Commentary Magazine


Topic: Typhoon Haiyan

China’s Missed Opportunity

The devastation in the Philippines has prompted various nations to provide aid. Reuters has a rundown on what a number of countries are doing.

The U.S. contribution is the most substantial and, in the case of the naval aircraft and ships, the most irreplaceable: “The UNITED STATES is providing $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance and has sent a team of about 90 Marines and sailors, part of a first wave of promised U.S. military assistance. An aircraft carrier and four other Navy ships set sail for the Philippines from Hong Kong on Tuesday.”

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The devastation in the Philippines has prompted various nations to provide aid. Reuters has a rundown on what a number of countries are doing.

The U.S. contribution is the most substantial and, in the case of the naval aircraft and ships, the most irreplaceable: “The UNITED STATES is providing $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance and has sent a team of about 90 Marines and sailors, part of a first wave of promised U.S. military assistance. An aircraft carrier and four other Navy ships set sail for the Philippines from Hong Kong on Tuesday.”

But others are stepping forward as well. Australia is contributing a $9.3 million package of aid, Britain $16 million, Japan $10 million, UAE $10 million. Even the Vatican is pledging $4 million worth of help.

And what is the second-largest economy in the world doing? “The CHINESE government is providing $100,000 and the Chinese Red Cross a further $100,000.”

That is a stunningly small sum from such a large and increasingly powerful country. It is also a missed opportunity for China to get back into the good graces of Filipinos after tensions flared during a confrontation between the Chinese and Filipino navy over Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

China may be getting richer and more powerful but this is an indication that its exercise of “soft power” lags far behind not only the U.S. but also lesser powers such as Britain and Australia.

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Military Budget Numbers Don’t Add Up

Two items from Politico’s Morning Defense Roundup caught my eye today.

Item 1: “As Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation became painfully clear yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to sail for the Philippines as quickly as possible….The George Washington is carrying Carrier Air Wing 5 with nine squadrons that include strike fighters, electronic attack aircraft and – crucially for disaster relief – MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Two Navy cruisers and one destroyer are also expected to be on station with the carrier in as soon as two days.”

Item 2: “Just when Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale thought things could not get more uncertain and chaotic, they have. Now, he faces three very different budget scenarios for 2014, ranging from President Barack Obama’s $527 billion request for the Pentagon’s base budget to the $475 billion if sequestration is allowed to happen in January. ‘We still don’t know what fiscal ’14 is, which is an extraordinary situation,’ Hale said.”

There is a fundamental disconnect between these two news stories. The first story demonstrates that the demand for the U.S. military’s services is as great as ever and is hardly limited to war-fighting in the strictest sense. When an ally like the Philippines is hit with a natural disaster, the U.S. government naturally and rightly wants to help. How? There’s no civilian corps of disaster-response experts who can be scrambled to a faraway country at a minute’s notice. Only the U.S. military can do that.

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Two items from Politico’s Morning Defense Roundup caught my eye today.

Item 1: “As Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation became painfully clear yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and other Navy ships to sail for the Philippines as quickly as possible….The George Washington is carrying Carrier Air Wing 5 with nine squadrons that include strike fighters, electronic attack aircraft and – crucially for disaster relief – MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. Two Navy cruisers and one destroyer are also expected to be on station with the carrier in as soon as two days.”

Item 2: “Just when Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale thought things could not get more uncertain and chaotic, they have. Now, he faces three very different budget scenarios for 2014, ranging from President Barack Obama’s $527 billion request for the Pentagon’s base budget to the $475 billion if sequestration is allowed to happen in January. ‘We still don’t know what fiscal ’14 is, which is an extraordinary situation,’ Hale said.”

There is a fundamental disconnect between these two news stories. The first story demonstrates that the demand for the U.S. military’s services is as great as ever and is hardly limited to war-fighting in the strictest sense. When an ally like the Philippines is hit with a natural disaster, the U.S. government naturally and rightly wants to help. How? There’s no civilian corps of disaster-response experts who can be scrambled to a faraway country at a minute’s notice. Only the U.S. military can do that.

But the military is under severe strain right now because of budget cuts which are only going to get worse. The Pentagon comptroller is dreaming if he thinks Congress will repeal sequestration. Assuming these Draconian cuts continue to be implemented—and that’s almost certain right now—the result will be to eviscerate the very capabilities the U.S. military needs to respond not only to typhoons and earthquakes but also to more direct threats to our national security. For example, Hagel is contemplating reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to eight or nine. Even before that happens, the readiness levels of all of our military forces—land, sea, and air—have been hurt by the ongoing budget cuts.

Yet there is no major push in Washington to reduce the number of missions the U.S. military is being asked to carry out. Our political leaders seem to want the armed forces to carry out 100 percent of their existing missions with only 70 percent of the funding. (Sequestration combined with earlier budget cuts will result in a roughly 30 percent reduction in the military budget over the next decade.) And even much of the existing budget is being swallowed up by personnel and health-care costs with increasingly little left over for operations, training, or weapons procurement. That doesn’t add up.

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