Home Multimedia Video with Seth Cropsey: What Congress can do to Forge Defense Strategy

Video with Seth Cropsey: What Congress can do to Forge Defense Strategy

Seth Cropsey

The “prevailing ideas and culture both within the military and politically” in the United States hold that the country is “not in a pre-war period but an interwar period,” Seth Cropsey told participants in a Jewish Policy Center webinar February 7. “I disagree.”

In fact, said Cropsey, president of the Yorktown Institute and former Defense Department official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, the United States faces an adversarial conflict with China, Russia and Iran, not primarily a “competition” as the Biden administration’s national strategy and defense documents would have it. The object is dominance of the Eurasian landmass and western Pacific Ocean region, Cropsey said.

The United States today spends somewhat more than three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, Cropsey noted. But, recognizing the high cost in manpower and materiel for both sides in Russia’s war against Ukraine, he warned that the U.S. military, its logistics chain and defense industrial base are not large or resilient enough to be sure of fighting and winning one major war.

Washington should be spending around seven percent of GDP on the military, according to Cropsey. This proportion was last approximated during the Reagan administration in the1980s.

Such outlays would do much more to deter China from invading Taiwan and otherwise aggressively advancing President Xi Jinping’s goal to dominate Asia and much of the Pacific while displacing America as the leading global power. They are needed also to counter Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s revanchist ambitions and thwart the disruptive aims of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Cropsey said.

The White House’s national security strategy and national defense strategy documents released last fall epitomize “what’s wrong with the Biden administration’s security perspective,” he said. A “bureaucratic” list of virtually all issues, from confronting opponents to working cooperatively with them as well as with allies and including climate, health care, inflation and other non-military topics, the documents mean that “if every issue is a security issue, then no one is,” Cropsey charged.

They are not strategy documents in any significant respect, he said, but rather “more a messaging exercise to various domestic audiences.” They signal the Democratic Party’s left wing that the military budget will be hollowed out to fund other areas.

The Defense Department’s use of terms like “campaigning” instead of fighting and winning hint that “the United States is completely unready for a major conflict,” Cropsey said. The Biden administration’s emphasis on “integrated deterrence,” appears to resemble the Obama team’s “soft power” promotion, he added.

As for Tehran, “the administration refused to recognize Iran as a legitimate strategy threat,” he asserted. “It still sees ‘regional integration’ at the expense of Israel and Saudi Arabia” and other Persian Gulf monarchies as a desirable goal. It would return to a nuclear deal with Iran “when news media conditions permit,” even though the mullahs are arming Russia against Ukraine.

“American strategy has a singular objective,” Cropsey said. “It is to preserve the Eurasian security system [and] prevent China, Russia and Iran’s efforts to overturn it. … The military is the spine of this effort.”

“Congress can play a role here,” he said, “to make sure that the military has what is required” to deter and, if deterrence fails, win major conflicts. He noted that Congress took the lead, for example, in 1938 and, in cooperation with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1940 first to expand the U.S. Navy as World War II loomed and then to enlarge the country’s defense industrial base.

Congress can take steps to “make sure our forces are the correct size,” which means expanding the Marines, Navy and Air Force. It also, Cropsey said, should “compartmentalize funding” for strategic reinvestment to protect the defense budget from raids by the administration; open strategic thinking beyond the Joint Chiefs of Staff and include think tanks, universities and others; create incentives to revitalize the defense industrial base to boost dual-use (civilian-military) technologies, smaller defense suppliers and large-scale contractors for building and repair of warships; properly fund logistics systems; and reduce government regulations of defense-related activities.

Even members of a politically polarized Congress “can help by speaking and writing about this,” he said. “The problems our defenses face today show no signs of being responded to without leadership.”