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Defense Speech Remarks of Senator John McCain
Intrepid Freedom Award
New York City, December 7, 1999

Thank you for that kind introduction. I am honored to accept the Intrepid Freedom Award. You have included me in the ranks of people whom I have always and will always consider my superiors. I am humbled by the honor, but determined to remain worthy of the high standards it represents in whatever service I am privileged to give America.

We are all especially grateful today for the opportunity to honor the memory of Zachary Fisher, a remarkable American, who devoted his life in service to the welfare of those who have bravely answered the call of our country. And special thanks to Tony Fisher for carrying on the work of the foundation with such heart and dedication.

The attendance here tonight of the Joint Chiefs is perhaps the most eloquent tribute to Zack and his dear wife, Elizabeth, and the goodness and generosity of their family. God Bless you.

I would also like to welcome my good friend Mayor Giuliani and all of the distinguished guests gathered here today. Thank you for your devotion to our armed forces.

This is a special place for me to talk about the future of our military. I remember well my days serving on the USS Intrepid in the early 1960s. I loved flying off carriers, but there were occasional setbacks -- like the time I knocked down power lines while flying a bit too low over southern Spain, cutting off the electricity to a great many Spanish homes and creating a minor international incident. Not the Navy's greatest moment, nor mine for that matter.

But to all of us here the Intrepid is much more than a personal remembrance. It is a symbol of the service and sacrifice of so many Americans, and a reminder of the awesome responsibility we have as stewards of the greatest military in the world. The tradition of valor that she symbolizes is, and always will be, a compass--as known and welcoming to me as was this great ship itself, when long ago she was the home I searched for through the dark night skies above the Atlantic Ocean.

My friends, some nations might share our love of personal liberty and others might share our dedication to the ordered progress of democracy. But, America remains the world's lone superpower with profound responsibilities that attend that most fortunate and hard-earned distinction.

The world is still home to many tyrants, dictators, haters and aggressors who are hostile to the interests of the United States and the rights of Man. Now more than ever, on the eve of a new millenium, the future of our country and the world depends upon the strength and will of America.

Let it not be construed as the ramblings of a partisan, but as a conviction influenced by patriotism, when I express my grave concern about the state of America's defenses. America has the strongest, best trained, best-led military force in the world. But those who have pledged their lives to our defense look to their civilian leaders for the guidance and the means to meet the security challenges of a new era. And we have failed them.

Our Military Today

Our military today is struggling in virtually every category that measures preparedness. There are 12,000 enlisted personnel - proud, young men and women - whose low pay has left them with no choice but to accept food stamps to feed their families. Others have taken second jobs to make ends meet. Substandard housing for military personnel is now commonplace.

Reductions in the number of military personnel, and the demands of excessive deployments are overburdening our servicemen and women to the breaking point. Time away from home and loved ones has increased while military pay relative to private sector compensation has decreased. And quality health care for veterans and for active military personnel has become just another broken promise.

More and more, we are asking our men and women in uniform to surpass our highest expectations of their service while we forget our solemn promises to them, one after another. That is a stain upon the nation's honor that should shame us all.

My friends, less than a month ago, the Pentagon revealed that not a single Army division was rated fully mission-ready, and that two of its 10 divisions were rated unprepared for war.

During the campaign in and around Kosovo last spring, the Army was unable to deploy its premier Apache helicopter forces in time to play a vital role in that conflict. The Air Force's inventory of air-launched cruise missiles fell to 70 from the 1,000-level the Pentagon says it needs to handle two major theater wars.

The Marine Corps saves money on spare parts by refitting light trucks and Humvees, in order to afford small arms ammunition for forward-deployed Marines. The Navy is struggling to maintain a fleet of 300 ships, down from over 500 in the early 1990's. But, the fiscal year 2000 budget will not support even 200 ships.

Today's ill-considered reduction in the carrier fleet could have resulted in a calamity in the Pacific earlier this year. While one carrier battle group brought its power to bear in Kosovo, and another patrolled the Persian Gulf, there were no carrier battle groups in East Asia's waters where events in the Straits of Taiwan and on the Korean Peninsula could have become world-threatening crises.

The fault lies not with those who serve, nor with their uniformed leadership. It rests with political leaders, on both sides of the aisle and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, who ask the military to do too much with too little, and who misdirect scarce defense dollars to their political priorities, rather than to vital defense needs.

The Next President's Challenges

I have spoken before about the unique "unipolar moment" in world affairs for the United States, and the necessity to extend this period of American preeminence for as long as we possibly can. In a remarkably changed world, and on the eve of the next American century, our core strategic interests, like our founding ideals, remain constant: protecting our homeland and hemisphere from external threats; preventing the domination of Europe by a single power; strengthening our alliances; securing access to energy resources; and sustaining stability in the Pacific Rim.

Four evolving threats

With the end of the Cold War the threats to our strategic interests have evolved or, at least, their ranking as priority threats has been reordered.

In addition to the potential threats posed by continued political and economic chaos in Russia, and China's growing economic and military strength, there are other immediate threats to our national security that the next administration must face. Recently, I described these four threats in detail.

First, violent expressions of nationalist and ethnic rivalries;

Second, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue states and potential adversaries;

Third, information warfare such as an attack on our private sector's computer grids that cause critical failures in vital services that we take for granted. If we do not more effectively guard our communications, including the Internet--our powerful economic engine—utilities, transportation, financial systems, and other essential services, tiny fiber optic threads might carry viruses as incapacitating as an armed attack.

Fourth—and directly connected to cyber-warfare and proliferation— terrorism.

There is a common identity to many of these threats. It should surprise no one that the most viciously anti-democratic regimes - the rogue states - are the chief proliferators; the major exporters of terrorism; the main instigators of regional and ethnic conflicts. From the Persian Gulf to the Korean Peninsula to the Balkans, rogue states are the main threat to peace and freedom, and they require a strong, comprehensive policy response - a policy of "rogue state rollback."

We must use both public and private diplomacy, targeted economic measures, and military assistance to aid forces seeking freedom from rogue regimes.

But we must be prepared to back up these measures with American military force when the continued existence of such rogue states threatens America's interests and values. And, most importantly, state sponsors of terrorism must know not the specifics of our response, but the certainty that it will be swift and sure.

Ballistic Missile Defense

I have opposed Cold War weapons systems that have no necessary use. And I will oppose a Cold War arms control treaty that constrains a necessary defense against today's clear and present danger.

It's time we tell our friends and adversaries alike, that ballistic missile defense is now a national priority, not just another Pentagon program.

In a world that is becoming more unpredictable and dangerous, the indispensable defense against rogue states and terrorists, and even against larger powers who might become reckless in their ambitions is ballistic missile defense.

The North Koreans, last year, tested a multi-stage ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons against US forces and our allies throughout East Asia. They are working on a longer-range missile that could threaten the continental United States.

Iran and Iraq are developing their own ballistic missiles, with Iran getting technical help from Russia. Thus, by the end of the coming decade, the United States could face a fundamentally new strategic situation: a rogue state, such as Iraq or North Korea, with the ability, in time of crisis, to use nuclear blackmail against an American president.

We must move ahead with the several promising options for theater missile defense now under development, including the improved Patriot on land and the Navy Area Defense System at sea; and to develop programs that will provide for broader regional coverage, such as the Navy's proposed Theater Wide system. We need an ability to project a missile defense shield to the world's most dangerous hot spots whether they be in the Taiwan straits; or off the Korean peninsula; or elsewhere like the Middle East where the security of friends and regional stability could be threatened.

Most importantly, of course, we must defend the United States itself from ballistic missile attack. The current administration has put together a plan for a small-scale national missile defense system and has said that a deployment decision will be made by this summer. But I worry that the administration might find an excuse to delay deployment. Moreover, we must make sure that a missile defense is flexible so that the existing proposal for relying on ground-based interceptors can be upgraded over time with new technologies, such as space-based and boost-phase defenses, as necessary.

An effective deployment of national missile defenses would constitute a violation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. Seizing on this, Russia and others, most notably China, have started to complain about the deployment of American missile defense.

We should sit down with Russia and see whether the ABM Treaty can be altered to permit both of our countries to respond to ballistic missile threats. But I want to be candid with you—if these talks fail, I will do what is right for the security of millions of Americans and for global strategic stability. I will withdraw from a treaty that has become a relic of the Cold War if it cannot be made relevant to our current security needs. Our Cold War pledge to remain defenseless against missile attack is the single greatest incentive for rogue state proliferation. In effect, we are threatening ourselves.

One Goal

Today, my friends, we must face a harsh and compelling reality: in strategy, personnel and procurement—the total package that defines America's ability to defend itself --the United States does not have the modern force and defense posture we must have to meet the threats to America's interests and values in the 21st Century.

It is time to end the disingenuous practice of stating that we have a two-war strategy when we are paying for only a one-war military. Either we must change our strategy—and accept the risks-or we must sufficiently fund and structure our military.

I believe the American public wants the simple truth—tell us the strategy to ensure our security, tell us what it will cost and how you'll pay for it.

Restoring Credibility

First, we must restore our national credibility abroad. Credibility is a strategic asset. The world's only superpower must never give its word insincerely. We should never make idle threats. When we do it ensures that the price we ultimately pay in blood and treasure to defend our security is greater than if we had kept our word from the beginning.

Restoring the Bonds of Trust

Second, we must also restore our credibility and bonds of trust with those who we ask to take up arms in our nation's defense.

The deployment of troops must never become a substitute for a coherent foreign policy, and the use of force should always be our last resort, not our first.

We must never ask our troops to risk their lives for purposes not directly related to our vital national interests and values. We must not send them on missions for which we have no measure of success nor into conflicts we are not prepared to win.

Defense budgets must respect those who serve and their families, and fulfill our national duty to assure they are properly trained, equipped and compensated for the sacrifices we ask of them.

The defense budget passed by Congress this year, like every other in recent memory, was a disgrace, crammed with over $6 billion of wasteful spending unrequested by the military.

Every dollar misspent on unneeded Seawolf submarines and B-2 bombers is one less dollar needed to make certain that no military family need ever resort to foodstamps again.

Every dollar wasted on unrequested military construction is one less dollar for the training necessary to prepare the military to defend America and our allies.

And every dollar stolen to keep open unnecessary defense installations to spare politicians an issue that might cloud their next election is one less dollar for the modern equipment needed to win wars and save lives.

That's wrong. That's wrong. Heroes deserve better service from us than that.

Modernizing weapons systems is vitally important, but personnel issues must come first. It is the training, the preparedness and morale of American's in uniform that is the stout heart of our national defense.
If I am the next President, I will end the days of a foodstamp Army once and for all.

We must eliminate the gap between military pay and comparable civilian pay by raising military wages an additional 3% each year for three years, and by eliminating federal income taxes for military personnel who are deployed overseas. Because their pledge to risk their lives to defend the rest of us far exceeds the burdens imposed on the most heavily taxed civilians.

It is time not only that we meet our obligations to those who wear the uniform, but to their family members as well -- each of whom makes an enormous sacrifice for freedom. The well-being of military families is not only our moral duty, it is a vital element of military readiness. If family needs are not well cared for on the home front, our troops will not be well prepared on battlefield.

Restructuring our forces

The third challenge we face is to structure and deploy our forces to effectively respond to the threats of the 21st century. New threats require innovative and forward thinking approaches to utilizing lighter, more flexible, and rapidly deployable forces. We need to support and accelerate technological improvements that help make our forces smaller, more automated, and easier to deploy. Terrorism, proliferation in rogue states and ethnic conflict often call more for highly capable special forces than for a conventional military geared toward war on the plains of central Europe.

As has been all too common in the past, our military planning focuses on maintaining the force structure that proved effective in winning the last war, while too little attention has been given to the changing and uncertain nature of future conflicts.

We cannot afford to allow embedded biases in the Pentagon or political influences to resist innovative and forward-thinking approaches to force planning. We should honestly reassess the roles and missions of each of the military services, including the Guard and Reserve components. And we should eliminate forces and weapons systems that have no place in the modern, post-Cold War world.

We should reevaluate the readiness requirements of our military forces based on two conditions: the likelihood that forces will be called upon to respond to a military crisis, and the timeframe in which those forces would be deployed. Forces could then be categorized in readiness tiers premised on the degree of day-to-day readiness at which they should be maintained.

Forward-deployed and crisis response forces would be maintained at the highest level of readiness. Follow-on forces necessary to mount a large-scale offensive in a theater of operations to halt an escalating crisis would be maintained at the second highest level of readiness. Conflict resolution forces that deploy late in the conflict to ensure that we have the force superiority to prevail would be maintained at the lowest level of readiness. Finally, we must be prepared to eliminate units for which there is either no identified requirement under our national military strategy, or which cannot be deployed to a theater of operations until the crisis has passed.

It is important to differentiate this proposed tiering of readiness requirements from the current fluctuations in unit readiness caused by training or operational deployments. This is an ordered and logical proposal. It is not intended to compensate for insufficient funding for training and operations.

Reevaluating readiness will prove an utter waste of time if it is intended only to hide a lack of political will to provide a superpower defense for a superpower's commitments. We should never ask how much defense we can afford, my friends. We must honestly answer how much defense we need and have the courage to find the money to pay for it.

Modernizing our Forces

For too long, we have neglected modernization - failing to deploy the weapons and systems needed to maintain our technological superiority and a decisive edge on the battlefield.

Where have we gone wrong? Today, the Air Force is operating bombers that are older than the pilots that fly them. We have Marines flying 30-year old assault helicopters. Many of the Army's howitzers are 35 years old, and the Navy's amphibious assault command ships average more than 30 years of age. The older this equipment gets, the more expensive it is to maintain, the harder it is to keep operating.

For the past 10 years we have been living "off the shelf"—using up the assets procured by previous administrations. We must begin immediately to buy the equipment on which our future security depends.

Funding Defense

Fully funding our defense requires that we aggressively eliminate wasteful defense spending. I have identified nearly 20 billion dollars that could be saved by taking such steps as eliminating excess infrastructure, privatizing support and maintenance functions, lifting unnecessary "Buy America" restrictions, and forcefully and publicly opposing Congress' pork barrel raid on the defense budget.

Given our global commitments and strategy, we need to increase defense spending. Today we spend barely 3% of our gross domestic product on defense. My friends, the last time we spent so little on defense was 1940—the year before Pearl Harbor. But we won't really know how much we need to spend until we rid defense budgets of wasteful spending that contributes much to political cynicism, but nothing to the nation's defense.

Our defense budget must be driven by our security needs, not vice versa. We must spend whatever it takes -not one penny more nor one penny less. For too long we have asked our armed services to do much more with much less. It's time to give them enough.

The Lesson of Pearl Harbor

I have not observed until now that this date, December 7, commemorates the infamous event, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, that taught America - we hope for the last time - the perils of military unpreparedness. But as the distance between that world-changing calamity and our current security grows, more and more Americans derive their sense of security from a poor understanding of history and of the clear and present dangers of modern threats.

Far better for Americans to feel secure in the care of the wonderful young men and women who have made our security their life's work and not take comfort from our ignorance.

But, as I hope I have helped explain, neither we nor our brave armed forces are well served by pretending that without immediate and comprehensive attention to the weaknesses in America's defenses that even the most courageous, the most skilled military in the world can keep us perfectly safe, much less pre-eminent in world affairs.

So, let me close by recalling again that sad day when courage and sacrifice alone defended against an attack we were unprepared to face. That we were defeated by our enemy for a moment surely does not diminish the nobility of the sacrifices made by Americans that day for the sake of duty, honor and country. Neither does forgetting them--nor forgetting the reasons for which they sacrificed--obscure the lantern of courage and faith they shone. But it does risk, sadly, dimming the illumination of America's honor today. And I pledge myself to join all of you in fighting against the false complacency that is our greatest threat. Let us always start our defense by remembering the lessons taught to us by those who proved in the ultimate selfless act to have valued the life of their country, the lives of their children - our lives - more than their own.

I have heard that hot oil still boils in the hold of the U.S.S. Arizona. If so, it is a living testament to the destruction of December 7, 1941. But it is an eternal warning that freedom is never purchased on the cheap and those of us who are honored to help lead this great and bravely defended nation must see clearly our most important duty: to provide for the common defense with all the necessary resources at our disposal, so that others—the best men and women in America--will not be forced to provide for it with their lives.

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