RYAN: Good evening. Welcome today’s—to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, “A Conversation with Chairman Jack Reed.” My name is Missy Ryan. I’m a national security correspondent with the Washington Post and I’m going to be presiding over the discussion today. As I think you’ve been told already, there is a(n) in-person component to the audience and there will be a virtual component as well.
I’m just—I don’t think we need to go too much into the bio of Senator Reed. We could be here for a while. But he has been serving the state of Rhode Island in the Senate since 1997. He is now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is also a graduate of West Point and an Army veteran, and has a MPP from the Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
And with that, I’m going to hand it over to Senator Reed and I look forward to the Q&A afterwards.
REED: Well, thank you very much, Missy. It’s a great honor and privilege to be here. Thank you, Richard, for you and the Council for hosting this meeting and many other important meetings. So thank you.
I’ll keep my remarks brief. Obviously, they’ll be short. That’s sort of a joke. (Laughter.)
The United States faces a wide-ranging and urgent set of national security challenges. As the Biden administration’s National Defense Strategy makes clear, China is our primary competitor. It is the only nation with both the intent and the capability to challenge our interests. Beyond that, Russia has shown itself to be a violent and destabilizing force. Iran and North Korea continue to push the boundaries of military brinksmanship. And problems like terrorism and climate change remain dangerously present.
I agree broadly on the significance of these threats. The question now for U.S. policymakers and congressional leaders is: What can we do to deter or mitigate these threats? I think we have to regressively—aggressively, rather, renew our national competitiveness not just in our foreign policy or military posture, but across our economy and society.
To begin, we have to recognize that we are in an existential struggle between democracy and autocracy. Clearly, rivals like China and Russia seek to change the international order to their advantage. But the battle between liberalism and authoritarianism runs deeper than that. Right here at home, America is experiencing more political turmoil and attacks on our institutions from our own citizens. Too often, these attacks are not just verbal but also threaten physical violence against fellow citizens. Our partners and allies are struggling with similar issues. In vulnerable regions like the Indo-Pacific, Africa, and South America, autocrats like China are pressuring our would-be partners with coercive economic practices and disinformation campaigns to force trade dependency upon them.
America has to offer an alternative to this kind of foreign policy. We need to take a nuanced approach, offering more than a with-us-or-against-us proposition to those resisting autocratic pressure. Given the economic, cultural, and geographic ties between many of our partners and allies and China, we can’t simply ask them to choose between us based on a military calculation. We have to use all of our tools of statecraft to maintain persistent engagement and a physical presence. This starts with having ambassadors and diplomats on the ground in vulnerable nations where they can better understand and help meet those nations’ security and economic needs.
Indeed, international partnerships will be the decisive factor in any future conflict. We have seen this through Ukraine’s performance against Russia and the rallying of NATO allies and other countries by the Biden administration. And I think that same effort would hold true in the Indo-Pacific. Our greatest comparative advantage over China is our network of allies. Partnerships like the Quad and AUKUS provide a valuable framework as we explore other network opportunities. And indeed, I think President Biden has made good progress in this regard, but much more must be done.
Even as we renew our efforts abroad, however, we have to confront the problems our society and democracy face at home. Our global competitiveness is fundamentally tied to our domestic health, and I am concerned we face serious challenges in this regard. A recent RAND report points out that the United States has traditionally enjoyed many of the qualities for successful competition, such as a unified national identity, a learning and adaptive society, and effective institutions. However, the report warns that many of these qualities are in decline in America, threatening the core of our national competitiveness.
Given these dangerous trends within our society, I am alarmed by the increasing rate of politically-motivated attacks on our institutions and our military. There is a long tradition within the American military in particular of being apolitical which is essential for our democracy and civilian control of the armed forces. Yet, some political leaders are choosing to generate a sense of outrage and indignation for their own personal gain by publicly disparaging our military. While such attacks may serve a short-term political agenda, this behavior damages our national interest by eroding trust within the ranks and weakening public faith in our government. In the long term, it also has effects on our recruiting for military and public service, which already face daunting challenges. These political excesses have grave implications and they must end.
Ultimately, our long-term strategic competition is not just a rivalry of military or economic power but also a competition of ideas. This requires us to develop an understanding of our adversaries’ philosophies, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, and cultures. And by the same token, it requires us to understand our own strengths and weaknesses, and to take the difficult steps to renew our national competitiveness. And this is where the work of the Council and its members are so valuable.
Thank you again to the Council. I look forward to your questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
RYAN: All right. Well, thank you so much, Senator. I’m hoping that we can build on some of the topics that you touched on in your remarks before we open it up to the members. And again, it’s such a pleasure to be here with you today.
So I know that we’ve got limited time for the moderated discussion. I’m going to dive right in, starting with Ukraine. Today, we saw renewed strikes in downtown Kyiv. I was there a week ago when the Kremlin launched missiles at sites across the city, prompting President Zelensky to intensify his appeal for greater supplies of air defenses. At the same time, we’ve heard U.S. officials say that there’s only so much the United States can do and its allies can do in the near term because of their own domestic security needs and of the lead time involved with producing new systems. To what extent do you think this critical vulnerability for Ukraine can be fixed? And what will Congress’s role be in that?
REED: Well, we are authorizing in an NDAA—which just went on the floor about a week ago—additional resources for Ukraine. And in addition, I think our administration is committed to getting, along with our allies, sufficient air defense systems in to substantially enhance their capabilities against drones, against cruise missiles. One of the problems is that some of these systems require somewhat training or extensive training, and that’s what we’re undertaking right now. But there’s a full commitment to give the Ukrainian military what they need to not only withstand the assault, but turn it around and recapture territory.
RYAN: Well, I want to ask you, actually, a little bit later about Patriots, a proposal that one of your Senate colleagues has made regarding American Patriots in Ukraine.
But another question on Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces have accelerated their counteroffensive, G-7 nations last week laid out the most specific elements yet for what a potential settlement might look like, including reparations from Russia and some kind of security guarantees. President Biden, meanwhile, keeps promising to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. As someone who is championing strong support for Ukraine, can you tell us a little bit more about what you think as long as it takes looks like in this scenario, especially given Putin’s insistence on his aims in Ukraine and the low probability that he will give up Crimea and potentially other areas? Do you think there’s a danger of Ukraine and its Western backers sort of pushing Putin into doing something rash?
REED: Well, I think we have to maintain full support for Zelensky, and recognize the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people and their military forces. And I think he is right now to declare that his intent at the moment is to recapture every bit of Ukrainian territory.
I think as they’re making military progress—and they are—there has to be the beginning of serious negotiations about a cession of hostilities. I don’t think we’re going to see a final resolution. I think the analogy might be closer to South Korea and North Korea, where we managed to stop the fighting but not resolve the ultimate issue.
But I think eventually over time the ability to generate the kind of support will just naturally decline. The question is, how much? And I think one of the problems too, and this turns on the election, is if we become involved in domestic turmoil, in impeachments all of that, then the attention goes away. And as a collateral effect, we won’t be able to generate the kind of support. So I think we have to do both. But at this point, we’ve got to insist and provide them the tools to keep beating back the Russians.
RYAN: How worried are you about the possibility of reduced congressional support for continued American aid at this very robust level, if Republicans make big gains in the midterms? And what are your Republican colleagues telling you about that?
REED: Well, I think one of the problems is that we could find ourselves in a situation of a long-term continuing resolution, which just hampers the ability to be flexible and to do things within the Department of Defense and other departments. That’s a real possibility. We also have a debt ceiling that will be coming up within the year. And last time the Republicans were in control in 2011, they used that as leverage to make demands.
This time, I think, given what looks like the composition, if the Republicans are able to take over, of a much more sort of extreme group of people, then their demands might be unacceptable in any way, shape, or form. So we could be in a situation where our domestic turmoil and our domestic arguments are such that the collateral damage, as I said before, is to our support to Ukraine.
RYAN: But are you worried that the—or, do you think that there’s a serious possibility that the Republican leadership of both houses, which have been very strongly pro-Ukraine, will have to somehow yield to the statements that we’ve heard, especially from some Republican House members and candidates, who really don’t think the United States should be spending this much money to assist Ukraine?
REED: Well, I think it will definitely confuse the message, which so far has been extraordinarily unified from both sides, that we support the Ukrainians, we will give them what they need to win the battle. And that message could be muddled, which is something that Putin would like to see. And then we also have to understand that what we do has a tremendous effect on our NATO allies. And they are going to endure a very challenging winter with heat and other limitations. So again, there’s an incentive, I think, to continue to prevail on the battlefield, but use that leverage to try to at least reach of an understanding about hostilities.
RYAN: OK. I’d like to turn to China and pick up a little bit more about your remarks regarding autocracy versus democracy. So we’ve heard President Xi double down on China’s intent to continue its military rise as its economy slow, and also he has restated his opposition to independence for Taiwan. All of this would seem to validate the U.S. government’s desire to focus more strongly on China. But how do you think Russia’s current posture, and everything we’re seeing in and around Ukraine, will affect Washington’s ability to really execute this pivot which, as you know, has been delayed for many years now. (Laughs.)
REED: Yes. We’ve been pivoting for a while now.
REED: I think Xi is looking very closely at Russia and Ukraine. And I—there are some lessons that he might be drawing. One is that military operations are not sometimes as easy as they look on the planning boards. Two, I think he’s beginning to question, are his military officers as well-prepared as the Russians were? Are they honest with them about what they have? Or are they telling him what he wants to hear, which was the impression I had with Putin. Then I think he’s also looking at the way the world community has rallied around economically the Ukraine—the sanctions, et cetera.
There are growing economic problems in China. The GDP growth used to be 11-12 percent. It’s much less than that now. He’s got a fragile banking system. He’s got a series of problems within China itself. So I think he’s sort of weighing all of this. I certainly think if the Russians had succeeded in a few days, and particularly brandishing in the background a nuclear weapon, he would have been encouraged to be more strident about Taiwan. I think now he has to factor these things—these factors in.
RYAN: So do I hear you saying that these internal constraints may perhaps compensate for some of the reduced bandwidth that American military and national security leaders have at this moment to devote to China? I guess my question for you is, looking at the U.S. bureaucracy and our system’s ability to actually focus and devote the resources on China, do I hear you saying that maybe those two things balance each other out?
REED: No, I think what we have to do, and what we pledge to do, is to work closely with the government of Taiwan, right now under the auspices of the Taiwan Relations Act, to give them the capabilities to defend themselves, to make the island a difficult objective to the Chinese. So much so that the Chinese are not sure they can prevail or, in fact, hopefully, they think they can’t prevail. I think the other factor we have to analyze thought too, and this goes another reflection to Ukraine, is the fighting spirit and the commitment of the people of Taiwan to resisting China. If that is profound, as it is with the Ukrainians, and we can provide them the weapons systems that are asymmetric, then I think that then sends a very strong, strong message to the Chinese. And that’s the message we want to send.
RYAN: What is your take on President Biden’s recent comments about Taiwan and, you know, does there—is there—do you see the concept of strategic ambiguity being eroded? And do you think that that’s a good idea?
REED: Well, I see the strategic of strategic ambiguity being made more ambiguous. (Laughter.) And maybe that helps. I mean, maybe it helps. No, I—we still are, and I feel that the policy of strategic ambiguity makes sense. And we’ve talked to the intelligence community. If we make such strident declarations—now, the president’s comments might be seen as that. But if we do something much more official, legislatively, something like that, then I think it might the prompt the Chinese to move, to feeling that they have no alternative now. And, second, I think within Taiwan itself, the political dynamics would be very interesting. People who feel that they can declare independence might take a stronger view and put us in a situation that, again, would accelerate a Chinese response.
I think one other point should be made too, is that in the lead-up and with Speaker Pelosi’s visit, there was a very dramatic display of military power by the Chinese. I think that, like everything else over the last few months, was tied into the Community Party Congress, that Xi had to show that he was going to be so tough. So that was a political calculation. I think now that the congress is over, he’s into a position where he can be more deliberative, in some respects, but he doesn’t have the burden of essentially a political campaign.
RYAN: Just one more China question before we—China-related question, before we move on. I’ve heard you say that the way the United States can maintain its security edge is to be a couple of steps ahead of its adversaries. We’ve also seen, you know, China make these massive strikes in the last fifteen years to catapult its military technology and its capability ahead. Our defense innovation and procurement process has been widely regarded as cumbersome and, some people would even say, broken, with experts citing a calcified budgeting process, myriad congressional requirements, and DOD struggle to sort of piggyback on private sector advances. Given the varied routes of this problem that the U.S. system is facing, how do you think it can be fixed in time to avoid China overtaking the United States in key areas?
REED: It’s a serious problem. And, frankly, we have been trying to fix it for as long as I’ve been on the committee. I worked closely with both Senator McCain and Senator Inouye for reform. We’ve made some reforms. We’ve provided more discretion, in certain ways, to the department to be more progressive. We’re trying to support innovation. But I think we have to go much further. One of the problems we have, it’s a cultural problem, is that, one, we don’t like to fail. So rather than going ahead and making several mistakes with a platform, and failure, it has to be perfect. Some of the problems we’ve had is that we’ve gone into major defense systems without fully sort of designing them and evaluating the subcomponents, et cetera. That’s’ been a problem. And we’ve been searching, and we continue to search, for ways to break through that.
And I think there’s—we’ll make some progress in terms of particularly our computer-generated cyberworld, where once you have a cyber system in, and if you want to change it it’s not taking a piece of equipment and sending it back to the depot, having two years to design and test it. It can be done rather quickly, on the spot, by analysts and software engineers. So that’s one aspect of this. But this is a persistent problem. You know, we’re trying to innovate faster. We’re trying to be like, you know, Silicon Valley, in a way. And we run into cultural, institution, and all the problems you’ve said. We’re constantly trying to identify those problems and, to the best of our ability, eliminate them. Because we have to be fast, as well as ingenious.
RYAN: Let’s talk a little bit about democracy versus autocracy, as you referenced in your remarks. And I know this is a priority of yours and was laid out as a central aim in the—in President Biden’s new national security strategy. Even setting aside the own—problems in our own democratic system, which you—which you alluded to, how much do you think the United States undermines the push to convince the world about the benefits of democracy? How much is that effort undermined when the United States, at the same time, supports undemocratic allies, including some of the key partners in the United States like Saudi Arabia, Egypt? Do you think that that is a big problem?
REED: I think it is a problem. It, again, puts us in the complicated place of arguing for ideals but facing up to the cold realities of a world economy that needs fossil fuels at the moment. I think some of the changes that will be made, and we try to do this in the Inflation Reduction Act, is to get to the point where we are in a position economically where we could be much more consistent with our ideals. We just—we don’t depend on these countries. That would be, I think, a vast improvement and would help us. But we’ve always been in the conflict of, you know, realism versus idealism. And that’s a battle that goes back and forth.
RYAN: What do you think is next for the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia? Do you think that the United States should freeze military aid, as some of your congressional colleagues are suggesting? And what do you think about redirecting AMRAAMs that were supposed to go to the Middle East, or Patriots, to Ukraine, as your colleague from Connecticut has proposed? What do you think about that?
REED: Well, I think we should take steps vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, because their failure to help in Ukraine, together with their willingness to cooperate with Putin on a critical motion, it is upsetting, you know, not only the United States, but Europe’s defense and its independence, and its freedom. And I think we can’t let that go as just another—you know, another day at the office. I think we have to do something. The question is, what’s effective? What decision? What sends the right message without, you know, alienating the country to the degree that we’re not able to conduct basic relationships with them?
RYAN: Well, what do you think? What do you think—what would be the right calibration there?
REED: I think the right calibration is looking at some of these weapon systems. And I think also, by the way, sending AMRAAMs up into the Ukraine, I think the HIMARS have been so effective and, ironically—or, not ironically, but, you know, importantly—as the Ukrainians take more territory, the effective range of the HIMARS gets better. They get closer to the Russian forces, closer to those borders. So I wouldn’t do that. But I think, you know, suspending some of our military aid would be sending a signal.
RYAN: Yeah. And let me just maybe, very quickly before we open it up—one final question before we open it up to the members. On civil-military relations, which I know is an issue you care about deeply, what can be done? What do you think can—what Congress or the executive branch can do to bring the military out of the partisan crosshairs?
REED: Well, I think, first of all, that this is something with the professional military that should be discussed and debated. And we have individuals of great stature that can sort of hopefully lead today. I mean, you can’t cut off the political rights of a retired officer, but there has to be a standard of conduct, not just while on active duty but when you retire. And I think we’re seeing a situation where we don’t have a clear ethic for that in the profession. So I think it might begin there.
And I think it’s something that’s affected both sides. You know, when I started in the ’90s, it was rare to have any retired military general officer, particularly, to be actively involved, with some exceptions but very rare. In fact, you know, you have to go back to Douglas MacArthur’s address to the Republican National Committee as a reference point, you know. And he was, I think—I think the military profession reacted to that, like, you can’t do that. And so—but, the point, I think, is that—first, it has to take up the discussion within the ranks of miliary.
Second, we have to remind everyone, from private to four-star, that their obligation and oath is to the Constitution. And that means that they have to respect the constitutional imperatives. I mean, this idea of coming out and claiming the election was stolen and that the president’s not legitimate defies our basic constitution in which those issues are resolved by the courts after the vote, which was done in 2000. You know, Vice President Gore accepted the decision of the Supreme Court, constitutional decision. And then we’ve seen it before. So that’s something else we have to do. We have to really sort of remind people that this is about the Constitution.
One of the most sort of discouraging remarks, if we’re being polite, was when—it was attributed to former President Trump—that he preferred generals like Hitler’s generals. And he might not realize that, but those generals took an oath not to the country or constitution, but the Führer, to Hitler. And we can’t be in a country like that. We have to be in a country where it’s the Constitution. And again, it’s easy to talk about these issues in generalities, but how do we develop that spirit? How do we develop that ethical conduct that, you know, you refrain from doing things that are so antithetical to the Constitution that they hurt the country?
RYAN: All right. Well, I know that there are a lot of questions here among our members. We’re going to open it up. And as a reminder, this meeting is on the record. And we have questions from here in Washington and also online. Just a reminder, please identify yourself when you’re taking a question. We’ll start here in Washington. And actually, this gentleman with the red tie has his hand raised early, but I see many others. So we’ll try to get to as many as we can.
Q: Senator—is this working—pleasure to see you in a different milieu for a change.
Q: And Jeff Bialos. I’m a partner in a law firm in Washington, was in the Defense Department a while back.
Two points that are admittedly very unrelated. One is, you know, everyone thought—the consensus view when the Ukraine situated started was two weeks and Russia would be done with it. How did we, how did the Defense Department, get the evaluation of Russian military capabilities, which we’ve been studying for generations, wrong? And is there any effort underway to take a look at that, and what’s the implications for looking at our other potential adversaries and our ability to evaluate and understand their capabilities?
REED: Well, that goes right back to my point about Taiwan. I mean, we really do have to get a sense of how committed they are from the top, not just the generals but people in the street who are willing, like the Ukrainians, to fight. We definitely did get it wrong. The intelligence estimates that I were hearing were four days they’d be in Kyiv. And I think part of that was, first, kind of maybe subtle and subliminal, but the impact on their operations in Crimea, where they moved in very decisively. But we forget, that was a very strongly Russian part of Ukraine. They actually had military bases on the ground where they could organize and come out. But I think that that influenced it.
And then the biggest issue would be the fact that it’s the intangibles that are tough to measure. We can count the tanks, and they had a lot of tanks. We can count the ammo and the troops and had a lot of that stuff. But we couldn’t count the fighting skills of the Ukrainians and the Russians. One thing I think we forget too is we’ve been training the Ukrainian troops since 2014. And a lot of credit goes to the special forces and the California National Guard. They did a wonderful job. Eight years ago, those young people were privates, et cetera. Now they’re noncommissioned officers and battalion-level officers. And they did a remarkable job. They were well-trained.
On the other side, and this was one we missed, the Russian forces appeared to be poorly trained, poorly equipped, not particularly disciplined. Their general officers—or, their NCOs and the mid-level officers didn’t function. That’s why so many general officers were killed. They were on the front lines. So we did miscalculate that. We thought it was going to be a swift victory. And we are looking very hard, as we always do, about, hey, what did we miss? And more importantly, how do we apply what we missed to the next issue we’re analyzing?
Q: I was just going to make one other point, which is: What do you think about what we need to do about recruitment, given what—the challenges we’ve read about recently?
REED: Well, I think we have significant problems with recruitment for several reasons. First of all, the inclination of American young people to join the service has declined dramatically. I think it’s 9 percent of the objective population. Second, there’s only about 25 percent of that cohort that could serve because of physical issues and mental issues. So you’re taking several hundred thousand and reducing that dramatically. The other aspect here is that we’re becoming a much more insular military force. If you look at the recruits, a significant number of them come from military families. And it’s become a family profession. The other aspect of this has become regionalized. And so it’s the South, Midwest, and the West. And so it’s all shrinking, and also becoming a more insular organization. And we have to counter that.
Now, they’re out working hard with campaigns and advertising. They’ve got a—we want to enhance some of the benefits with the troops, et cetera. But this is an issue that’s not going away. And one of the other factors that’s not going away, it’s tough to recruit when there’s 3.5 percent unemployment. And when you drive through—I drove through Cumberland, Rhode Island, and a sign, you know, at a factory: machine shop, start $26 an hour. For young kids who might have five years ago, ten years ago say, hey, oh, I’ll go into the service, et cetera, it’s like, hey, this is great. I’m going to—so it’s a challenge. I don’t have an easy answer for you, but we have to continue to recruit.
RYAN: OK. We’re going to take our next question from the online members.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Michael Poznansky.
Q: Great. Thanks, Senator Reed, for a great conversation. Mike Poznansky. I’m an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College in the great state of Rhode Island.
My question is about the Biden administration’s announcement of these new limits on semiconductors exports to China, with the aim of hampering their ability to develop advanced weapon systems, among other things. You know, some commentators worry that even if the policy makes sense, China could lash out in some way. So in your view, how can the United States balance competition with China, including measures such as these, without accelerating, as you put earlier, unwanted responses? Thanks so much.
REED: No, it’s an excellent question. I do think we have to be much more rigorous in terms of what American property we’re allowing to go into China. The Washington Post, I think you’ve heard of that, had a wonderful article today about American technology, which is absolutely essential in the development of hypersonic weapons. So the Commerce Department, I think, has to correct that. At this juncture, I would rather overreact in terms of denying access to sophisticated American technology, even if it produces a reaction on the Chinese part, because, again, this competition we talked about before, we have to be technologically fast and innovative and regain our lead against China. And thank you for being at the Naval War College. (Laughter.)
RYAN: All right. I’m going to take a question from the—in the front row, as well.
Q: Senator Reed, thank you. Kimberly Reed, former chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. And I bet I’m the only person in the room who’s had the honor of testifying before you four times. (Laughs.)
So you also serve on the Banking Committee, as well as doing a great job on Armed Services. And so when I was at Ex-Im, I took a really hard look at expanding Ex-Im’s authority. And of course, Congress would have to do this, and you’re perfectly positioned. Expanding Ex-Im’s authority to support defense articles and services. So the law says right now that we can’t, but I would encourage you to take a look at our partner and allied countries, as well as China and Russia and their Ex-Ims and what they’re doing. I believe right now—I’m not there—but I believe Ex-Im has on their book maybe $40 to $50 billion of lending. And it can to go 135 (billion dollars). So I’m just curious your view on that, because you can stick that in a vehicle now or as Ex-Im gets reauthorized, hopefully, in 2026.
REED: Well, thank you for spelling your name correctly. (Laughter.) I appreciate that very much. No, I think we have to use Ex-Im very creatively to support what we’re trying to do by building alliances. And one that comes to mind is AUKUS with Britain, Australia, and the United States. And we’re trying to operationalize that now, just not passing data back and forth. You know, we’re committed to collaborate with the Australians in building a submarine which will not be identical to what we do but will have many common components and be able to operate with our ships, our ballistic missile submarines. And Great Britain has our ballistic submarines.
So I think that’s an example. If we could, you know, provide resources in the Ex-Im Bank to encourage participation in programs like that, it would be really important and helpful. There’s another small example. Saab has a small subsidiary in Rhode Island, and they are producing ASW anti-submarine warfare drones, or autonomous vehicles so that ships can maneuver against them as if they were a submarine. The British have bought a bigger version of it, which, again, if we buy this version then we’re going to have a situation where we have operational compatibility. And I think the more we do that, the better off we’ll be.
And then finally, the big challenge, is we have to be able to communicate with our allies. And so in terms of electronic encrypted communications that can touch every place, that’s the biggest challenge we’re facing at the moment. And Ex-Im can help in terms of identifying companies that could be participating in that.
RYAN: OK. Let’s go back to the virtual members.
OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Chris Thomas.
Q: Good morning. Thank you for the time today. Chris Thomas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Also sitting here in China as an expat.
When you think about our defense capabilities, they’re very impressive across the board. But when you really drill into anything regarding the industrial base, just the core industrial base, to deliver big metal things that blow things up, China’s industrial base is now larger across the board in nearly all aspects. And then if you look at specifically things around naval shipyards and the other, it’s not even relevant. What can we do to reinitiate and restart the building of that industrial base? And are there any sort of innovative public-private partnerships or other things that can be done in order to sort of accelerate our ability to build stuff in a competitive manner with the Chinese?
REED: Well, you’re right. My understanding is that the Chinese have sixteen first-class shipyards. We have four, roughly. And just in sheer volume, they can churn out lots of ships which are dual purpose. They can be commercial, but quickly adapted into military use. That’s just one example. The biggest thing we did was, of course, the CHIPS Plus Science Act. That will start—it already has started the reshoring of chip production from overseas. And the principal countries that produce chips nowadays are South Korea, China, and Taiwan. And which are in a complicated area, to understate it. (Laughs.) So we’re trying to do that. That’s not going to happen immediately, but we finally decided we have to have, you know, chip production in the United States significantly.
We’re also trying to identify the supply chains. We’ve done that through authorization of the National Defense Act, so that we know where things are coming from. One of the shocks of the COVID crisis is we woke up and discovered our protection gear was made in China. We discovered that, you know, the part we bought from an Iowa company, most of the subcomponents was in China. And now we’re beginning to track the industrial base, see where it is.
One thing we’ve done, and this happened a few years ago, we were concerned about the ability to continue to produce two Virginia-class submarines a year and a new ballistic submarine, the Columbia. So what we did is authorize the submarine industrial base fund about $150 million. And that is used by the Navy and the contractors to go down and help subcontractors stay current in technique, have the ability to do very sophisticated work, and also to make sure their cyber protections are adequate. And that’s a model I think that can be exported to other aspects of production—aircraft production, et cetera.
But we’ve built—and we’re all sort of part of the process—starting in the ’90s, this very, very efficient global supply chain. Then we discovered, in COVID, it wasn’t robust and it was not—it was positioned in places that are, in some cases, not favorable to us at all. And we are reconstituting or trying to reconstitute that supply chain, not just in the United States, but in closely affiliated countries, like Great Britain, Australia, and other European countries. So that’s part of the answer.
RYAN: OK. So I think we—let’s try to go over to this side of the audience. In the middle there, the gentleman with the glasses? Yes, exactly. I think there’s a microphone for you right there, sir.
Q: I’m Whitney Debevoise from Arnold & Porter.
You have talked about this competition between liberal democracy and autocracy. And you said it needs to be nuanced. So I would like to hear more about nuance, because just on its face basically you’re saying we have to have regime change in a lot of places. And I just wonder how that works in an international relations context.
REED: No, I don’t think it’s about regime change. I think it’s about being present in countries and being sensitive not just to their—just a political establishment, but the issues that we have in common. Climate change is one issue. We could be much more effective helping countries all across the globe dealing with climate change. And that, I think, would give us great benefits. But, you know, we’re trying to get there, but we’re not there yet.
The point I want to make is that if we simply go, for example, in the Pacific and say, listen, you’ve got to deal with us because those Chinese folks are bad people, there are countries that have significant trade with China. They have relationships. They’ve done deals with them. I think they’re going to look at us and say: No. But, if we’re there saying, listen, how can we help you? And oh, by the way, we think we can do it in a more effective way, doing without shaking you down, which sometimes the Chinese do at the end of the day. And we want to help you. And I think that kind of engagement is—I would call it nuanced—but I think that’s the kind of engagement that’s going to be effective for us. And it’s more consistent with our approach. You know, we want to be a source for good and improvement for the world. We’re not looking just for a trade advantage with someone.
RYAN: All right. Let’s go to another member online.
OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Tom Davis.
Q: Hello, Senator Reed. Tom Davis. Company—you know, class of ’72, your former West Point faculty colleague in the Department of social sciences. (Laughter.) Always good to see you.
REED: All right, but don’t talk about the Military Education Foundation dinner, OK? (Laughter.)
Q: I will not bring it up. (Laughter.) Changing pace here a little bit, to something which is kind of more on the order of housekeeping, I think you’ve got something like twenty senior defense position nominations sitting in the committee right now. What’s your prospects of getting those through the committee and confirmed? It seems like we’ve had a process that gets slower and slower all the time.
REED: Well, you’re absolutely right, Tom. And it’s been deliberate on the part of some of my Republican colleagues to insist upon—you know, even when we bring a nominee to the floor, that we can’t do it as we did in the old days, unanimous consent, in about two hours, et cetera. The other factor, too, is one that is on our side, really. Is that there’s been an incredible emphasis on confirming judges to the court. And once again, we run into the situation where despite the qualities of the judge, every moment is squeezed out by the Republicans in terms of, you know, running out the clock. And that slows down our ability to get, you know, nominees from other departments through.
So it’s a combination, I think, of those two factors, but it’s—again, we all pine for the good old days. Usually Defense Department nominees, unless there was a serious problem, went through by voice vote. Or there was a vote quickly established, and if you had a problem you’d vote against the person and, you know, they didn’t move on. That’s not the case now. There’s a new sort of method or procedure. And we have to do something about it. Now, how can we resolve this? A lot of this will turn on the election. If there’s a Democratic Senate in the next term, then we have a little more flexibility to move off of judges and move onto other departments. If we lose the majority, which is fifty-fifty at the moment, then I think there’ll be an all-out push to get as many judges as possible confirmed. And that’ll interfere with the ability to get DOD people in.
It doesn’t—it’s annoying, in a way, because we’re talking about people who play key roles in ensuring the safety and the welfare of men and women in the field. And I’m disappointed that some of my colleagues don’t recognize that.
RYAN: Well, I know we all really want to hear about that dinner, but—(laughter)—we’ll go to maybe the gentleman in the second row, right there.
Q: Hi, Senator. Thanks for doing this. Jamie Morin with The Aerospace FFRDC. But I’m really asking this question as a member of the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform Commission.
You know, you talked a lot about Ukraine. And I’m reminded of a military leader who spent a lot of time fighting the Russians who said that the moral is to material as three to one. And we probably saw that. You said upfront how our constitutional process is one of our moral strengths. And Napoleon didn’t beat the Russians, but the Ukrainians seem to be. Do you see Congress thinking in new ways about its role as custodian of the public purse, and the flexibility that Congress delegates to the executive branch in applying resources, in order to achieve the agility that members like you have argued is required. We have a tension there, and we all want to protect the core principles that the republic’s founded on.
REED: No. We have tried to open up rather small, I think. There’s a provision for contracts under $10 million to basically not have to follow all of the routines of the regulations for contracts, et cetera. That, I think, we could think about expanding. But that’s not a breakthrough. That’s just an improvement. Part of it is the—is aggressively for the services, I think, reaching out to those small, innovative companies, and finding them, and then getting them through the valley of death. Now, we’ve got the SBIR grants, which are very, very good. But we could probably sort of use that system and maybe design it to get through the valley of death. But it’s—we’re seeing, you know, a situation where our private industry is so more adept, and fast, and speedy. And yet, we’re trying to resolve those lessons, but we haven’t addressed them yet. And it’s a constant sort of effort.
One of the issues too, frankly, is that, you know, our professional civilian employees, a lot are retiring. It’s difficult to recruit. We talked about recruiting in the military, it’s difficult to recruit civilians with expertise—particularly that kind of expertise in the world of computer technologies, and sales, and all those things. So this—we’re looking for any good ideas. So please, send us your ideas, you know?
RYAN: All right. We, I think, have time for one maybe two more. The gentleman in the blue blazer there.
Q: Good evening, sir. Thank you for joining us. My name is Phil Caruso. I’m the chairman and executive director of No One Left Behind, which is an organization that helps evacuate and resettle Afghan special immigrant visa recipients.
By the State Department’s latest estimate, there was over 160,000 SIV applications and their families that remain left behind in Afghanistan that are being evacuated by the State Department at a rate of around 150 a week, which will take decades to get through. Almost every piece of legislation that has touched the Afghan SIV program has been done using the NDAA and through your committee. So my question to you is, what are you and your committee doing to make sure that we evacuate those people as quickly as possible, given the implications not only for them and our moral obligation to them, but also to our national security in the future, when we’re trying to present an image of being credible partners to allies around the world?
REED: Well, I must commend Senator Shaheen particularly on the committee, who’s been a real leader on this. And her legislation is going to, we hope, provide resources and support. One of the issues is that State Department has played such a great role in this, and we need a lot more effort from the State Department to get it done. And it is, as you pointed out, you know, we’re leaving a bad example of people who help us, and then we can’t get them out. One of the issues, I think, is that—and this was a very, very sensitive issue—is had we started really moving SIVs out, let’s say, right after the Doha agreement, would that have signaled that, you know, this place is going to fall apart?
So I think throughout there was this tension of trying to maintain the stability of the Afghan government and also a lot of the talent. Many of these people are certainly talented. And then it came in a rush, I think, going back to intelligence estimates we talked about before. The timeframe that we were hearing, it started—it was shrinking. It went from six months where the gown and gavel would hold to less and less and less. But it never got down to the point where we didn’t think we’d have a window to accelerate SIVs. And then, of course, within hours after Ghani left, the whole Afghan army collapsed. And we were in a position of doing an evacuation. And a NEO operation is the most complicated military operation you can think of.
But we still have that obligation. What we don’t want to do, the most tragic thing would be, to sort of forget about it, not have something that we’re showing we’re still there and we’re still trying to coordinate. Those evacuees we’ve got back in the United States that came out with us have already been dispersed throughout the country. And actually, they’re doing a remarkable job in terms of, you know, working hard here in America. And they’re an asset to us. So getting these people out is going to help this country as much as it is going to be the just or the right thing to do.
Q: But what are you doing to fix the situation? There’s still 160,000 left behind. The rest of it, totally understand. It’s kind of water under the bridge now. We’ve got to help these people. What is the Senate doing? What’s your committee doing?
REED: Well, the principal responsibility for it, as I said, is on the Foreign Relations Committee in terms of the State Department for identifying and getting them through the procedures. We’re trying to encourage them to do that. I don’t want to be too specific, but I can get back to you directly with specifications in the NDAA. And then also, it’s a process. We still have our conference committee and we can still keep working it. In fact, I would encourage you to let us know what you think we should be doing—(laughs)—because—
Q: I’m talking to your staff, sir, so we can talk afterwards.
Q: So we can talk afterwards.
REED: Oh, OK. Well, you know, you can—ex officio.
RYAN: All right. Well, I really—I know that there are a lot more questions and, unfortunately, we have to leave it here to respect everyone’s time. But I want to thank you so much, Chairman Reed, for being here tonight and having such a great discussion with us. And thanks, everyone, for joining this hybrid meeting. And just to note that the video and transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on the CFR website. And again, thank you and have a good evening. (Applause.)
REED: Thank you.