GOP lawmakers say the Obama administration is ignoring history in planning a defense budget that bets there won't be another protracted ground war in the near future.
The White House is expected to unveil the 2015 defense budget on Tuesday that would cut the active duty Army by more than 20 percent over the next five years.
Republicans say this move is foolish, given the effects of previous post-war drawdowns.
"You look at what happened at the end of World War II. We took the largest, strongest Army, Navy and Air Force that had ever been on the earth, and we destroyed it, totally eliminated it for the next year,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) on Thursday.
“So when Korea started, they pushed us almost right into the ocean. They were basically fodder trying to hold things back,” he said.
Republicans also criticized the Obama administration’s continued departure from a “two-war strategy,” where the Pentagon would be able to fight two major wars at once.
The upcoming defense budget request would allow for the U.S. military to fight only one major war in one theater, while defending the homeland and deterring aggression in another theater — a strategy the Obama administration first unveiled in 2010.
“It's easy to say, well, I just don't see us having another conflict again. Well, I heard that in 1980. I heard that in 1990. And I heard that in 2000. And yet we are constantly engaged,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno earlier this month.
“We've had a major deployment of U.S. forces, specifically Army forces, in every decade since 1940,” Odierno said at the Council on Foreign Relations on Feb. 11.
The active duty Army, which reached a peak of 570,000 during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, was already due to shrink to 490,000 over the next decade, but could now shrink to 420,000 under the new defense budget plan.
Nora Bensahel, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the U.S. military will still be able to do whatever the president asks of it, but at higher risk.
“It will be much more difficult if the nation’s military forces are asked to fight a large and ongoing ground war, and it will be more expensive to do so in blood and treasure,” Bensahel said.
“We can do anything, but it will be far harder and more people will die,” she said.
Military officials say this would happen at a time when the world is only becoming more unstable -- with an unpredictable young leader in North Korea, a spreading Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East, an increase in extremism around the world, instability in Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Africa -- all in addition to longer-term worries about Iran and a rising China.
“This is not a time where I can say things are at peace and we don't need an Army, we can get very small, because we're never going to use them,” Odierno said.
Earlier this week, Russian military forces amassed on Ukraine’s border, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fired four short-range missiles off the country’s northern coast.
“You lose troop strength at a time when numbers matter,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamA real national security budget would fully fund State Department Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings Dem senator: House Intel chairman may have revealed classified info MORE (R-S.C.) told the Hill on Thursday. “The risks to the country are far greater under this budget than they need to be.”
“You got a nut running North Korea. If there were a major land war in North Korea, a 440,000-man Army would not do the job,” he added.
Bensahel said administration officials are predicting that the odds that the U.S. will get involved in a large ground war is small enough that the risk is worth taking, in order to protect capabilities for the future.
The Pentagon plans to increase spending on its cyber resources, special operations forces, and future weapons systems such as the stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is geared towards winning a potential air-sea battle with a future adversary such as China.
As U.S. defense spending continues to decline, China is gearing up for a surge in military spending and by next year, will spend more on defense than Britain, Germany and France combined, according to a recent report by IHS Jane’s a defense consulting and analysis firm.
The U.S. spent $664.3 billion on defense in 2012 but will spend about $574.9 billion in 2014, while China spent $139.2 billion in 2013 and will spend $148 billion in 2014, the New York Times reported on Feb. 3.
Despite the tradeoffs, declining U.S. defense spending will only embolden Russia and China to challenge the U.S., McKeon said.
"Putin's not a dummy. He looks at it and says, 'Hey, America's cutting back their defense, I can push here,'” he said. "China's [leaders] are not dummies."
"It's a dangerous world, and we're making it more so by cutting defense," McKeon said. "We weaken ourselves, and that is how you get into wars. You don't get into wars if you're strong.”