The terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, makes it clear we cannot afford to continue to overlook our many national security issues that have been neglected and must be addressed. Sequestration only compounds the problem. The threat equation has changed significantly over the past decade, and this will require the United States to take a more robust strategic posture as we face challenges not only in the Middle East, but globally.
National security belatedly has become an important issue for our presidential campaign. Strength in leadership is the most important quality for voters to judge as they determine who will be our next commander in chief. Historically, this trait in the president has been most consequential for our nation. During more than 40 years of service in the U.S. Navy, I saw the real impact of both strong and weak presidential leadership. Fifty years ago this month, President Kennedy demonstrated sufficient strength to make Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev take his nuclear weapons out of Cuba, thereby preventing a war. In 1979, President Carter failed to show resolve to the religious fanatics who took over Iran and our embassy. This weak leadership has since given Islamic fanatics reason to think they can attack America’s interests at will with no serious consequences.
The Middle East is in its greatest turmoil since World War II. The Arab Spring is not about the rise of democracy but about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood, aided and abetted by the Obama administration. President Obama’s outreach to Muslim nations, particularly Iran, has been a failure and is seen as a sign of weakness. He has failed to confront the ideology of radical Islam as central to the challenge.
Strong leadership starts with the ability to see the facts as they are and recognize the real threats facing our nation. In the Pacific, we are being challenged by China with an unprecedented expansion of its military program by a double-digit percentage. China is perhaps closest to assembling the globally capable military challenge we faced down with the Soviet Union. It is driven by the need of the Communist Party dictatorship to defeat all forces that would challenge its position of power. That is why it wants to destroy the Chinese democracy on Taiwan, keep North Korea’s rogue dictatorship in power and weaken our alliances with Japan and South Korea, as well as our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.
By the 2020s, China will have a globally deployable power-projection military capability. From space warfare to cyberwarfare to nuclear control and proliferation, China is proving itself a primary threat. Moreover, China’s proliferation of technologies, combined with political support from both China and Russia, is making Iran’s nuclear weapons program a reality. The Obama administration failed to respond to China’s sale of 16-wheel trucks to transport North Korea’s new nuclear-armed missiles aimed at Alaska. This amounts to ignoring another Cuban missile crisis. Also, what of the possibility of Iranian missiles in Venezuela?
We must not overlook Russia. The Obama administration’s “reset” button with Russia has not worked. Russia has embarked on its own military modernization program and is challenging us with Cold War-type operations. The recent undetected deployment of an Akula nuclear attack submarine to the Gulf of Mexico, combined with simultaneous strategic bomber simulated attacks on the Gulf of Alaska, is a manifestation of a more assertive Russia.
The ill-advised New START with Russia has given the Russians undue advantages. For example, the numerical limits on our strategic weapons require the United States to make “major reductions” while allowing the Russians to increase significantly their forces and weapons. Furthermore, Russia’s thousands of tactical nuclear weapons are not even addressed. Compounding this unbalanced situation, China’s modernized nuclear arsenal is not addressed either.
We need a president who can recognize these threats. Such a leader will be most likely to be able to devise an integrated foreign and defense policy, giving our nation actual war-fighting capability instead of the useless Littoral Combat Ship.
America’s Army and Marine forces are drawing down from their hard-fought campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. They must be reforged to undertake future expeditionary missions against far-better-armed adversaries. It is critical that our Marine and Army units have modernized armored systems, longer-range artillery and necessary air-support capabilities.
We have never won a modern conflict without air superiority, so the 2010 decision to end production of the fifth-generation F-22 air-superiority fighter must be reversed in order for us to assemble a force of about 400 of these fighters, as we seek to preserve production of the smaller F-35 to realize economies of scale. It also is vitally important to rebuild our nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure so we can build and maintain a reliable nuclear weapons inventory and our next-generation warheads. We also must not cede space to China. As it now stands, by 2020, the only country that may have significant manned space architecture to include a space station, space shuttles and an active moon program will be China. Allies such as Japan and India can help us restore our space program.
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.