Members of Congress, prominent military and veterans affairs experts, and Tea Party representatives raised concerns that further cuts to the U.S. military would do irreparable damage to national security, during an event sponsored by the Coalition for a Common Defense on Capitol Hill. The event took place amidst the growing chorus of Administration officials and experts raising red flags about further cuts to the U.S. military.

The chorus is growing because if the congressional “supercommittee” does not reach an agreement on deficit reduction by November 23, there will be huge defense cuts. The committee, created by The Budget Control Act of 2011, was charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings over 10 years. If it fails, the law triggers automatic spending cuts of $1.2 trillion, of which roughly half a trillion or more would come from defense. The defense budget is already scheduled to be cut by $465 billion over the next 10 years. Taken together, total defense cuts would be more than $1 trillion. And it is worth noting that even if the committee comes to an agreement, it may involve targeted cuts roughly equivalent to the trigger amount.

Speakers said “enough is enough”—the budget cannot be balanced on the back of the U.S. military. Even if defense spending were taken to zero, it wouldn’t solve the problem.

Members of Congress cited the recent House Armed Services Committee Assessment of Impacts on Budget Cuts (HASC Report) that details the consequences of the potential cuts. A sampling includes:

  • They will jeopardize the Marine Corps role as the expeditionary force in ready, leading to the smallest force in 50 years.
  • They will take the Army below pre-9/11 troop levels.
  • They will leave the Air Force with two-thirds fewer fighters and strategic bombers than in 1990.
  • The Navy, which stabilizes global commercial and energy flows, will lose at least two carrier battle groups and shrink to 238 ships—smaller than pre-WWI levels.

Congressman Doug Lamborn (R–CO), a member of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said that under these cuts, the U.S. nuclear Triad—the land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), strategic bomber, and Trident submarine force—may be reduced to a Diad. As the U.S. nuclear deterrent shrinks and loses credibility, some of the 31 countries that enjoy protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella may consider going nuclear out of growing fears about their vulnerability. This would be extremely destabilizing and could lead to costly conflicts. Lamborn pointed out that the cuts would also cause significant delays to the President’s own Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense, impairing America’s ability to protect and defend against a ballistic missile attack.

Representative J. Randy Forbes (R–VA), chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, said that for American to be great, it must have a strong economy and a strong military. If you begin to unravel one, you begin to unravel the other. Amidst existing and potential adversaries gaining military strength, he expressed concerns about people’s willingness to cut defense budgets and resources without having clear guidance on strategy first: “If I’m trying to defend a nation, I better start with a strategy and say, ‘What’s the strategy I need to defend this country?’” The inclination among many today is exactly the opposite.

Forbes announced a resolution for which he will be seeking support. It emphasizes the importance of defense and says, “Enough is enough”—no more cuts to the military. He closed by saying, “I don’t want [our soldiers] to be in a fair fight; I want them to be in a fight we know they can win.”

Congressman Trent Franks (R–AZ), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, reminded the audience of the lessons of history. He pointed out how the hollow force in the post–Vietnam era led to the disastrous military debacle dubbed Desert One. A myopic focus on the financial situation in the 1930s led to underfunding the U.S. military; as a result, the U.S. was ill-prepared for World War II.

Franks closed by pointing out that when two airplanes hit two buildings in New York, it cost the nation’s economy $2 trillion. He raised the question: If the U.S. had spent just a little bit more money on intelligence and military resources beforehand, might 9/11 have been just another day?

The message from the speakers was clear: More defense cuts will place the future of U.S. national security at grave risk and all but invite future conflict.