LYONS: Budget crisis drives defense strategy

Cuts invite our adversaries to challenge us

Maintaining our freedom and way of life requires that we retain our global leadership with a national strategy for military superiority that determines our military budget. What’s happening today is the reverse, and it will fail.

Because of the budget crises, the traditional “two-war” strategy, which has been the cornerstone of our defense planning since the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to one major-theater conflict and a “holding” action in another theater. Obviously, such a strategy entails greater risks, which the administration claims can be managed successfully. This remains an open question because our adversaries can use their proxies to foment multiple conflicts to confront or outmaneuver us.

Experience tells us there is no question our adversaries will capitalize on areas in which we have shown weakness and/or consider less important. For example, with Russia under its new president, former KGB thug Vladimir Putin, we should anticipate an acceleration of its conventional and nuclear modernization programs. One of Mr. Putin’s first official acts likely will be to snub President Obama by opting out of the Group of Eight major economic summit May 18 and 19 and a meeting with him at Camp David. Mr. Putin may be pressing his own “reset” button.

This follows the threats from Gen. Nikolai Makarov, Russia’s most senior military commander, who warned NATO that if it proceeded with a controversial American missile defense system (intended to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles) “a decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens.” However, this could become a nonissue if European missile defense becomes a casualty of sequestration.

Nonetheless, the administration’s revised strategy places greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, which is essential in view of China’s unprecedented and unprovoked modernization and expansion of its military forces. China’s contemptuous attitude toward the United States and its allies with its illegal claims to the South China Sea and its continuous role in spreading nuclear weapon technology can no long be ignored.

On April 15, North Korea held a large military parade to celebrate the centennial of its founder, Kim II-sung. Toward the end of the parade, six large new ballistic missiles rolled by, identified as the KN-08. Analysts of China’s military noticed the new missiles were carried on unique large 16-wheel transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) of Chinese origin, but later analysis indicated the missiles were fakes.

If China had openly assisted a North Korean missile program, it would have resulted in the potential to deliver nuclear weapons as far as Alaska and also endanger our allies in the Western Pacific. Such a transfer would have been in direct contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 specifically forbidding the transfer of such technology to North Korea. It would have been grounds for our immediate withdrawal from the China-led Six-Party Talks with North Korea.

Based on past performance, it should be obvious that what North Korea obtains from China will surface soon in Iran. Chinese weapons sold to or built in Iran have been used against U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as against Israel.

With the Middle East in continuous turmoil and no resolution of the Iranian problem, plus the unpredictability of North Korea, modernization of our forces is critical if we are to maintain the proper level of deterrence. It also is key to our ability to prevail in the Western Pacific.

It escapes logic to cut back on programs such as the number of carrier strike groups, F-35 fighter procurement, next-generation bombers, and strategic ballistic missile submarines and to carry out a reduction in Navy’s already limited shipbuilding program. The Obama administration and its congressional allies are handing our enemies an enormous advantage by ordering key force and program reductions and, in some cases, permanent cancellations.

There is no question we will continue to be challenged and tested by our potential adversaries. They will carefully analyze the impact of sequestration on our defense budget as well as the outcome of our presidential elections and our economy, which must manage three expiring tax cuts simultaneously. Therefore, how and where cuts in our defense programs are made are critically important. If not managed properly, they will have far-reaching consequences for our national security.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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