Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on future national defense strategy:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets today to receive testimony from outside experts on recommendations for a future National Defense Strategy. We welcome our witnesses:

  • “Thomas Mahnken, President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments;
  • “David Ochmanek, Senior Defense Research Analyst at the RAND Corporation;
  • “Thomas Spoehr, Director at the Heritage Foundation;
  • “Mara E. Karlin, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins School Of Advanced International Studies; and
  • “Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Last year, this Committee wrote into the National Defense Authorization Act a requirement for the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a National Defense Strategy. The intent of this document was to prioritize a set of goals and articulate a strategy for the U.S. military to achieve warfighting superiority over our adversaries. The National Defense Strategy is part of this Committee’s broader effort to help guide the Pentagon to develop a more strategic approach in response to an increasingly dangerous world. 

“Today’s hearing will afford us the opportunity to hear recommendations from our distinguished panel of defense experts on how the Secretary should rise to the challenge of crafting a National Defense Strategy. We will look to you for advice on how the Department should best allocate its resources to enhance the capacity and capability of the U.S. military in the era of great power competition.

“To that end, we must begin by explicitly recognizing that great power competition is not a thing of the past. The post-Cold War era is over. Russia and China’s rapid military modernization programs present real challenges for the American way of war. Because of decisions we have made—and those we have failed to make—our military advantage is eroding. Congress is far from blameless, as we have for years prioritized politics over strategy when it comes to our budgeting decisions.

“Next we must recognize that the window of opportunity to reverse the erosion of our military advantage is rapidly closing. Just as Congress has been part of this problem, so too do we have an obligation to be part of the solution. We must start doing our job again, pass budgets and go through the normal appropriations process, and provide our military with adequate, predictable funding. As the negotiations on a budget deal to increase the spending caps proceed, I know that the members of this Committee will be advocates for a defense budget at the level that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Congress voted to authorize in the NDAA—nearly $700 billion for the current fiscal year.

“But we must be clear: we cannot buy our way out of our current strategic problem.  Even after Congress appropriates adequate funds, the Department will have a tough road to reverse current trend lines. Restoring readiness, modernizing the force, and reforming acquisition will all be necessary to renew American power. But ultimately, all of these efforts will be in vain without clear strategic direction.

“The Secretary of Defense and his civilian leadership team must exercise real leadership when it comes to strategy, planning, and force development. They will have to make difficult choices and set clear priorities about the threats we face and the missions we assign to our military. That is what we have asked the Department to do in the National Defense Strategy. As Secretary Mattis and the rest of the Department of Defense make those hard choices—and especially as they identify necessary tradeoffs—they will find allies in this Chairman and this Committee.

“We ask our witnesses to help this Committee and the Department think through these tough questions. How should the National Defense Strategy focus on building an effective force to counter threats from near-peer competitors such as Russia and China, as well as mid-level powers such as Iran and North Korea? How should the NDS address the challenges of counterterrorism and articulate a strategy for sustainable security in the Middle East region? Even as we advocate for increased defense spending, how do we realistically confront hard choices about tradeoffs? Simply put, what must we do to restore or enhance our ability to deter and defeat any adversary in any scenario and across the spectrum of military competition? And how should we devote our finite taxpayer dollars wisely to accomplish these goals?

“Our global challenges have never been greater. Our strategic environment has not been this competitive since the Cold War. Without the margins of power we once enjoyed, we cannot expect to do everything we want everywhere around the globe. We must choose. We must prioritize. That is what the National Defense Strategy must do.

“I thank our witnesses for their attention to these important issues and look forward to their testimony.”