Sullivan Warns Biden’s Defense Cuts Could Put U.S. in Dangerous Territory & Below 3% of GDP

Senator also reiterates call to sink Iranian spy ships targeting American vessels

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), this morning pressed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General C.Q. Brown on the implications of President Joe Biden’s proposal to cut military spending in an increasingly dangerous world. Senator Sullivan noted that the Biden administration’s proposed defense spending cuts would put the United States on a path to spend less than three percent of GDP on defense, which has only happened four times since World War II—particularly in the years following the Soviet Union’s collapse. The questioning took place during a SASC hearing featuring testimony from both Secretary Austin and General Brown.

SULLIVAN: Does Biden’s Decision to Cut Defense Spending Meet this Dangerous Moment?

SENATOR SULLIVAN: The President has put forward inflation-adjusted cuts to the Department of Defense every year. Now, the chairman mentioned—“Well, this was the House Republicans.” This is the commander in chief's leadership and he's failing on it. Every year, he puts forward Defense Department cuts during one of the most dangerous periods. Right now, this budget, if it continues in the direction the Biden administration is pushing, will get us below three percent of GDP for our defense. We've only done that four times since World War II. Do you think being at three percent of GDP or below three percent of GDP for the Department of Defense meets the moment in terms of the dangers we're seeing right now? Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY AUSTIN: I think again, operating within, the guidelines of the law…

SULLIVAN: No, but I'm not asking about the law. I'm just saying if we go to three percent or below, you think that meets the-- we've been there four times. It was mostly in the late 90s when we had the so-called “peace dividends.” Is three percent of GDP for our Department of Defense what we need during these very dangerous times?

AUSTIN: We linked our request to our strategy and, again, I think, we had to make some tough choices, as I said earlier…

SULLIVAN: I'm sorry to interrupt you. General, in your personal opinion, do you think that below three percent of GDP spending is what we need to meet the these dangerous times, which we all agree are dangerous times?

GENERAL BROWN: Well, Senator, what I really believe on this is that, we have to get a budget on time. For the past 15 years, we've had five years of continuing resolutions. Getting budgets on time actually impacts our buying power.

SULLIVAN: I agree with that. But can you answer my question? Three percent of GDP. It's pretty easy to answer. The answer to it is, “No,” right?

BROWN: Well, Senator, as a war fighter…

SULLIVAN: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to submit this chart for the record. It just shows where we've been four times since World War II. We've been at three percent of GDP or below. The answer is no. I think we all know that. This committee knows that. It's important. I respect both of you very much. You have a lot of experience, but it's important to come before this committee and tell us what you believe. None of you believe, that going below three percent of GDP is good for the Department of Defense. I know that. I know it's hard. The President clearly thinks it is good for Department of Defense. He cuts the budget every year. It's got to make your job really tough.

SULLIVAN: Why Are We Not Sinking Iranian Intel Ships That Are Providing Intel To Target Americans?

SULLIVAN: Let me let me go to an area that you understand very well, both of you, and that's deterrence with regard to Iran. Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, recently observed that fighting through Tehran's proxies, Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, Shia militias in Iraq, Iran is reaping all the benefits in paying virtually no costs of the work of its proxies…

Why are we not sinking Iranian warships, intel ships that are providing targeting intel to kill Marines and sailors from Alaska or North Dakota? I mean, I find this outrageous. Why are we not doing that? Why are we not telling the Iranians, overtly or covertly, next time you send intel to target an American warship through the Houthis, we will sink your ships. Why are we not doing that? That's so basic to me.

Secretary Austin: I maintain the point that Iran needs to be held accountable for what it what it's do continues to do to providing intel to kill American sailors in the Red Sea.

SULLIVAN: Why don't we sink their ships?

AUSTIN: Attacking Iran is a is a different issue.

SULLIVAN: And I think they're attacking us.

AUSTIN: Their proxies are attacking.

SULLIVAN: No, they're providing intel to kill Americans. General, your advice on this, in your personal opinion?

GENERAL BROWN: As the secretary said, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for much of this activity. I can talk to you more in a classified session about some of the options that we are working through.

SULLIVAN: This is not an unreasonable position that I'm proposing. Here's the problem. And I've talked to the CNO, the Navy. There was this barrage against the USS Carney, 28 missiles and drones recently from the Houthis. If one of those slipped through and sunk that ship, the president would have pressure to go to war with Iran.

My view is we should just tell them right now: enough. Operation Praying Mantis, I know you're both familiar with that. That was a very successful operation. We sank Iranian warships when they're mining the Persian Gulf. So I'd like to talk to you more about this in a classified setting, but I don't think it's even a difficult decision.