At Hearing, Warren Defends Investments in Military Personnel from Republican Attacks
Warren: Investing in American Military Personnel is Crucial to Compete with China
“Some Republicans want to cut programs that support our troops and military families. They talk about fiscal responsibility… but programs that support troops and inspire them to continue to put their lives on the line for our country aren’t waste. They protect our greatest strength as a nation: our people.”
Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Personnel, raised the importance of investing in the U.S. military’s greatest strength – its military personnel – when competing with China.
Dr. Bonny Lin, who advised the Department of Defense on China in both the Obama and Trump administrations, said “it would definitely hurt us” in our competition with China if the United States defunded programs that support military families. The quality of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel is “one of the major weaknesses the Chinese assess to be within their PLA,” said Dr. Lin. “They’re worried about whether their personnel can perform.”
Dr. Fiona Hill, who was deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, agreed about the importance of investing in personnel. “All of the issues that you’ve just raised are one of the reasons Russia’s not been performing as we might have expected” in Ukraine, she said.
Senator Warren called out Republicans who want to cut programs that support troops and military families while giving a blank check for weapons programs that go billions over budget. Senator Warren committed to defending investments in military personnel and working to address recruiting and retention challenges.
Transcript: To receive testimony on Global Security
Challenges and Strategy
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So we often talk about the role of aircraft carriers and hypersonic weapons in the great power competition, but I’d like to zero in on what people bring to the fight – specifically our military personnel.
Leaders in the People’s Republic of China have repeatedly raised concerns that they lack personnel who are both capable and highly skilled for modern warfare. A report for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission found quote, “many [People’s Liberation Army] commanders are still judged as incapable of properly assessing situations, making operational decisions, deploying forces, or leading forces” unquote. We don’t want to underestimate China’s capabilities, but that is a pretty sorry state of affairs.
Dr. Lin, you are an expert on China and were the senior adviser advising the Department of Defense in both the Obama and Trump administrations.
So tell me Dr. Lin, how important are personnel in winning on the battlefield?
Dr. Bonny Lin, Director, China Power Project and Senior Fellow, Asian Security, Center for Strategic & International Studies: Thank you Senator Warren. Personnel is absolutely important. As you indicated, and as I mentioned earlier to Senator Schmitt, I think that is one of the major weaknesses the Chinese assess to be within their PLA.
They aren’t worried about if they can get another, for example, Dongfeng 41 missile, or another submarine, they’re worried about whether their personnel can perform. So absolutely critical.
Senator Warren: Ok, people, people, people. But after years of having forces that have little more than a ninth-grade education, PRC is now starting to attract significantly more educated recruits.
Dr. Lin, how successful has the PLA been at retaining more skilled troops?
Dr. Lin: So, you are correct in saying that China, the PLA is attracting more-educated PLA recruits, but I’m not, we won’t really have really good statistics on how they are in terms of retaining them.
But I would say that the respect for the PLA broadly in China is nowhere close to the respect for the U.S. military in the United States.
Senator Warren: It’s an interesting point on this because unlike the Chinese government, we actually care about our people. Still, we have our own recruiting and retention challenges here at home – for example, U.S. military families living in unsafe housing or struggling to access health care that they need. So I look forward to working on the Personnel Subcommittee with Senator Scott to tackle these problems.
Dr. Lin, if the United States substantially disinvested in the programs we have to support our military workforce – things like access to childcare and violence prevention programs, would that help us or hurt us in our effort to maintain a competitive advantage over China when it comes to the quality of our personnel?
Dr. Lin: I think it would definitely hurt us. Having worked with many military offices, I know how difficult it is to be able to sacrifice for the nation, while also taking care of needs at home. So without that, the United States government helping them with the child care, the home portion, I think it makes their day jobs much more difficult.
Senator Warren: Good, and I see our other witnesses both nodding yes as well. Do I take it you both agreed on this?
Dr. Fiona Hill, Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, The Brookings Institution: We certainly do, and look, we can see the performance of the Russian military at this moment, at a case in point. A country that does not care about the quality of its personnel, only the quantity that can be thrown at the battlefield.
And all of the issues that you’ve just raised are one of the reasons Russia’s not been performing as we might have expected.
Senator Warren: Go ahead, Mr. Zakheim.
Roger Zakheim, Director, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute: I completely agree, Senator Warren. One of the things this Committee does annually when they report out the Defense Authorization bills, what it’s done for the men and women in uniform, I think that’s the example and why we’re able to realize these benefits.
Senator Warren: I raise this today in this context because some Republicans want to cut programs that support our troops and military families. They talk about fiscal responsibility, but I see two big problems. First, anyone who is using a debate over the nation’s debt limit to crash our economy in order to extract massive spending cuts is being reckless, not responsible. Second, make no mistake, the same folks who claim to care about the size of the Pentagon budget will continue to give a blank check for weapons programs that go to billions of dollars of cost, and not to our personnel. The Pentagon funding these Republicans want to cut is the part that goes to safe housing and reliable medical care for our troops.
I get it, there’s plenty of waste to cut out of the Pentagon’s budget. But programs that support our troops and inspire them to continue to put their lives on the line for our country aren’t waste. They protect our greatest strength as a nation: our people.
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