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Thune: Strong National Defense is Our Core Responsibility

“We need to remain engaged on the global stage – always pursuing peace, but always ready to respond to those who would jeopardize it.”

March 28, 2023

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of strengthening our nation’s military and energy security, securing the border, and engaging globally to build relationships with allies in order to stand against the hostile actions from adversaries of the United States.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. President, providing for the common defense is one of the core responsibilities of the federal government.


“It is in fact a primary reason why the federal government exists.


“‘The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion,’ the Constitution states.


“So how do we do that, Mr. President?


“How do we protect our nation and ensure that Americans can live in peace and safety?


“The answer can be summed up in one word, Mr. President:




“As Ronald Reagan said, ‘We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak.  It is then that tyrants are tempted.’


“Or to put it in the words of another president – our first – speaking two hundred years earlier: ‘To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.’


“We secure peace by maintaining our strength.


“So what does that mean in practice, Mr. President?


“At its most basic level, of course, it means maintaining a strong military and national intelligence apparatus.


“It means ensuring that our military is well-funded, sufficiently manned, and fully equipped to meet current and future threats.


“And unfortunately, Mr. President, we’re not doing the best job at that right now.


“We have military services that are struggling to meet recruiting targets.


“There’s a persistent pilot shortage, and in a number of cases we have too few mission-capable aircraft.


“Under the president’s budget, Navy ships would be retired faster than we can replace them in our limited shipyards.


“And war-gaming analysis suggests we’d run out of certain long-range and precision munitions in conflicts with a great power much sooner than any American should be comfortable with.


“On top of that, last month the spectacle of a Chinese spy balloon flying over U.S military bases made it clear that there has been an alarming gap in NORAD’s – the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s – monitoring of U.S. airspace.


“And our current situation isn’t being helped by the fact that the president is deemphasizing investment in our military.


“The budget that he just introduced for next year requests a massive hike in non-defense spending compared to a mere 3.2 percent increase for defense.


“And in fact the supposed increase in defense spending isn’t really an increase at all.


“The increase the president is proposing fails to keep pace with current levels of inflation, which means that his defense spending hike is really a defense spending cut – and not for the first time.  


“Mr. President, in November 2018, the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission released a report warning that our readiness had eroded to the point where we might struggle to win a war against a major power like Russia or China.


“And the commission noted that we would be especially vulnerable if we were ever called on to fight a war on two fronts.


“We’ve made some progress since then, Mr. President.


“But we are definitely not there yet.


“And we have to make continued investment in our military and our readiness a priority.


“We need to be prepared to meet any threat – because that will allow us to deter almost any threat.


“Reducing investment in our military – as the president has proposed – would leave us in a situation where we could have difficulty defending our nation or our nation’s interests if attacked.


“It’s worth noting too that while the president deemphasizes funding for our military, hostile powers are not doing the same.


“China recently announced that it is increasing its defense budget by 7.2 percent this year – after increasing it 7.1 percent last year.


“We need to continue to reinvest in our military, address recruitment challenges, and ensure that our men and women in uniform – and our intelligence personnel – have what they need to meet and deter the threats of the 21st century. 


“Mr. President, the most basic requirement of national strength is a strong military.


“But that isn’t the only requirement.


“Investment in our military and national security apparatus needs to be accompanied by commitments to border security, energy security, and more.


“Border security – and here I’m talking not just about physical security at our borders but also enforcement of our immigration laws – is an essential part of keeping our nation secure. 


“Porous borders – or lax immigration enforcement that allows things like visa overstays – are an invitation to criminals, terrorists, and others who would seek to harm our country.


“The fact that 16 individuals on the terror watch list were apprehended attempting to cross our southern border illegally in February alone should be all the reminder we need that people who do not wish us well are seeking to enter our country.


“And we need to ensure that we are enforcing our immigration laws and maintaining our borders to stop them.


“Mr. President, I also referenced energy security as a component of national strength and security.


“What does energy security mean?


“It means developing our domestic energy resources – both conventional and renewable – to ensure a stable and reliable supply of energy that does not depend on imports from hostile countries.


“The energy challenges and soaring costs countries like Germany have faced over the past year owing to their heavy reliance on Russian energy are a timely reminder of the importance of developing domestic energy supplies.


“Depending on imports from hostile nations or unstable regions not only enriches those nations, it places us in a position of vulnerability.


“Mr. President, so far I’ve talked about what we should be doing domestically to build the kind of strength that will protect our nation and deter aggressors.


“But security is not just a matter of working at home to strengthen our military and secure our borders.


“We also need to engage globally – to build relationships with allies, support free nations, and stand against hostile actions by hostile countries.


“Now standing against hostile actions or hostile nations doesn’t mean fixing every country’s problems or getting militarily involved in every conflict around the globe.


“We are not and cannot be police officer to the world.


“But an isolationism that would recede from any world event unless it directly and immediately affects us is dangerous – and contrary to our national security interests.


“Because sooner or later, world events – particularly those that involve powerful and hostile nations – do affect us.


“We ignore the importance of security challenges like Ukraine at our peril.

“Putin is already making it clear that his ambitions don’t end with Ukraine.


“He is also occupying territory in Georgia and seemingly working on asserting Russian influence in Moldova and the Balkans. 


“A Putin victorious in Ukraine would be on the doorstep of four former Soviet satellite states – now NATO members whom we are bound by treaty to protect – and he’d likely be emboldened.


“War could spread, which would compound the existing humanitarian catastrophe, cost U.S. lives, and spell economic disaster not only for European countries but for the United States, which trades heavily with Europe.


“For the sake of our own security, we cannot afford to sit by and ignore the Ukrainian conflict.


“Helping Ukraine fight its fight degrades Russia’s capabilities and helps ensure that U.S. and NATO troops won’t have to fight a war with Russia. 


“And it sends a clear message to Russia – and other nations with imperial ambitions – that aggression will not go unanswered.


“Mr. President, I would also note that along with isolationism, we need to be wary of the tendency to focus on one global threat to the exclusion of others.


“China, which is flexing its military and economic power and threatening the safety of Taiwan, should rightly be a major focus right now.


“But it cannot be the only one.


“For those who, for example, contend that U.S. support for Ukraine is a distraction from the threat that China represents, I would argue that the outcome in Ukraine and upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty has significant implications for China and Taiwan.


“It appears Japanese Prime Minister Kishida would agree, as he traveled to Kyiv one week ago – a trip not undertaken lightly given that Japan is neighbors with Russia, China, and North Korea.


“We know that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is watching the West’s response to the war in Ukraine closely.


“And our support – and NATO’s support – of Ukraine can send a powerful message to General Secretary Xi that he should think twice before making any move across the Taiwan Strait.  


“Mr. President, in addition to confronting the dangers posed by great powers, we also need to continue to maintain focus on threats in the Middle East and Africa, including ISIS and Iran and their proxies.


“In the past week, there have been multiple strikes on American forces in Syria, with attacks tracing back to Iran-backed militia groups.


“And we need to continue to make it clear that hostile action against Americans – like last week’s attacks – will not be tolerated.


“Iran is fomenting unrest in the Middle East, moving closer to enriching weapons-grade uranium, and sending drones to Russia to support its war on Ukraine.


“Meanwhile, it is looking likely that Russia will supply Iran with modern fighter jets, making Iran an even more deadly presence in the Middle East.


“We cannot afford to ignore Iran any more than we can ignore China, Russia, or any other serious threat to peace and stability. 


“We need to remain engaged on the global stage – always pursuing peace, but always ready to respond to those who would jeopardize it.


“Above all, Mr. President, we can’t be afraid to call evil by its name.


“Ronald Reagan never declared war on the Soviet Union.


“But he helped bring down the Evil Empire in part by not being afraid to speak with moral clarity.


“Mr. President, there will always be threats to peace and security.


“And it must be our job to ensure that the United States always has the strength to meet them.


“There is no surer way of preserving the peace – or protecting the heritage of freedom we have been given.


“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”