A Joe Biden administration is likely to rewrite the National Defense Strategy, scuttle the plan for a 500-ship Navy and spend less on the military, the top House Democrat on defense issues said Thursday.
A push to rename military bases honoring Confederate generals and leaders would also get a boost if former Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, defeats President Donald Trump next Tuesday, said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The progressive wing of the Democratic party is expected to argue for major cuts in defense budgets to pay for expanded domestic programs, but Smith said he’s opposed to drastic reductions.
“They want to reshift priorities” away from defense spending, Smith said of the progressives.
However, major reductions in the current proposals for a defense budget in the range of $741 billion are probably off the table, Smith said in a virtual “fireside chat” hosted by the Center for a New American Security.
In the Democratic party platform he endorsed, and in previous responses to a survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America, Biden appeared to suggest a middle way between the hawks and doves on defense spending.
“We can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less,” Biden said in the MOAA survey. “The real question is not how much we invest — it’s how we invest.”
One of the major differences in how Biden or Trump would govern on national security concerns their approaches to implementing the current National Defense Strategy, which has the military shifting away from counterterror operations to preparing for potential conflict with Russia and China, Smith said.
“It appears they want to start two separate cold wars” with Russia and China, Smith said of Trump and the Republicans who support him. “I think that is an extraordinarily dangerous approach. I do not support that.”
Military and administration rhetoric regarding China is only getting stronger. On Wednesday, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said China posed a threat “beyond any comparison” to the American way of life. While traveling this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made headlines when he put the Chinese Communist Party on blast, saying the nation’s government was no friend to democracy.
The U.S., Smith said, should be strengthening alliances with other democracies in the new era of great power competition with Russia and China, rather than committing to the “America First” policies of the Trump administration.
He also rejected the “Battle Force 2045” plan recently put forward by Defense Secretary Mark Esper that would expand the Navy’s fleet from 300 to 500 ships by 2045, with a mix of manned and unmanned surface and undersea combatants.
The notion of 500 ships when the Navy has been unable to reach the current goal of 355 “drives me insane,” Smith said. The focus should be on the capabilities of the fleet, rather than the number of ships, he said.
The Trump administration is “obsessed with the idea that whatever China and Russia are building, we have to build 10 more. It’s a fool’s errand,” Smith said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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