It,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 149, November 6, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/sexual-assault-in-the-military-understanding-the-problem-and-how-to-fix-it.
 Steven P. Bucci and Charles Stimson, “Changing the Military Justice System: Proceed with Caution,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2795, May 9, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/05/changing-the-military-justice-system-proceed-with-caution.
 Charles Stimson, “JAG Corps and Reforming the Military Justice System,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3955, June 3, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/06/jag-corps-and-reforming-the-military-justice-system.
 “Arms Trade Treaty,” Special Negotiator Donald Mahley, speaking for Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Ellen Tauscher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 18, 2010, http://www.state.gov/t/us/136849.htm (accessed February 26, 2014).
 The Obama Administration has taken no action to abrogate the 2002 letter from John Bolton (then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security) to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The letter states that “the United States does not intend to become a party to” the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and that “the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000.”
 The actual number is not officially available because some countries do not wish the U.S. to identify them. For an unofficial list, see Georgetown Law Library, “International Criminal Court—Article 98 Agreements Research Guide,” 2009, http://www.law.georgetown.edu/library/research/guides/article_98.cfm (accessed February 21, 2014).
 News release, “Presidential Memorandum—Certification Concerning U.S. Participation in the United Nations Multidimensional,” The White House, January 31, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/31/presidential-memorandum-certification-concerning-us-participation-united (accessed February 10, 2014).
 Baker Spring, “U.S. Should Reject Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3272, May 26, 2011, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/05/us-should-reject-ratification-of-the-comprehensive-test-ban-treaty.
 H.R. 4310, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, p. 243, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr4310enr/pdf/BILLS-112hr4310enr.pdf (accessed February 10, 2014).