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Expert: 'Defense rebuild' not going to happen

Union Leader Correspondent

June 18. 2017 11:37PM
Roger Zakheim, former deputy staff director of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, speaks to the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium on Thursday at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

BEDFORD — A national security expert told New Hampshire business leaders last week that the President’s proposed defense budget will not modernize the military to prepare it for future challenges.

“I am throwing water on this concept that the President of the United States, well intended as he may be, will not realize something called the ‘defense rebuild,’” said Roger Zakheim, former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Defense.

“If you are nostalgic about what President (Ronald) Reagan was able to accomplish back when he was rebuilding the military after the Carter years, don’t hold your breath,” Zakheim said. “And we can get into the why and who is to blame, but it is not going to happen.”

Speaking to members of the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium on Thursday at the Manchester Country Club, Zakheim addressed President Donald Trump’s military rebuild and its impact on the defense industrial complex.

Former President Barack Obama’s defense budget was $585 billion, and Trump’s proposal for defense spending is $603 billion, according to Zakheim, explaining former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ budget in 2012 was significantly higher at $661 billion, and the proposed $640 billion defense spending recommended now by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is also significantly more.

With the Budget Control Act providing a $549 billion defense budget, Zakheim said Trump’s proposal is basically keeping in pace with inflation. “The debate right now in Congress is will we come at the Trump level, will we go up to the McCain/Thornberry level or will we have to just fund government at the Budget Control Act level,” he said, adding it is quite possible that the freedom caucus and the fiscal hawks will demand spending at the BCA level or south of Trump’s budget request.

Zakheim acknowledged that he was not a big fan of Trump as a candidate, but did favor his defense platform. During his candidacy, Trump said he would rebuild, modernize and increase the military, Zakheim said.

“You will see in a few months now discussion of a shutdown or a continuing resolution because they can’t come to agreement on spending levels,” predicted Zakheim, a visiting fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and former deputy staff director of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

While defense spending has bottomed out, Zakheim said the debate now is how much it will grow. According to him, the military has been neglected for the past two decades — so much that it can’t fight today’s challenges.

Zakheim said it does not have brigade combat teams ready to fight in a Russia scenario in Eastern Europe, nor does it have adequate munitions.

“Where I look at these issues is from a national security standpoint, and the answer is, we are not OK,” he told the group featuring trade representatives from Canada, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, India, Poland and Mexico.

This is the first time since World War II, according to Zakheim, that the nation is facing three distinct threats to its national security and national defense — China challenging the United States in Asia for trade, low-end terrorism threats in the Middle East and hybrid warfare posed by adversaries like Russia.

“In this environment, no one knows what safe is,” he said, adding the only certainty in politics is that everything is uncertain. Zakheim described the political environment in Washington as “toxic,” adding no one really understands the Trump factor.

The United States is the beneficiary of its own investment, he said, saying what the country spends on defense allows the nation to be a global security leader and the most prosperous in the world with the largest economy.

Zenagui Brahim, chairman of the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, said there are more than 350 manufacturing and defense companies in New Hampshire, all of which need to fully understand the state of the defense funding that could impact their businesses.

“We keep hearing there will be more money for defense, but you never know,” Brahim said. “This is critical.”

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