Our state proudly hosts the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base and will welcome new B-21 Raider bombers in the near future. The wing falls under the mighty Eighth Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command where I have worked on each commander’s staff so I am quite familiar with the Ellsworth mission and its role in our national defense strategy.
Military spending in South Dakota, $377 million in payroll and $238 million in contracts, is an important part of our economy. As senator, I will pursue additional federal investment to build and diversify the military’s economic impact and work with state leaders to foster associated industries and the jobs they create.
Most importantly, I will work to answer the national defense identity crisis afflicting our country. Determining the correct force structure and amount of defense spending requires Americans to know who we are and what we stand for in this unfriendly world. At the end of World War II, the U.S. played a key role in establishing a rules-based international system to prevent or minimize armed conflict and a network of allied democracies (NATO) as a force multiplier to support it. This system is what defeated Soviet communism and is now being actively undermined by China and Russia who seek a return to the “might makes right” international system of the 19th century. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a clear example of this “might makes right” approach.
Although imperfect, the rules-based international system is essential to maintaining peace and minimizing suffering. Preserving a close relationship with allies who share our democratic values makes us all safer and saves money. In contrast, the “America First” ideology of the Republican Party isolates us by abandoning our allies and withdrawing from the international system to face threats alone. At the same time, it emboldens the use of armed force against smaller nations by both Russia and China.
In 2020, our defense budget was larger than the next 11 countries combined. Russian action against Ukraine has it poised to increase substantially next year. In 1953, President Eisenhower observed that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” As a career military officer, I certainly understand the need for an effective military but I also share President Eisenhower’s concerns about what our society trades for it and will work to maximize accountability for defense spending.