Rep. Mike Gallagher
is one of the strongest voices in
advocating a robust U.S. military capable of confronting
and defending American interests around the world. The Princeton University graduate was first elected in 2016 to represent Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District, covering Green Bay and the Badger State’s northeastern realm.
Gallagher spent seven years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in Iraq, and holds several advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. in international relations from Georgetown University. Gallagher, 38, spoke with Washington Examiner senior writer on defense and national security Jamie McIntyre about why he believes the United States is entering a “window of maximum danger.”
[Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.]
Washington Examiner: You were invited by the Heritage Foundation to preside over the release of its
Index of U.S. Military Strength
, which rates the readiness of the U.S. Army as “marginal,” the Navy and Space Force as “weak,” and the Air Force as “very weak” — the lowest grades in the nine-year history of the highly respected index. Only the Marine Corps, in which you served, and U.S. nuclear forces were rated “strong.” What’s going on?
Rep. Mike Gallagher: I think it’s a confluence of a few things. One, notwithstanding an infusion of dollars during the Trump administration to fix some readiness gaps, we’ve cut the military at a time when threats are increasing. Every budget proposed by recent presidents has amounted to a real term cut, at least the initial budgets [and that’s what] the Biden budget was.
Two, we have the rise of China. We haven’t really seen anything like we’ve seen with the massive military investment that China is making in its military. And of course, this isn’t just a military threat. It’s an economic threat. It’s an ideological threat. And it’s a threat for which we were completely unprepared. We were incredibly complacent, and we deluded ourselves with a naive assumption that integrating them into the global economy would moderate their political and military behavior. But precisely the opposite happened. They grew more aggressive, they militarized the South and the East China Sea, and of course, they have designs on taking Taiwan.
The third thing is that, in particular under the Biden administration, but also under the Obama administration, we have adopted a set of naive utopian assumptions about how the world works that has allowed liberal presidents to attempt to justify defense cuts. This idea that we’ve somehow evolved beyond wars of territorial expansion, that bad men like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have some allegiance to the rules-based international order. So, all of this conspires to downgrade hard power and elevate soft power, and that’s a recipe for deterrence failures.
Washington Examiner: How do we see that playing out in the world today?
Rep. Gallagher: Look no further than Ukraine for evidence that that’s precisely what happened. There, we relied solely on soft power. It was a perfect test of the Biden administration’s defense strategy, the strategy of “integrated deterrence.” Integrated deterrence is all about cutting conventional hard power and making up the difference with soft power, with new technology and allies. Well, we tested that in Ukraine, and deterrence failed. It failed because we relied on the threat of sanctions and sternly worded statements. And even Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were forced to admit it failed, and the only thing that could deter Vladimir Putin was American hard power.
Washington Examiner: When you say the U.S. is divesting in “hard power” in favor of so-called “integrated deterrence,” can you help us cut through the jargon and understand what that means?
Rep. Gallagher: I mean, that is the problem. “Integrated deterrence” is jargon. It’s unnecessary pseudo-academic jargon that’s designed to cover what the Biden administration is trying to do — cut traditional conventional power: ships, planes, bombs, and instead invest in long-term technology. They’re bragging about a 9.5% increase in research and development. I’m all for investing in hypersonics, directed energy, and AI, which will be critical for the future. But the problem is those technologies won’t be ready for prime time within the next five years or, more likely, even within the decade. And if China makes a move in the near term, the exquisite technology that’s going to be fielded in 2035 doesn’t do a damn thing to deter China from taking Taiwan.
Washington Examiner: What kinds of things should the U.S. be doing now to prepare for the increasing threat from China?
Rep. Gallagher: I think the big lesson of Ukraine is that we really need to start procuring critical munitions at a rapid rate. We need to do what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates did for the MRAP [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles] when it comes to LRASMs [anti-ship missiles], Javelins [anti-armor missiles], and Stingers [anti-aircraft missiles]. We need advanced energetics for an intermediate-range missile, now that we’re no longer bound by the INS treaty. And all those things need to be fielded and stockpiled in the Indo-Pacific before the shooting starts, and there I’ve seen little to no progress. So, finding a way to invest more resources in hard power, in weapons, in particular, I think is going to have to be the mission of the next secretary of defense.
Washington Examiner: So again, you’re talking about hard power, a show of force, a flexing of military muscle?
Rep. Gallagher: What needs to be the primary focus of our efforts in the next Congress, at least on the Armed Services Committee, is to avoid a deterrence failure with Taiwan like we saw in Ukraine. It’s all about surging hard power through Taiwan and throughout the first island chain. We have $14 billion worth of backlogged foreign military sales items that have been approved but not delivered to Taiwan. We need to get those delivered ASAP. Move Taiwan to the front of the [Foreign Military Sales] line. They’re still behind Saudi Arabia in some cases.
Washington Examiner: Let’s go back to the budget. It’s true, as you say, that the Biden administration proposed a budget that would’ve amounted to a real cut in defense spending when inflation is factored in. But Congress on a bipartisan basis, as it’s done in the past, has added billions more — $45 billion more just this fiscal year, bringing total defense spending to $847 billion for fiscal 2023. Shouldn’t that be enough to buy a world-class military?
Rep. Gallagher: It should. And certainly, the money we infused over the top of the Trump administration budget helped with some of our readiness problems. But here’s what we have now. But we have a new glitch in the matrix: inflation. You cited the $45 billion figure. Well, in the new Heritage report, they talk about how inflation has just stolen over $50 billion from the Army. The actual number of inflation is going to take in terms of purchasing power from the Pentagon over the course of the FYDP [Future Years Defense Program] is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. So, we’re getting less defense at more cost because of the scourge of inflation.
Washington Examiner: Are we spending money on the wrong things?
Rep. Gallagher: In certain places, yes. To some extent, the military has the same problem that the rest of society does, which is that money for healthcare and retirement and overall personnel costs are crowding out all of our other priorities. The other thing that we’ve seen really explode since the early Cold War has been the bureaucracy in the Pentagon — with the Joint Staff of roughly 5,000 people and the Office of the Secretary of Defense of roughly 5,000 people. The entire acquisition workforce is almost the size of the Marine Corps. The DOD civilian workforce is greater than the size of the Army. So, our tooth-to-tail ratio is completely unbalanced. We’re sapping resources that need to be going to the sharp end of the spear and instead spending it on an army of bureaucrats in the E-ring of the Pentagon.
Washington Examiner: How serious is the current recruiting crisis in maintaining a top-notch all-volunteer force?
Rep. Gallagher: It’s incredibly serious. The Army missed its targets. All the other services are struggling too. The Marine Corps barely met its targets. And these problems tend to compound. We’re seeing a large proportion of the young population in America who doesn’t even want to serve just because of their views about the military. My concern is that the military has become politicized in recent years and that’s contributing to the recruiting crisis. We could have the best ships in world, and the most lethal planes in the world, but if you don’t have fit, smart human beings that are willing to fight and die for your country, you don’t have a strong military. It’s all about the people that we get to serve. So, I’m very, very concerned about it. It’s jeopardizing the continued existence of the all-volunteer force.
Washington Examiner: Can the country afford to both spend on so-called legacy systems while at the same time investing in technologies for future wars — robot systems, hypersonics, artificial intelligence?
Rep. Gallagher: Yes, I absolutely believe so. I mean, look at the Navy. The Navy’s probably been the most challenging. The Navy didn’t get the worst grade in the Heritage report, the Air Force did, but the Navy got rated as weak. Under the Biden plan, the Navy would shrink from roughly 296 ships to 280 ships in 2027. That’s the worst possible time. That’s the PLA’s target date for taking Taiwan. It’s their hundredth anniversary. So we’ll be weakest when they intend to be strongest.
I see the path forward involving a mix of legacy systems and transformative technology. We need to send a strong signal to the ship-building industrial state that we are going to grow the fleet to 355 ships as quickly as possible as specified by law.
But because it’s going to take us at least a decade to meaningfully increase the size of the Navy, we need a short-term hedging strategy, what I’m calling an anti-Navy — something we can absolutely build on the cheap and very quickly. You can surge long-range conventional precision fires in three concentric rings across the Pacific. On Taiwan itself, you can take advantage of loitering munitions to make Taiwan a very tough target. There’s a variety of things you can do that wouldn’t break the bank, that would push the timeline for a war with China over Taiwan into the 2030s when it’s much more advantageous to us and when the Chinese are confronting a whole host of domestic dilemmas.
Washington Examiner: You’ve said in recent speeches and writings that the U.S. is in the “window of maximum danger” when it comes to China and Taiwan. Why is that?
Rep. Gallagher: A few things. One, Xi Jinping is 69 years old. He just secured his third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and reunification of Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary, is his legacy issue. Just look at what he has already gotten away with: effectively taking over Hong Kong, genocide, and covering up a coronavirus pandemic that’s killed at least 6 million globally, with the actual number of excess deaths closer to 20 million by some estimates. Why would he not be emboldened at the moment?
So, if we don’t move with urgency to restore deterrence with a meaningful investment in hard power and much more confident and strong leadership in the Pentagon and the White House, I fear we could find ourselves in a kinetic confrontation with China in the next couple years.