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United States Capitol (Photo courtesy MGN Online)

Lawmakers review the nation' s defense strategies North Korea and the future of warfare


WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill held two hearings to address the nation's national defense strategy Tuesday, hours before the President Donald Trump makes his first State of the Union Address.

The House Committee on Armed Services held a hearing examining more specifically the United States' plans for future warfare. Simultaneously, Senators and members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services held a hearing addressing the nation's defense strategy for North Korea and the surrounding region.

Chairman of the House Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, R- Texas, emphasized that the United States should be prepared for a wide range of threats. He cautioned that changes on the world stage would not wait for the United States to play catch up.

"The military that the United States has depends on the decisions made by Congress as part of our constitutional responsibilities to raise and support provide and maintain our military forces," Thornberry said.

The committee member Rep. Susan Davis, D- Calif., spoke on behalf of the ranking member and called for the elimination of sequestration and Budget Control Act caps.

During President Barack Obama's presidency, sequestration was passed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was meant to cut $1.5 trillion in spending over the course of 10 years. According to a report from The Washington Post, the cuts are split evenly "between the domestic and defense programs, with half affecting defense discretionary spending." That would include weapons purchases, base operations and infrastructure.

The House of Representatives passed a $659 billion defense spending bill, Tuesday. The measure, if approved, would break the existing budget cap by $73 billion. The House vote broke mostly along party lines 250-166.

Hearing witness, President and CEO for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Thomas G. Mahnken, said the United States needs to do more to prepare for great power war, meaning a war between world powers such as China and Russia.

"Today, our forces lack readiness and are in dire need of modernization. Moreover, from the bottom to the top, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have grown used to fighting terrorists and insurgents and are unfamiliar with the challenges of great-power war," Mahnken said. "Russia and China have been practicing political warfare on us for some time, and the magnitude of those efforts is only now becoming apparent. We need to develop countermeasures and responses to those efforts."

He said the nation has largely taken a 25-year hiatus from actively preparing for contingencies pertaining to great power warfare, adding that it will likely not resemble anything our nation saw during the Cold War or even World War II.

"Instead, we need to assess thoughtfully the similarities to and differences with the past and rebuild (and in some cases just build) intellectual capital and capabilities to deal with the era that we are in, and are likely to be in for the foreseeable future," Mahnken said.

"Winning" is likely to be much more a matter of staying power than victory in any decisive battle of annihilation," said Jim Thomas, Principal and co-founder of the Telemus Group. "For this reason, maintaining national solvency over time and the judicious application of scarce resources-fiscal, human, natural, allied and technological- will be critical to successful competitive strategies," Thomas added.

Paul Scharre, senior fellow and director of technology for the National Security Center for a New American Security, said that it is not the lack of money that has caused the United States to fall behind in preparedness because many of the readiness setbacks have predated our current budgetary crisis. He also cautioned that money alone will not "cure what ails the Pentagon."

"With sufficient reforms, there is ample money within a $600 billion defense budget. Budgetary stability is necessary. The current budgetary instability inflicted on the military due to a failure of the nation's political leaders to reach a bipartisan deal on taxes and entitlements has severely hampered readiness and modernization," Scharre stated. "We cannot field a first-class military through government shutdowns, continuing resolutions, and constant uncertainty about long-term spending."

Scharre said there are three main obstacles to rapid adaptation of our nation's defense forces.

"A ponderous and risk-averse acquisition system; stickiness in our programs that makes it difficult to cancel legacy systems less suited to future needs; and cultural resistance within elements of the military to new paradigms of warfighting," Scharre added.

The acquisition system works to create future plans and designs for new weapons, systems and equipment.

"The conceptualization, initiation, design, development, test, contracting, production, deployment, integrated product support, modification, and disposal of weapons and other systems, supplies, or services (including construction) to satisfy DoD needs, intended for use in, or in support of, military missions," according to the Defense Acquisition University.

Mahnken stressed that in "a globalized, interdependent world, we need to think carefully about foreign investment in strategic industries that bear on defense." A similar sentiment was echoed at the Senate Armed services committee hearing.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Ohio, acted as chair for the hearing since Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is currently receiving treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma.

"This committee must confront difficult questions about the U.S. policy and strategy for achieving our stated objectives…defending our homeland, protecting our allies and denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula," Inholf said.Ranking Member of the committee, Sen. Jack Reed, D- R.I., blamed the Trump administration for sending mixed messages to North Korea.

"The mixed messaging from the administration is undermining what should be one consist ant message to North Korea that the United States will continue to exert maximum pressure diplomatically and economically," Reed said.

President Trump has taken to social media to call out the actions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Retired Admiral Dennis C. Blair, U.S. Navy said that sanctions have worked in the past against North Korea.

"Serious and strict sanctions have never been tried against North Korea. The formal sanctions by the U.N. (United Nations) have been less strict then either Syria or Iran and even those have been inadequately enforced with U.S. sustained and comprehensive intelligence and diplomatic effort," Blair said. "Real pain can be inflicted on North Korea. And in the past when it has suffered real economic pain it has loosened its repressive grip."

Blair added that military preparedness and the use of force are "vital components of American policy towards North Korea."

"North Korea knows that it will lose a major war if it starts one. Damage will be heavy on all sides, but there is no question about the outcome. North Korea keeps its provocative actions below the threshold that it believes will trigger a major conflict it knows it will lose," Blair stated. "North Korea's ICBM capability which can never be fully tested because of geographic limitations and a larger number of weapons are still dwarfed by the American arsenal."Witness Dr. Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President For Asia And Japan Chair, Center For Strategic And International Studies said North Korea might seek out other dangerous actors in pursuit of finances.

"North Korea will be tempted to transfer their capability to other dangerous actors in pursuit of cash or leverage against the United States, as Pyongyang did in 2007 when it helped Syria build the al-Kibar reactor before the Israeli Air Force destroyed that facility," Green said.

"I do not think a preventive military action is going to solve this problem for us either, though. It is possible that Pyongyang would retreat and capitulate after a U.S. military strike, but we have not tested that proposition since the Korean War and most North Korea analysts would tell you that Kim Jong-un would have to strike back," Green stated. "Escalation to nuclear, biological or chemical weapons by the North would mean a conflict that goes from tens of thousands killed to millions."

Kelly E. Magsamen, vice president of National Security And International Policy for the Center For American Progress, said she was concerned about the prospect of war with North Korea.

"I am deeply concerned about the prospect of war with North Korea - whether by miscalculation or by design. I believe that after a thorough analysis of the likely costs of preventive war, and a careful examination of the alternatives, it is nearly impossible to conclude that the preventive use of force is advisable or even the least bad option in terms of advancing our interests and minimizing risk," Magsamen said.

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