Faced with budget constraints that are unlikely to ease anytime soon, the U.S. military should build more relationships with foreign countries to counter threats in a more cost-effective way, according to the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
The military could reduce its overseas presence by making greater use of the kind of international partnerships it has relied on in Horn of Africa nations, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Nov. 30
“By and large, we’ve been able to contain the threat in the Horn of Africa with a very small footprint,” as compared to Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States has poured hundreds of thousands of troops and trillions of dollars, Smith told the Defense Writers Group.
Such an approach could be part of a more realistic strategy that recognizes the U.S. military does not have enough money to do everything it is expected to do, Smith said. Other steps could include working more with NATO, shrinking the nation's nuclear arsenal, firing fewer missiles in current operations and scaling back preparations to fight major wars in Asia and Europe.
“We need to start making choices, almost regardless of what the budget is,” Smith said. “We have gotten to the point where we simply promise, promise, promise, and there simply isn’t enough money to meet those promises.”
Smith said that the United States will have a hard time justifying keeping its large number of nuclear weapons while China maintains what it considers a credible deterrent with a far smaller arsenal. According to the Arms Control Association, the United States has 6,800 warheads, or about 25 times China’s 270 warheads.
"We could maintain the [nuclear] triad and have a lot fewer warheads," he asserted.
Smith said it is unclear what Congress will do when the current continuing resolution (CR) that funds the federal government runs out Dec. 8. While the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bills are unlikely to be finished by then due to disagreements over funding levels, a growing number of lawmakers oppose passing another CR. Shutting down the government would not be popular either.
"Every single option that is on the table is politically impossible," he said.
Smith defended a provision in the recently completed FY 2018 defense authorization conference report that would, on a trial basis, require companies to pay the Defense Department’s administrative costs when they lose contract-award protests filed with the Government Accountability Office. He said that a surge of protests in recent years has slowed weapon system programs and that most of those challenges are rejected because the acquisition process is “reasonably fair.”
"We want to discourage bid protests," he said. "It's all part of acquisition reform and procurement reform and trying to basically get more for the money that we spend."