Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe questions Austin

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Biden Cabinet National Security
Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin, a recently retired Army general, greets Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., before a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday in Washington.AP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned President-elect Joe Biden’s intended nominee for Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, Tuesday at the committee’s hearing to consider the nomination.

Inhofe highlighted several of his priorities for the Department of Defense: continuing to implement the National Defense Strategy and providing a defense budget to support that strategy, maintaining support for the nuclear triad and sustaining a meaningful military presence in Africa.

Following is a transcript of the questioning:

Inhofe: Thank you, General Austin, great statement. You heard my comments, General Austin, about the document, the National Defense Strategy. You’re familiar with this, I’m sure you’ve read it many times. What do you think about its relevance today? Have you seen changes should be made in this, or what’s your feeling today, contemporarily, about this statement?

Austin: I think much of the document is absolutely on track for today’s challenges. Mr. Chairman. As is the case with all strategies, if confirmed, one of the things that I would look to do is to work to update the strategy and work within the confines of the guidance of the policy issued by the next administration.

Inhofe: Yeah, that’s right, and the guidance also from this document, I think, is still relevant today. In this document, the previous two Secretaries of Defense, Secretary Mattis and Secretary Esper, both agreed that that document prescribed that we’d probably need a three to five percent rate, real growth in defense budget, effectively, in the coming years. Do you agree generally with that statement?

Austin: Well, Mr. Chairman, as I said in the opening statement, I believe that our resources need to match our strategy, and our strategy needs to match our policy.

Inhofe: I would assume that would be yes. I know others were going to be asking about the civilian and military relations, I know that, but let me cover a couple of things that I think are important. On the nuclear triad – a lot of people who are at different ideas on what we should do and priorities we have in our defense system, that they try to whittle away at the nuclear triad, and we have always felt in the secretaries of defense that nuclear deterrence is – do you agree with them, their assessment, that nuclear deterrence, is the DOD’s highest priority mission?

Austin: I do, Mr. Chairman.

Inhofe: And you agree that the triad, the land-, air- and sea-based nuclear delivery platforms, are still necessary, even though we do hear a lot of arguments that two of the three would be adequate. What do you think?

Austin: Mr. Chairman, I believe that the triad has served as well in the past, and I certainly believe that it will continue to do so going forward, and I personally support the triad.

Inhofe: Good. We’ve had kind of a forgotten continent for a long period of time in Africa. I can remember when Africa was in three different commands. It was in the PACOM, the Central Command and in the EUCOM. And we came along with AFRICOM, and I think things have really improved since that time. I think it’s a critical theater for implementing this National Defense Strategy that we have. We see China all over – people talk about the South China Sea, about their building of the islands and all these things that are going on, but they forget that China has for the first time left their city limits to support a major objective on their behalf, and that’s in Djibouti. That’s not just in Djibouti but all throughout [Africa] as far south as that southern part of Tanzania. It’s very active in that area. I would ask you right now, we have some 6,000 DOD personnel on the continent. I know there’s been an effort in this last administration to be reducing in some areas what our presence, what our resources, how they should be put out. My feeling was that we had inadequate resources to start, with only 6,000 in the entire continent. Do you have any thoughts given to that, in terms of the resources that we need to use in that part of the world?

Austin: Mr. Chairman, Africa, like some other places in the world, has been has been one of those places where we’ve been able to gain good effect with a small amount of investment by helping our partners to increase their ability to defend their sovereign territory and to protect themselves.

Inhofe: That’s excellent. We have to keep in mind that many of our closest allies are there right now, and if we should deteriorate our presence in any way, we would – I have a feeling they would do the same thing so I appreciate that very much. One last thing I want to touch on because it is a current issue. Ever since the International Court of Justice ruled way back in 1975, I believe it was, that we have in Western Sahara – we supported a referendum for self-determination. Now, the United States has that done that ever since the 1970s, the UN has done that since the 1970s, the African Union has done that and most all of the 52 nations of Africa have all stated that the Western Sahara should have a referendum for self-determination. What do you think?

Austin: Well, that’s an issue that certainly would want to take a closer look at, Mr. Chairman, before I gave you a detailed answer. That is one of the things that I’ll look at, if confirmed, right away, going into the position.

Inhofe: Yeah, and I’d like to have you keep in mind that they have been consistent for so many years, and so I would anticipate that your feelings would be the same.

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