No Time to Cash In a Peace Dividend: America's Defenses in a Time of Uncertainty
An Address by Senator John Cornyn
About This Event

In the years ahead, the United States must be prepared to face a range of potential national security challenges: a rising China, a resurgent Russia, a nuclear-armed North Korea, an aggressive Iran, instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of course the continuing threat of al Qaeda–led terrorism. As such, it Listen to Audio

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is imperative that the United States invest in armed forces that are properly sized, effectively trained, and fully equipped with the capabilities necessary to meet the full range of these threats.

Yet the Obama administration has made clear that defense spending is not a top budgetary priority either today or in the future. And, indeed, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already begun a process of cutting defense programs that, if left unchallenged, will immediately impact the armed forces' ability to protect the country and deter potential adversaries.

What would be the strategic implications of an overall decrease in U.S. defense spending? How would America's allies and enemies perceive such a shift? And how would a dramatic drop in defense spending affect our forces in the field? Please join us as Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) addresses these and other security concerns.

Twice elected to the U.S. Senate, Cornyn currently serves on the Senate Finance, Judiciary, and Budget Committees and previously served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In November 2008, he was selected by his colleagues to be chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Event Summary

WASHINGTON, MAY 8, 2009--Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) delivered a speech at AEI on May 7 about the Obama administration's budget priorities for national defense and the implications of the administration's proposed defense budget for the future of America's armed forces. During a time when the American military is engaged in two wars, "the administration seems to be forcing the Pentagon to make some needlessly tough choices--even as they justify trillions of dollars for domestic spending in the name of economic stimulus," Senator Cornyn remarked.

Senator Cornyn voiced concern that the administration is about to cash in a "peace dividend" by increasing domestic spending and weakening America's defenses, thus repeating the mistake of the 1970s and the 1990s, when the domestic defense budget witnessed a sharp decline after long periods of conflict. "History has shown that cashing in a 'peace dividend' does not make America safer," the senator said, "or the world a more peaceful place." Cashing in a peace dividend only undermines America's armed forces and emboldens the country's enemies to "test America's resolve to defend our people and our interests." Today's defense policymakers and budget writers should learn from the lessons of the past, he added.

So far, Senator Cornyn noted, the Department of Defense has failed to provide Congress with a detailed explanation of the strategic rationale that underpins the Pentagon's budget priorities. Congress needs strategic documents--such as the Quadrennial Defense Review and the National Security Strategy--as well as a risk assessment by the regional combatant commanders and the joint chiefs of staff to help inform Congress's budget decisions. The senator emphasized that "these documents focus on the bigger strategic picture, which we must see clearly before we can make sense of the Pentagon's budget proposals."

Speaking of that "bigger strategic picture," Senator Cornyn outlined four distinct threats to America. First, the United States continues to fight wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Second, rogue regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, continue to pose a real and growing threat to the United States and its allies. Third, other great powers, namely China and Russia, are pursuing independent military modernization programs to improve their military capabilities with the intention of rivaling the United States in their respective spheres of influence and, in time, globally. Finally, the United States "may face more threats in the near future from weak and failing states." In conclusion, the senator observed, "Given the threats we face, now is not the time to cash in a peace dividend."



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Speaker biographies

John Cornyn (R-Texas) was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002 and reelected to a second term in 2008. He is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and serves on the Finance, Budget, and Judiciary Committees. Additionally, he is chairman of the Senate India Caucus, chairman of the Senate Radio Frequency Identification Caucus, and vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs. Previously, he served on the Texas Supreme Court and as a district court judge in San Antonio.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI. Her research areas include the Middle East, South Asia, terrorism, and weapons proliferation. Before coming to AEI, Ms. Pletka served for ten years as a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Since joining AEI, Ms. Pletka has developed a conference series on rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, directed a project on democracy in the Arab world, and designed a project to track global business in Iran. She was a member of the congressionally mandated U.S. Institute of Peace Task Force on the United Nations, which released its final report in 2005. She recently coedited Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats (AEI Press, 2008) and coauthored the 2008 AEI report Iranian Influence in the Levant, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


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