Strong Military Needed to Fend Off 'Existential Threat,' Ex-Senator Says

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Declaring that the United States faces an "existential threat," a former senator said Friday the military should be expanded and its funding increased so that the nation's defense forces can be prepared.

Jim Talent, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation that the United States must "be prepared even for threats that we do not immediately see because the one thing we know is that we are going to face threats that we were not able to foresee."

Talent said he believes the United States is "in at least as dangerous a situation as we were during the Cold War."

Although there is no longer the threat of a massive nuclear attack as during that earlier era, the nation does face an "existential threat" if terrorists obtain a non-conventional device, the former senator said.

"Most precisely, if the terrorists are able to get a weapon of mass destruction, and particularly a nuclear weapon, we face a serious existential threat because the old concepts of deterrence do not apply in that kind of a model," he said.

"Since they have no national base -- at least no national base that they care about -- they're not deterable in the same sense that the Soviets were, or other national entities are [today] that get a nuclear weapon," Talent said.

"We face the rising power of China and ahead of schedule," Talent added. "I don't think they need to be an enemy, but it is something that we have to account for."

He said keeping a strong military is "one of the underpinnings designed to keep them from becoming an enemy."

Talent also echoed sentiments expressed recently by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying that, "We face, if not the collapse, the decline of democracy in Russia, along with - if recent statements are to be believed - increasing hostility there."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Russian leaders were upset when Gates told the House Armed Services Committee that in addition to terrorism, "we also face the danger posed by Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions and ... the uncertain paths of Russia and China, which are both pursuing sophisticated military modernization programs."

Talent called on Congress to spend at least four percent of gross domestic product on the core military budget. He also urged Congress to commit to continue funding the military, even in times that do not appear to hold threats.

"Unless you can sustain that funding year in and year out," Heritage scholar James Carafano said in a discussion after Talent's speech, "you're going to wind up right back where we were in [1973] with a hollow force."

Carafano said that "everyone" is in favor of funding the military now but asked "how many people are going to be for that in three or four years when the force structure in Iraq is going to be zero, or even 20,000 or 30,000, and the will for that's going away? People are going to look at other issues."

"Unless the nation stands up and recognizes that regardless of whether you want to invade an Iraq and Afghanistan, or you just want to sit at home, this country needs an army that can serve the nation and you can't do that on the cheap," Carafano said.

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