National Guard — January 2012
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Sen. Patrick Leahy And Sen. Lindsey Graham

A New National Security Consensus

This year, amid contentious debates and legislative gridlock on issues ranging from budget policy to foreign policy, a new forward-looking national security consensus has quietly formed in Congress around an issue at the core of our national security, and with the National Guard as a foundational element.

From May to November, one by one, 71 senators stepped forward to add their support to our Senate bill, S.1025, which we called “Guard Empowerment II.”

The provisions of this bill built upon the first Guard Empowerment bill, enacted in 2008, which elevated the chief of the National Guard Bureau to the rank of four-star general. Our follow-on effort makes the chief a statutory member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Despite the opposition of active-component generals in the Pentagon—including all six sitting Joint Chiefs—a bipartisan congressional consensus formed around S. 1025. Late last year, our bill was included as an amendment to become law as part of the annual defense authorization bill.

This new consensus comes as the budget debates of this Congress have fractured the Cold War national security consensus of the last half century. While those fractures were an inevitable outcome of the end of the Soviet empire, what will replace the Cold War consensus remains unclear.

Some in Congress argue for diplomatic and military retrenchment from every corner of the globe back to Fortress America. Others believe that we must expand, not shrink, our international footprint. Yet nearly everyone agrees that budgetary factors must mean a change in the way the Pentagon does business—and that change cannot wait.

The seeds of that change were sown a decade ago. In the weeks and months after 9/11, the former “strategic reserve” became, of necessity, fully operational. The National Guard and Reserve, once a Cold War failsafe, were called into regular rotation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our country simply could not field the forces we needed without calling on the Guard and Reserve. Simultaneously, America experienced domestic disasters on an unprecedented scale. In each situation, the president called on the National Guard as the military first responders to help citizens in need.

Today, the metamorphosis from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve is complete.

The size of the active components will contract under the weight of current budgetary realities and to reflect the framers’ constitutional vision of a small standing army augmented by a larger cadre of citizen soldiers. Simultaneously, the Guard and Reserve must grow so that those cuts to the active force can be quickly and easily reversed if the circumstances demand it.

Just a year ago, no one predicted our operations to oust Moammar Gadhafi. In a world where military needs change day by day, we must not hollow out the force. To avoid that outcome in a period of austere budgets, we must depend more and more on the National Guard and Reserve.

The necessity of a growing National Guard is the new national security consensus, at least here in the Congress. And just as we passed Goldwater-Nichols reforms of 1986 over the objections of the service chiefs, we are ready to help the Pentagon adapt to today’s national security realities.

Adding the chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a major success in that effort and a monumental step forward.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus.