July 8, 2015 | Issue Brief on National Security and Defense
This week the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who has been nominated to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If confirmed, he would be the principal military adviser to the President. Currently the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Dunford has had a long and distinguished military career, and the Senate is expected to confirm him relatively easily. That said, the next Chairman will face a wide range of complex challenges, and Senators should question General Dunford about these challenges during his confirmation hearing.
The White House announced earlier this year that it was extending the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, leaving 9,800 U.S. troops in place until at least the end of the year rather than reducing the number of troops to 5,500 as originally planned. White House officials have indicated, however, that the President still plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, except for those necessary to protect the U.S. embassy. As former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Dunford is uniquely qualified to address questions on this topic.
China continues to grow its ability to project military power while taking steps to ensure its dominance in the region. China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea have drawn attention recently, but China has also acted aggressively in other territorial disputes. China’s cyber activities continue to pose a major security challenge for the U.S.
The base budget for national security spending (function 050 without overseas contingency operations) has decreased by 15 percent in real terms since 2011. In the same period, the global security situation has arguably deteriorated significantly.
Senior Department of Defense (DOD) leaders and Members of Congress have all agreed that reforming the DOD should be a top priority. The House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) both contain a number of reform provisions. Defense reform includes acquisition reform, military compensation reform, and military health care reform.
General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, released a new National Military Strategy last week. Earlier this year, The Heritage Foundation released its first annual Index of U.S. Military Strength.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany may announce a nuclear deal with Iran this week. Whether or not a deal is reached, the U.S. military will play a crucial role in deterring an Iranian nuclear program by providing a credible military option to prevent a nuclear Iran. Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorism, as noted in the State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Terrorism. Iran also plays a destabilizing role in the Middle East in a variety of ways, such as supporting the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen.
The fight against ISIS has been far from successful. ISIS continues to hold significant ground in Syria and Iraq while inspiring (if not directing) terrorist attacks around the world. President Obama authorized sending an additional 450 U.S. troops to Iraq, bringing the total number of U.S. troops there to roughly 3,500. However, restrictions remain on what U.S. troops can do, and the effectiveness of Iraqi forces and U.S.-trained Syrian forces is questionable.
North Korea remains a major regional threat, and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles will increasingly pose a threat to the United States homeland. The U.S. maintains a significant military presence in South Korea, Japan, and Guam, all of which could be threatened by North Korean missiles. North Korea clearly continues to pursue new and improved missile technology and already has nuclear weapons.
A Pentagon report released late last year indicated that Pakistan continues to use anti-India and anti-Afghanistan militants to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability. The report noted that these activities run counter to Pakistan’s public commitment to support Afghan-led reconciliation. Furthermore, Pakistan recently released Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi from jail, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166, including six Americans.
Since the invasion of Crimea in 2014, the U.S. and NATO have struggled to respond. Russian forces continue to engage in combat in eastern Ukraine, while the U.S. has announced a limited increase in its military presence across Eastern Europe. Russia is also violating its international obligations and pursuing the most extensive nuclear weapon modernization program since the end of the Cold War.
The security threats facing the United States are diverse, complex, and growing, and the Senate should exercise due diligence in considering General Dunford’s nomination as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If confirmed, General Dunford will be responsible for giving his best military advice in trying times to President Obama, and likely the next President as well. A thorough confirmation process will ensure General Dunford’s readiness for this position and help prepare Congress and the American people for the challenges ahead.—Justin T. Johnson is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation. Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow for South Asia in the Asian Studies Center, of the Davis Institute. James Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs in the Allison Center. Dean Cheng is a Senior Research Fellow for Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center. Matthew R. Rolfes is a Research Assistant for National Security in the Allison Center. Michaela Dodge is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and Strategic Policy in the Allison Center.
 Justin Johnson, “The World Isn’t Safer. So Why Has the National Security Budget Decreased By 15%?” The Daily Signal, June 24, 2015, http://dailysignal.com/2015/06/24/the-world-isnt-safer-so-why-has-the-national-security-budget-decreased-by-15/.
 Joint Chiefs of Staff, “The National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2015,” June 2015, http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Publications/2015_National_Military_Strategy.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Dakota L. Wood, 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength: Assessing America’s Ability to Provide for the Common Defense (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2015), http://index.heritage.org/militarystrength/.
 For more information, see Bruce Klingner, “South Korea Needs THAAD Missile Defense,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3024, June 12, 2015, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/06/south-korea-needs-thaad-missile-defense.
 U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” October 2014, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/Oct2014_Report_Final.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).