Top defense leaders in Washington sharply warned Congress on Thursday that failure to meet the military budget would not only be bad for the US global standing, but would further embolden China.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Defense that violating the defense budget would risk paying soldiers’ pay, undermine the strategy of defense of the United States and would undermine “our reputation”.
“China right now portrays us in its open speeches, etc., as a power in decline,” Milley said. “Debt default would only strengthen that thinking and embolden China and increase the risk to the United States.”
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The warnings come as Congress and President Joe Biden continue to bicker over the 2024 defense budget despite the looming deadline before the US government runs out of money.
Biden has called for a $28 billion increase to the defense budget, pushing the amount allocated to defense programs like the Pentagon, FBI and Department of Energy to a whopping $886 billion spending cap. But Republicans have rejected the push and are looking to make spending cuts, a reversal from their stance last year.
Austin told lawmakers the US is “considered a source of stability globally and we always pay our debts.”
Both officials heightened concerns that the geopolitical situation remains precarious with war in Ukraine, Afghanistan reverting to a terrorist state and Iran’s refusal to conclude a nuclear deal.
“I specify that the [People’s Republic of China] it’s not waiting,” Austin said. “Our budget is directly related to our strategy. And of course, if we don’t have a budget, we can’t implement that strategy effectively.”
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Milley reiterated Austin’s concerns about the US’s position on the world stage and said the war in Ukraine made the matter even more serious.
“The Chinese are watching the war between Russia and Ukraine very closely. And I think for Ukraine, [it’s] obviously an existential threat to their very existence. But for Europe, for the United States, I think the issue is about a rules-based international order,” she said.
Milley argued that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is allowed to succeed in Ukraine, China will learn “certain lessons” from the action or inaction of the West, which will play a decisive role in their calculus on invading Taiwan.
Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., pressed Milley on whether a defeat for Putin in Ukraine “makes America safer,” to which the general replied, “I think so.”
“Both China and Russia have the means to threaten our interests and way of life. But war with China or Russia is neither imminent nor inevitable,” Milley added.
Milley, who is expected to retire this year, said the single biggest threat posed by defense budget failures are cuts to soldiers’ pay and blocked promotions.
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“It would, I think, have a very, very significant negative impact on [troop] readiness,” Milley said. “But there is also the imponderable or the immeasurable [consequence]which is morale. It sends a terrible signal to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines around the world.”
Austin reiterated this position and said, “The best way Congress can support us in our efforts to implement our strategy is by timely appropriation.”