This month, President Trump visited the Central Command and told them, and the military in general, “You are going to get a lot more equipment.” This came as no surprise to those who recalled the President’s call during the campaign for lots more ships, planes, soldiers and marines.
It was also a month in which senior officers began telling the House Armed Services Committee that they needed much more than the roughly $600 billion in the 2017 Defense Budget. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations claimed that more than half of Navy aircraft were grounded, awaiting maintenance or spare parts. The Army’s Vice Chief of Staff claimed that only 3 of the Army’s 50 brigades had the troops, training and equipment that they needed. More laments came from the Marines and from the Air Force.
Remember the “Sequester” (The Budget Control Act of 2011) that required a commitment to slow the growth of federal debt with the subsequent cuts coming equally from the discretionary domestic and defense sides of the budget? There have been efforts to get around it, but the law is still on the books and will impact the FY 2018 federal budget, unless modified. That scares many, especially the military.
Of course, the Trump Administration believes that the nation needs to spend more on areas like infrastructure and defense, and that it can be done, even as taxes are reduced, and the growth of national debt constrained. Watch for a proposed supplement to the FY 2017 budget coming soon.
Some good news. Let’s remind ourselves that things could be worst. For example:
- The President has said he will go along with his Secretary of Defense in resisting the use of “enhanced interrogation” (torture) even though he claims to believe in it himself.
- A draft Executive Order that would have directed the CIA to open “black” prison sites around the world has not been issued.
- The next 90 F-35 planes will be lower by more than $500 million than the last order, bringing in the cost per plane at less than $100 million each. President Trump claimed that his “jaw boning” was the reason. Others noted that the Pentagon had been negotiating with Lockheed Martin for a long time, and last fall required cost cuts in keeping with provisions of the contract.
Serious Concerns. But let’s not kid ourselves, there are some very scary situations around the world that demand our attention.
- A “red line” in North Korea. In January, President elect Trump tweeted “It won’t happen.” This was in response to a Kim Jong Un statement that North Korea was getting ready to test an ICBM capable of reaching the US pacific shore. A US attempt to keep it from happening could trigger the use of North Korea’s 1000 ballistic missiles capable of reaching all over South Korea and Japan, as well as attack by its 1,000,000 person army, one of the world’s largest. Given his belligerence and, the failure of President Obama to honor the “red line” on chemicals in Syria, will the President be able resist attacking North Korea and its insecure and unpredictable leader?
- There are plenty more. Are we going to get really tough with China? Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, was reported to have said during his hearings, that the US would tell China that it must stop building on islands that it claims in the South China sea and that access to those islands would not be allowed. Russia is said to be very upset with the four “rotating battalions” approved by NATO for placement in Poland and three Baltic States – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. And there are so many ways in which the Middle East could get even more bloody.
- The Doomsday Clock. Since 1947, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has maintained a symbolic clock that is supposed to measure the degree of existential threat to the planet. The closer the clock to midnight, the greater threat. Recently, the clock was moved to two and one half minutes before midnight, the closest it has been since 1953 after the US and Russia tested hydrogen bombs.
A number of factors are said to have influenced the decision.
- Tension between Russia and the US, which contain 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, and their ongoing efforts to modernize these weapons.
- Russia’s interference in the recent US election.
- President Trump’s statements about engaging in a nuclear arms race, and concerns about his failure to rely on expert advice.
- Nationalism’s increase in the US and other countries
- Ongoing nuclear experimentation by North Korea, and tension between Pakistan and India.
- President Trump’s view, and that of some of his department heads and advisors, on the hoax of Global Change.