At risk: American trade, jobs, trust

Some argue that another $600 billion of defense cuts will not hurt America. We can do more with less, they say. Or, we can just do less. They are wrong. 

Even before Congress agreed to slash roughly $400 billion in defense spending, our military commanders described our forces as being on the “ragged edge.” Consider a few examples: one in five ships inspected is either unfit for combat or severely degraded, and a majority of the Navy’s deployed aircraft is unable to accomplish all assigned missions. The Marine Corps is facing severe shortages of supplies. More than a third of active Army units do not have sufficient personnel to perform their missions. 

In unambiguous terms, our military leaders have warned that further cuts to an already tattered force would demand not only fundamental restructuring of our armed services but a vast re-ordering of what it is our nation expects from our military. The country’s next chief military officer has called these defense cuts “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” 

So, what are these risks, and how do we articulate them? 

American trade is at risk. More than 90 percent of the world’s trade moves over water. Even today, the Chinese military has more attack submarines than the U.S. fleet, and clear ambitions to develop a regionally dominant navy with a global reach. The United States should never put itself in a position to where it needs permission from the Chinese government for the passage of billions of dollars in American exports that travel Asia’s trade routes. 

American jobs are at risk. The job losses that could ensue if the Joint Committee fails to act — conservatively estimated at a half-million — equates to firing more people than the number of unemployed individuals in West Virginia, New Mexico, Maine, Nebraska, Montana, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Delaware, Alaska, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming and North Dakota combined. The losses would reverse the meager jobs recovery seen over the late spring and early summer more than threefold. No veteran’s tax credit could soften the economic damage from pink-slipping a half-million warriors, engineers and civilians that have spent decades doing what their nation requires of them.

American diplomacy is at risk. Without the bolstering weight of a robust, capable and agile military, the United States risks trading its powerful diplomatic influence to become just another member of the United Nations.

Global trust in America is at risk. Few of us have envisioned a future where America has no choice but to fail to meet our security commitments. When our admirals and generals no longer have the resources they need, to whom will we default on first? Israel? Taiwan? And, when our security promises are exposed as bankrupt, how quickly will other nations realize their isolation and turn to developing nuclear weapons as the cheapest way of safeguarding their sovereignty?

American innovation is at risk. These cuts risk jarring pain for the defense industrial sector of our economy. Our naval shipbuilding, our prowess in avionics and our military technological advantages stand ready to suffer the slow and painful dismantling witnessed in the once-great American manufacturing bastions of textiles, furniture, televisions, computers and steel. 

American way of life is at risk. Americans today enjoy the luxury of not having kitchen-table conversations about the security of the straits of Hormuz, Malacca, the Korean Peninsula and other strategic oil and trade chokepoints. Few have contemplated a future where the United States, when confronted with a crisis on the scale of Pearl Harbor or 9/11, must predicate its response with “Can we?” rather than “Will we?” Such a way of life is worth protecting. 

While these scenarios are not imminent, they are real risks imposed from our current defense-slashing trajectory. Members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — sit with a burden few even recognize. They are poised to preside over the dismantling of our military that will reshape the future of our nation. The complicated and intricate risks from these defense cuts might not be fodder for political speeches. They will not be chanted at rallies or scrawled on poster boards. But deep, looming defense cuts have the potency to reconfigure a nation of today into what is unrecognizable to those coming of age 10 and 20 years from now. Members of Congress would be wise to weigh carefully the risks of additional cuts to our national security.

Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee.