America Must Address Growing Foreign Policy Threats, Challenges and Prepare the Nation’s Defenses Now

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the passage of the bipartisan North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act and addressing America’s foreign policy challenges:

“Yesterday the Senate joined together to overwhelmingly pass bipartisan legislation that will further isolate North Korea in response to its policy of aggression.

“It was necessary, because our nation faces a daunting array of threats and challenges from across the globe — and our next Commander in Chief, irrespective of political party, will face similar challenges upon taking office.

“We see terrorist threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, from Al Qaeda, and from both of their respective affiliates.

“For example, the terrorist group that grew from Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIL, is now not only capable of launching infantry assaults, suicide bomber attacks, and raids initiated by the detonation of IEDs – it’s also working hard to radicalize individuals over the Internet, and is determined to keep attacking Westerners right where they live.

“We see threats to stability in Afghanistan from Taliban forces and the Haqqani Network.

“For example, just this week we learned that additional U.S. forces will be needed to reinforce the Afghan National Security forces in Helmand province. We have a determined partner in President Ghani and General Campbell has testified that we need to maintain a sufficient force posture to both train and advise them and also conduct counterterrorism operations.

“We see challenges from countries looking to aggressively expand their spheres of influence — like China and Russia and Iran — while diminishing ours.

“For example, Russia is rebuilding its conventional and nuclear forces while launching cyberattacks, conducting espionage, and propping up paramilitary forces like those we see in Ukraine. China is rebuilding and modernizing its conventional and nuclear forces as it masters the tactics of low-intensity conflict designed to coerce our allies without provoking an overwhelming response from us.

“The challenges we face are great today. They’re likely to be even greater tomorrow. And all of this comes at a time when America must rebuild both its conventional and nuclear forces.

“Clearly, the next Commander in Chief is going to take office confronting a complex and varied array of threats. And after seven years of the Obama Administration delaying action in the War on Terror, the next administration will need to return to the fight and to restore our role in the world.

“We want to work with our next President, regardless of party, to do the things we know are needed to help protect our country. But that incoming leader also needs our help now, and we should take action now, in this year of transition.

“The Secretary of Defense last week announced two aspects of this: a defense budget request that emphasizes the weapons systems needed to balance against China's anti-access and area-denial weapons and plans, and a regional security initiative designed to resist Russian encroachment in Eastern Europe.

“General Dunford has talked about the acute threat represented by ISIL in Libya, and the need to take action against this group.

“Other defense officials have recently focused on the need to rebuild the nuclear triad too.

“It’s clear what needs to be done. For instance:

  • We know that our nuclear forces must be modernized to deter countries like Russia, and China, and Iran and North Korea.
  • We know that our conventional forces must be modernized to both balance against and contain their regional aspirations.
  • We know that our special operations and Marine Expeditionary Units must be maintained and equipped to conduct counterterrorism and regional response. That means providing sufficient sealift and naval platforms and carrier air wings to keep amphibious ready groups and carrier battle groups on station, rather than withdrawing our presence at the very moment allies are questioning our commitment to traditional alliances. It means that our regional combatant commanders need sufficient force levels to protect our interests.
  • We know that the Commander of Central Command must have the assets needed to reassure our moderate Sunni allies, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and help them resist Iran’s efforts to intimidate neighbors.
  • In the Pacific, we know we must undertake a sustained buildup of our naval, air, and expeditionary capabilities and work closely with Japan, South Korea, and other regional partners if we want to lead within the region and deter China’s belligerent policies.
  • And we know that the authorities that our intelligence and counterterror forces need to defeat ISIL must also be renewed and restored. We know we must return to capturing, interrogating, and targeting the enemy in a way that allows us to defeat terrorist networks.

“It’s clear that the Obama Administration has failed to lead in sustaining the force and in meeting these strategic objectives.

“We have seen that the Administration's efforts to employ special operations forces to train and equip units in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq have proven insufficient to generate the combat power that’s needed to defeat the enemy. The economy of force strategy set forth in the President's West Point speech has failed. And national security policies that were for too long focused on campaign promises made in 2008 — like the effort to close Guantanamo, to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan based on arbitrary deadlines, and to end the War on Terror and take away the CIA’s detention and interrogation capabilities and remake it into a Cold War clandestine service — are finally giving way to geopolitical reality today.

“The fact that current members of the Obama Administration are now recognizing the threat and the need to rebuild the force should inspire us all to get started now — not next year.

“I think we should be doing all we can today to ready the force for the challenges ahead, and to lay the groundwork for the next President regardless of party.

“Passing the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act yesterday was a positive step, but we must also ensure the United States does not withdraw from our alliances and forward presence.

“With sustained bipartisan cooperation, we can pass a National Defense Authorization Act at levels that will allow us to modernize the force and execute current operations against ISIL and in Afghanistan, while meeting our commitments to keep the force ready.

“With sustained bipartisan cooperation, we can pass defense appropriations at adequate levels to train and equip — and sustain — the best military in the world.

“Doing what’s required will necessitate a sustained effort, but we can begin now if colleagues are willing to work with us in this year of transition. Let’s work together to keep our country safe.”

Related Issues: China, Afghanistan, National Security, North Korea, ISIL