The Defending Defense project—a joint initiative of AEI, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation—brought together Senators Jon Kyl (R–AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R–NH), and Lindsey Graham (R–SC) and Representatives Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R–CA), J. Randy Forbes (R–VA), and Marsha Blackburn (R–TN) on Thursday to discuss the implications of President Obama’s new strategic defense guidance and fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for the Pentagon. Former Senator Jim Talent of The Heritage Foundation moderated the discussion, and Thomas Donnelly of AEI gave closing remarks.

Senator Kyl began the event by highlighting the dangers posed to U.S. national security by “sequestration” spending cuts, which will slash an additional $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years. He then discussed the Down Payment to Protect National Security Act, a bill that he and a group of Senators introduced in February 2012 to amend current law and avoid the first year of sequestration cuts.

Kyl expressed disbelief that President Obama has threatened to veto any bill to stop sequestration and argued that the President’s proposed budget weakens America’s nuclear deterrent. The budget severs the commitments that the President made during the debate over the new arms control treaty with Russia to modernize the aging U.S nuclear arsenal. Kyl expressed alarm that, rather than fulfill these commitments and shore up America’s deterrent in a dangerous world, the President is reportedly instructing the Pentagon to examine just how numerically low the U.S. can go in nuclear weapons. The Senator said that, due to Russia and China vigorously modernizing their nuclear arsenals, conditions are clearly not ripe for U.S. unilateral disarmament. He warned that these policies are more likely to encourage proliferation and invite aggression.

Congressman McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Service Committee and introduced the House version of the Down Payment to Protect National Security Act in December, followed by reiterating the dangers posed by defense sequestration. He stated his strong desire to reverse sequestration cuts to the Pentagon. McKeon said that while defense spending counts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget, it has already contributed to more than 50 percent of Washington’s deficit-reduction efforts—in contrast to mandatory and discretionary domestic spending, which together are continuing to grow explosively.

Congressman Forbes attacked the Obama Administration’s strategic guidance document, proclaiming that it “is not a strategy for a superpower. It’s a menu for mediocrity.” He urged members of the audience to make the slashing of defense a national issue, not just one for Congress and Washington. He lamented the “deafening silence” of U.S. military officials, whom he feels should be more vocal about their concerns. Congresswoman Blackburn added that based on the budget, the Asia-Pacific shift in the guidance document was “doomed from the start.”

Senator Ayotte began her remarks with a few key Reagan quotes that emphasized his view that weakness only invites aggression. She criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw 23,000 troops from Afghanistan during the fighting season, a decision that was not recommended by any U.S. commander. She said the move was “putting political considerations above what is doing right for our national security.”

She also lamented that the U.S. military had not yet performed a risk assessment based on current and future defense budget cuts. “We shouldn’t do a defense authorization without [it],” she stated. She concluded that this budget does not make us safer.

Senator Graham shifted to a more international focus, explaining how NATO countries’ defense budgets have deteriorated in recent years. As our allies’ militaries shrink, he continued, security gaps will have to be picked up by someone. Implicit within this warning was that with shrinking U.S. defense budgets, the U.S. may not be able to pick up these gaps. This will lead to a more destabilizing and dangerous world. Finally, he closed that, within the U.S., Republicans need to be “for something,” not just against sequestration.

Defending Defense is a coalition effort between the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and The Heritage Foundation to promote a sound understanding of the U.S. defense budget and the resource requirements necessary to sustain America’s preeminent military position in a dangerous world.