Pence: 2016 will be foreign policy election
© Greg Nash

Indiana Gov. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties Dozens of graduates walk out in protest of Pence address MORE joined the chorus of hawks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday, arguing that foreign policy will be the central issue in the 2016 presidential election.

“The 2016 [election] could actually be the first foreign policy national election since 1980, and sadly this administration has reduced our army to its smallest size since 1940,” Pence said.

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“The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1960, the Air Force is at its smallest tactical fighting force in history,” he continued. “History teaches you cannot reduce our military strength without provoking our enemies, weakness arouses evil.”

Pence gave the keynote address at the prestigious, invitation-only dinner that closes out the second day of the conservative conference.

His speech came amid chaos on Capitol Hill as GOP lawmakers barely averted a shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by passing a one-week continuing resolution funding the agency.

Still, a dozen lawmakers were in the Potomac Ballroom at the Gaylord National Convention Center just across the border from the nation's capitol for Pence’s address.

Conference organizer Matt Schlapp said Sens. Steve Daines of Montana and Dan Sullivan of Alaska attended the dinner, along with Reps. Rick Allen (Ga.), Ken Buck (Colo.), John Culberson (Texas), Bill Flores (Texas), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Richard Hudson (N.C.), Tim Huelksamp (Kansas), Steve King (Iowa), Bruce Westerman (Ark.), and Dana Rohrbacher (Calif.).

Pence hasn't closed the door on a run for president in 2016, although he hasn’t made any clear moves into the field. He said he’ll wait until Indiana’s legislative session is over in late April to make a decision.

As a House member for twelve years, Pence served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and on Friday he made clear that he falls squarely in the party’s hawkish right wing.

“It is imperative that conservatives again embrace America’s role as leader of the free world and the arsenal of democracy,” Pence said.

“The time has come to dramatically confront defense spending so we’re able to confront the knowable and unknowable threats we face,” he continued.

Foreign policy has been a dominant theme at CPAC, with many of the potential presidential candidates arguing that the U.S. must assert its force abroad. A slew of potential presidential candidates demanded a more hawkish global approach at the conservative gathering.