Your 2017-2018 National Membership Polos will be going on sell soon. If you are interested, an order form can be found under Forms on our Resources page or you can click here.
Your 2017-2018 National Membership Polos will be going on sell soon. If you are interested, an order form can be found under Forms on our Resources page or you can click here.
The American Legion
April 27, 2017
The American Legion Family has called upon Congress to designate May 26, 2017, as National Poppy Day to expand awareness and provide support everywhere for all who have served and sacrificed in the U.S. armed forces.
“The American Legion is pleased to bring Poppy Day to the United States, joining countries around the world who use the symbolic flower to remember our fallen and support the living,” American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt said.
This year, the Boeing Company is premier sponsor to help The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion and American Legion Riders increase public understanding of the poppy, its meaning and the ways in which it can be used to help veterans today and remember those who have served in the past.
The American Legion Auxiliary has been conducting a Poppy Program for many years and their members’ raise over $6 million annually to provide support for veterans, military servicemembers and their families.
“By wearing poppies on May 26, we honor every U.S. servicemember who has given his or her life in the name of liberty, freedom and democracy,” Schmidt wrote in the May issue of The American Legion Magazine. “At the same time, by wearing this simple red flower, we show our support for veterans of generations to come.”
A new website at www.legion.org/poppyday offers multiple ways The American Legion Family can expand awareness locally and regionally. Included on the site are media tools, message points, sample proclamations for elected officials and easy access to the American Legion Emblem Sales “Poppy Shop,” which offers an assortment of affordable items including the new National Poppy Day pin, kits for making lapel poppies for distribution, fundraising containers, charms, scarves and more.
Also through the website, National Poppy Day donors can make safe, secure contributions with their credit cards and dedicate their gifts to personally honor veterans now living or in memory of those who have passed. All donations directly support military veterans and families through American Legion programs.
The site also provides, under the heading “Get Involved,” a new set of media tools and promotions that can be modified for local use, including press releases, sample social media posts and downloadable high-resolution graphics. The “History” section of the site has a full-color, downloadable poster featuring the poem “In Flanders Fields,” which led to the red poppy’s emergence as an international symbol of military sacrifice.
American Legion Family members who plan poppy distributions and similar commemorations around May 26 and the week leading into Memorial Day are urged to use the hashtags #PoppyDay and #LegionFamily so activities can be shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
American Legion Riders participating in their annual Run to Thunder event in Washington, D.C., as well as chapters conducting local rides heading into Memorial Day weekend, are also planning to make the red poppy a visible symbol of sacrifice and encouraging the public to wear or otherwise display poppies to honor those who have served.
The American Legion designated the red poppy as its official flower at the organization’s second national convention, Sept. 27, 1920. Since then, members of The American Legion Family have raised awareness in communities, inspired by the 1915 poem of Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., who saw firsthand from the front lines of World War I the emergence of red poppies around the graves and in the battle zones where blood was shed to protect freedom and democracy. He put that image into words:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
A video from the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball in January 2017 features Korean War veteran, California Legionnaire and actor James McEachin onstage reciting the complete poem, which was written in May 1915 and published on Dec. 8 of that year.
Miller says he got involved in volunteering, “Due to the fact that the Vietnam Veterans were ignored and mistreated and misdiagnosed for years after they returned home. I just wanted to make positive experiences to help all Veterans and also to help them with their issues for health and benefits.
“I speak to youth about how important it is to honor all our Veterans.”
“And after I was diagnosed with my cancer and in a wheelchair for five years, I kept volunteering to not think about my illnesses as well as to help other Veterans with the same problems. This was self medication for me as well.”
The National American Legion Hospital Representative at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, Miller has volunteered for 27 years and finds the most emotional part of his volunteering is the interest he takes in the hospice and the really sick and disabled Veterans. “It made me thankful for my life, being a cancer survivor.’
He and his wife Kathy Ann live in Largo, Florida. His two grown sons, Jeremiah and Adam, live in Orlando. “They have accomplished so much in their lives.”
Miller says his only real hobby is, “Speaking to children and youth about the importance of patriotism and how important it is to honor all our Veterans. They provide the protection that allows them to enjoy the freedoms that they take for granted.”
And he encourages them to volunteer. “I would hope we can start getting more younger people and younger Veterans to volunteer at our VA hospitals and in the community. They would get so much satisfaction from helping our heroes from the past, present and future. Our Veterans are the life blood of this great country of ours. We must make sure that is never forgotten in all our future generations.”
As part of his volunteer duties, Miller visit patients daily and meets several times a week with Veterans them with their claims and benefits. “I also am an advocate for all Veterans who need help with appointments or any other issues at the hospital or in the community.” He also speaks with young Veterans at MacDill Air Force Base who need guidance or help with any VA issues when they leave the service.
Miller adds, “I would just like to say that I am honored and humbled to accept this great accolade as National Volunteer of the Year. With all the service organizations that are involved, there are so many deserving people that should have won this award. I love to help Veterans in all facets of their lives both at the VA and in the community. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to donate my time for such a worthy cause! God Bless our Veterans and God Bless our great country.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, The American Legion is hosting a day trip to the Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona. Join other women veterans on a visit to the hospital campus and learn about facilities and services dedicated to your specific needs.
If interested in attending, please sign-up now.
Please share this flyer and help us get the word out.
Good afternoon all –
In accordance with United States Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7(m), the president of the United States has issued a proclamation for the United States Flag to be displayed at half-staff to honor the memory of former NASA astronaut and Senator John Glenn beginning today and continuing until sunset on the day of interment .
The proclamation may be found on the White House WebPages at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/09/presidential-proclamation-death-john-glenn-0.
Michael D. Buss
Deputy Director, Americanism Division
Phone 317.630.1207 :: Fax 317.630.1369
Sign up to receive half-staff flag notifications @ http://www.legion.org/flag.
Flag at half-staff
In accordance with United States Code Title 36, Chapter 1, Section 129, the president of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation (per Flag Code section 7(m)) for the United States Flag to be displayed at half-staff for the entire day (sunrise to sunset) for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Wednesday, December 7.
When issued, the proclamation will be found on the White House website, it can be read by clicking here.
American Legion supports flag-desecration penalty, as decided by Congress, after amendment
WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2016 — The American Legion supports President-elect Donald Trump’s position that there should be some penalty for U.S. flag desecration, which would be decided by Congress if it chooses to enact such legislation, after the flag-protection constitutional amendment is ratified.
“In our campaign to restore the power of Congress to protect the American flag – a power taken away by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision – we’ve been told that no one burns the flag anymore,” said Richard Parker, Harvard law professor and chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance. In fact, says Parker, flag desecration occurs on a frequent basis nationwide.
Parker is available to speak with reporters about flag protection. Those interested should contact American Legion national media liaison Stacy Gault at 202-705-8319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flag protection has been a cornerstone of The American Legion since its founding. The organization held the first Flag Conference in 1923 that laid the groundwork for U.S. Flag Code, which still provides guidelines for flag respect.
In June 1990, the Supreme Court upheld that the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional. Subsequently, The American Legion and other groups formed the Citizens Flag Alliance, which now includes more than 140 organizations campaigning together an effort to pass a flag-protection amendment.
The Citizens Flag Alliance has pushed legislation in nearly every session of Congress since 1990 stating, “Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”
The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization with 2.2 million members in more than 13,000 posts in communities worldwide. The Legion, established by an act of Congress in 1919, was instrumental in creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs and passage of the GI Bill.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2016 — The American Legion will host a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and representatives from nearly 30 other veterans service organizations Thursday at 8 a.m. According to the transition team, the veteran-focused meeting is the first between Trump’s team and any outside organization.
Throughout his campaign President-elect Trump identified veterans’ issues as among his top priorities and the purpose of the meeting is for his staff to hear the questions and concerns of the veterans service organizations.
Directly following the meeting at the American Legion Headquarters, 1608 K St., NW, Washington, D.C., representatives from veterans organizations will offer their remarks during a press conference and be available for individual interviews.
To attend the press conference, please contact the American Legion Media Relations Office for press credentials by 4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 30.
The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization with 2.2 million members in more than 13,000 posts in communities across America. The Legion, established by an act of Congress in 1919, was instrumental in getting the original GI Bill through Congress and the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Media Contact: Stacy Gault, Assistant Media Relations Manager, 202-705-8319, email@example.com
By Henry Howard ~ The 2016 election season has been characterized by its uniqueness, polarization, bravado and potential for history in the making, regardless of who moves into the White House in January. What’s been lost in most media coverage is an examination of where the presidential nominees of the two major political parties stand on the issues, particularly those of greatest interest to the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization.
The American Legion conducted exclusive one-on-one interviews with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump in August. (While some third-party candidates have received more support than in previous elections, The American Legion followed the lead of the presidential debate committee on inclusion of other candidates. At deadline, however, no third-party candidates had reached the threshold to be included in the debates and therefore are not in this question-and-answer coverage.)
The interviews with Clinton and Trump, which were conducted while both candidates visited Florida, focused on issues of importance to American Legion members, other veterans, U.S. servicemembers and their families. Both shared their views on VA health care, defense spending, border security and more.
Here are excerpts from the interviews:
Veterans have faced long wait times and other problems while trying to receive health care or benefits decisions at VA. What is your recommendation to solve this?
Clinton:I am outraged at the long waits and other scandals that emerged over the last several years that have really disadvantaged veterans and broken the bond that we should be treasuring between ourselves and our vets. I am going to do everything I can to accelerate efforts under way to fix problems in the system. I’m going to create a President’s Council for Veterans because we need that emphasis. I want to be sure we are fixing the problems, but not creating an opening for those who have advocated for the privatization of the VA health system. That would be a terrible mistake and would make access to treatment, particularly specialized treatment, even more difficult for a significant number of our vets.
I want to do a better job linking up DoD, TRICARE and VA. This remains a big stumbling block because people who leave the service often don’t even get their records, and if they do, it’s often disorganized. It’s not as seamless as it should be.
I take this as a high priority at the beginning of my presidency and will work on it every single day until we get it in as strong shape as possible.
Trump: Veterans have so many problems with VA. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are not being treated right. Their wait times – five, six, seven days, maybe even longer. Sometimes they don’t even get to see a doctor. The guiding principle of the Trump Veterans Plan is ensuring veterans have convenient and timely access to top-quality care. The veterans health system will remain a public system because it’s a public trust. But never again will we allow veterans to suffer or die waiting for care. One of the things we’re going to do is that if they can’t see a VA doctor, they are going to find a local doctor. It can be private – most likely it will be private – or they can go to a hospital outside that’s different from where they can’t get in or where they can’t go through the lines. This could be a public or private hospital, and we will pay the bills and take care of them. These are great people and we will take care of them properly.
Many servicemembers are returning from the current wars with PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST) and/or traumatic brain injury (TBI). If elected, what would you recommend DoD and/or VA do to address and improve treatment in these areas?
Trump: A recent VA comprehensive study placed the number of veterans who die by suicide at 20 per day. We must do better for those who suffer the invisible wounds of war. First, we must make sure that the VA Office of Suicide Prevention is staffed, resourced and placed on equal footing with its DoD counterpart. In addition, I will increase the number of mental health care professionals, and allow veterans to be able to see mental health care outside the VA if they so choose. We will also increase investments in researching, treating and diagnosing traumatic brain injury. This is a top priority for me.
Clinton: As a senator, I was on the Armed Services Committee and we were already recognizing that PTSD and TBI were the new injuries of these wars in ways that were qualitatively different from what we had seen before. The PTSD that we were seeing not only included direct combat experience but sexual assault.
We’ve made progress but not near enough. Therefore I want to invest heavily in the best techniques, doing a comprehensive landscaping of what is working. Different things will work for different people. Can we create profiles that will give us more guidance as to how to deal with these very serious problems?
I’m going to approach this like we would approach some terrible epidemic that was killing people, maiming people, because that’s the mentality I think we have to bring to this. We are losing 20 vets a day to suicide and a lot of them are just giving up. They feel such despair because they can’t get any help that really works to get them through the emotional trauma that they have suffered.
It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s psychological, it’s spiritual, it’s cultural, and we need to treat it on all of those grounds and do a better job.
The armed forces are all suffering from cutbacks due to sequestration and budget reductions. How will your recommendations to Congress balance the need for a strong national defensewith the need for a budget that reflects the realities of today’s economy?
Clinton: I want to end sequestration, both on the defense and civilian side. I think it has been destructive to both. Clearly we know that on the defense side, there have been enough reports and investigations about how we’re falling behind in preparedness, and it’s unacceptable.
On the civilian side, we have shut labs that were making promising breakthroughs and treating Alzheimer’s, for example, and many other issues that have to be addressed, because of sequestration.
On the defense side, I am committed to a robust defense budget that will provide what we need to be prepared for the threats and adversaries we face today. Therefore, I want to get the best possible advice about what more we need to do to be prepared, and what it’s going to cost. We’re going to have a top-to-bottom review about what’s working (and) what’s not working, but I know we can’t meet the demands that we face without getting rid of sequestration.
Trump: First of all, we have no choice. It’s not like, “Oh, gee, we can just delay it.” President Obama has delayed it. We have fewer ships than we have had in decades. We have arms that are old and airplanes that are very old. We can’t even get parts anymore. They don’t make them anymore. We get parts from the plane graveyards.
Cuts should instead be made to wasteful domestic spending and bloated bureaucratic budgets. But it’s not a question of how we do it. We have no choice. These are very dangerous times, possibly as dangerous as we have ever had. We have a military that is depleted and we are going to take care of it.
The Islamic State is conducting terrorist attacks and inspiring others to commit violence worldwide. What’s your strategy to defeat ISIS?
Trump: We must bring all of our allies into the fold who share our goal of defeating and destroying ISIS. Instead of nation-building like in Libya that creates operating and breeding grounds, we must work with all nations that want to eliminate this scourge to destroy them.
This means aggressive military strikes. It also means we must improve our intelligence-gathering operations and make huge investments in this crucial arena. It means we must change our immigration policy to keep ISIS from attacking here. Working with our military commanders, we must give our servicemembers the resources, strategies and policies they need to get the job done. Our military goal is not to spread democracy worldwide but to defeat ISIS and destroy terrorist organizations.
Clinton: I believe strongly that we have to defeat them and destroy them. We’ve got to have a multi-pronged strategy.
First, we have to continue and intensify our efforts to drive them from the territory that they occupy in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made progress. American-led airstrikes have really helped. Our training of the Iraqi army has taken back territory. Our use of special forces to partner with Arab and Kurdish fighters has also been promising.
We have to keep working on that. We can’t walk away from doing everything possible to destroy their headquarters in Raqqa, drive them out of Iraq and then destroy them in Syria.
That’s not enough because they are a sophisticated enemy. They are fighting us online as well as on the ground, and we’re not doing yet enough to combat and defeat them online. I am absolutely adamant that we need to get the best support we can from our tech companies and experts from Silicon Valley … (and) the Route 128 corridor in Massachusetts. Everybody needs to help us disrupt their sites, interfere with and end their recruitment and radicalization online.
We also have to have what I call an intelligence surge. There is not enough good sharing of the intelligence we have. We have seen that, unfortunately, in Europe, where ISIS has been successful in launching attacks. There is not the kind of seamless sharing of intelligence even across borders in Europe and between countries and the United States.
China is a threat with its terraforming program and involvement in cyber attacks. Given our debt situation with China, how should the United States strategically handle this relationship?
Clinton: It became apparent (to me) as secretary of state how aggressive the Chinese intended to be in making territorial claims in the South China Sea. I was the first to confront them and try to put together a strategy that will contain them and prevent them from not only intimidating their neighbors but also interfering with the free flow of commerce and international laws of navigation.
We strongly supported the Philippines in bringing their international legal challenge to China’s claims, and I was quite surprised at how far the decision went in repudiating China. We’ve got a strong legal basis, which we did not have before, to use diplomatically in confronting China.
We also have to ensure that our fleet is still present in the Pacific. It’s important that we demonstrate our commitment to our mutual defense treaties, of which we have five in Asia. We have a preexisting obligation to protect our friends and allies. China needs to understand there’s plenty of ocean to go around; there’s enough space for everybody to benefit from commerce in the region. We should look for multinational resolution for some of China’s claims that interfere with the rights of the Philippines, Vietnam and others, particularly when it comes to their desire to explore for oil, gas and other valuable commodities.
Trump: We have tremendous economic power over China. They have been ripping off our country for many, many years. They need us more than we need them. As strong as that sounds, it is 100 percent factual. We are going to have a trade deficit this year with China: 500 billion – with a ‘b’ – dollars. It’s from the money, jobs and the products they have taken out of our country, meaning their access to our markets is the bulwark of their economy. We hold all the cards. We are going to deal with China very strongly.
I have very good relationships in China. I’ve made a lot of money in China. One of the biggest banks in the world is a tenant of mine in one of my buildings in Manhattan. I do a lot of business with China. China is tough to deal with but you can do very well if you know what you are doing. They have been ripping us left and right. We will be able to handle China. But we don’t use our cards; we don’t play to our strengths. When they built that military complex in the South China Sea, they weren’t allowed to do that. We’ll have to deal with them. We’ll deal with them on an economic basis.
What is the best – and most realistic – solution for protecting our borders?
Trump: (A wall along the U.S. southern border) is part of the solution, part of a complex puzzle. We have people pouring across the border. We have drugs pouring across the border. And I’m talking about a real wall, not a toy like they have now that is 7 feet tall. I’m talking about a real wall, like the Great Wall of China, which they built 2,000 years ago. It’s 13,000 miles long. We need 1,000 miles.
It’s a very easy thing to do. It will happen and, by the way, Mexico will pay for the wall. And the reason they will pay for it is because they could have stopped this horrible situation long ago between the drugs and the illegal immigrants pouring across the border. It’s probably our country’s fault; we never told them to stop it.
The National Border Patrol Council’s 1,650 border patrol agents endorsed me. It’s the first time they’ve done that in their history for a presidential election. Sheriff (Joe) Arpaio endorsed me. I know a lot about borders. We’re going to have strong borders. We’re going to let people come in but they are going to have to come in legally.
(The northern border) is a very long stretch. You’re talking about a stretch that is much, much longer – much more complex. And, in all fairness, we have had much less of a problem with it.
Clinton: We are spending billions of dollars right now along our southern border with Mexico. We have dramatically increased the numbers of border guards and defensive equipment along our southern border.
In fact, there has been a slowdown and even reversal of migration from Mexico. What we’re facing now are people coming from Central America primarily to escape horrific violence and drug gangs. We have to be vigilant and we need to be sure that we do whatever is necessary to protect our borders.
But our southern border is not our only border. Our northern border, which is the longest peaceful border in the world, is largely unprotected. Alert border guards captured the “millennial bomber” coming across the border around New Year’s in 2000. We know that some of the 9/11 hijackers went back and forth from Canada.
When people talk about our borders, they are often only talking about our southern border. I’m talking about all of our borders, and I’m talking not only about car traffic, but also airplane traffic, ships, etc. We need more technology to protect our ports and our airports, and we have to be really clear about what it is we’re looking for. There’s a difference between children fleeing violence in Central America and drug traffickers, gun traffickers, human traffickers, and terrorists coming into our country, either legally or illegally. We have to upgrade our borders’ security systems and use more technology.
I’m intent on comprehensive immigration reform and tightening our borders.
As president, how would you reinvigorate the U.S. economy, cultivate a culture of job growth, and help veterans and others launch small businesses?
Clinton: I have a very robust plan to get our economy going. I want to have the biggest increase in new jobs since World War II. We are going to do that with big infrastructure investments, advance manufacturing, clean energy, technology, all of which could create millions of new jobs.
I also want to be a small business president. I want to clear away the obstacles and give more people a chance to follow their dreams and start small businesses. That’s going to require looking at taxes and regulations, and see what more help we can provide.
I’m particularly focused on veterans. I want to start at a much earlier stage than we do now and do a much better job of helping counsel people who are leaving the service. A lot of people have told me that, literally, they were called into a meeting, given a brochure, given a website, and somebody said, “Do you have any questions?” They didn’t even know what questions to ask. And then they leave the service.
Trump: We’re going to bring jobs back. The jobs are going to Mexico. The product is being made in many countries all over the world. We’re losing our jobs. We’re losing our manufacturing. We’re going to stop. We’re going to reset. We’re going to bring jobs back to this country.
We’re not going to let our companies go so easily. If they want to go, despite our efforts, and want to sell their product in our country, without having a little bit of difficulty, to put it mildly, they are wrong. Once they know that, they won’t be leaving. We’re going to bring jobs back and we’re not going to let companies leave very easily.
I have proposed changing our visa rules to ensure veterans get priorities for jobs. I also want financial reforms that make it easier for veterans, and aspiring entrepreneurs, to get credit.
There is no shortage of ideas – nuclear, coal, solar, wind, etc. – on how the United States should handle energy and rely less on imported resources. What is the federal government’s role in guiding the United States to become more energy-independent?
Trump: I believe in unleashing the power of innovation through regulatory reform to make energy cheaper, cleaner, less expensive and more efficient. This will make our nation energy independent and add trillions in wealth to our economy. We have such massive regulations right now that the energy people aren’t allowed to do what they have to do. Coal is being wiped out by this government; coal can be a powerful weapon, in terms of defense.
We want clean air, immaculate air. We want fantastically clean water. But we are going to get rid of some of these regulations that are putting companies out of business. The problem with wind and solar is that they need subsidies. Everything has its place, and I’m a fan of all forms of energy. We can’t rely on the Middle East.
Clinton: I am adamant that we will be energy independent. We’ve made real progress thanks to natural gas, which has been a great boom in recent years.
The federal government has to lead the way, but we have to coordinate with states. I have something called the Clean Power Challenge to work with states. Some states are going full steam ahead. They are investing in clean energy. Iowa gets a third of its electricity from wind. Texas gets a big percentage of its electricity from wind. We’ve got other states investing in solar. We’ve got states looking at how to use more hydro. Then we have states which haven’t done anything. We need to incentivize more states because we’ve got tremendous resources in the United States. I want us to deploy half a billion more solar panels by the end of my first term. I want enough clean energy to power every home in America within 10 years. These are all doable, and it will put people to work. The United States has to lead the world in this area. Some country is going to be the 21st century clean energy superpower, and it’ll probably either be China, Germany or us. I want it to be us.
As president, how would you ease the racial tensions that have gripped America?
Clinton: I’m deeply concerned about the divides in our country, and certainly some of what we’ve seen in terms of racial divides should concern every American. There are several approaches we have to take. We need to work with our police forces so they can do the best job on the ground as they are protecting communities. The police should be respected, and the police should respect the communities they serve. We need to do more to bring that about. Some places are doing a terrific job and we can learn from them.
We have to do some criminal justice reform, providing more support for training and the understanding of other ways to de-escalate tensions in difficult situations besides just reaching for one’s gun. That is necessary in some instances, but those should be the exceptions – not the rule.
It’s up to every American, not just our police. After the terrible murders of the five police officers in Dallas, the police chief there, Chief Brown, made a really important point. He said police are expected to deal with so much: mental health, failing schools, domestic disputes. That’s a big burden to dump on our police forces. My view is everybody should be part of this: our faith communities, our business communities, our governments at all levels. Everybody should be asking themselves, “What more can I do to bridge these divides?”
Trump: It’s two things: jobs and spirit. Our country doesn’t have spirit. And we certainly don’t have jobs. Look at the people who have looked for jobs. They have looked for months and months, and they have just given up. We need jobs, and we need spirit in our country. It is essential that we restore the bond of trust between citizens, and to have
leaders who emphasize what we have in common – not apart.
Americanism brings us closer, as it is based on the trust that we are all equals, that we are all in this together, and that all Americans are united in common purpose and entitled to common protections. I want to emphasize our unity as one people under one flag.
Henry Howard is deputy director of The American Legion’s Media and Communications Division.
By Alan W Dowd ~ In its recent ruling against Beijing’s South China Sea claims, an obscure U.N. tribunal did something rather unusual for the United Nations: the right thing. Now, the United States and its allies need to do what the United Nations cannot do: enforce the rule of law in the not-so-pacific Pacific.
A little background about the how and why of this decision before getting into what it means: The Philippines took China to the U.N. Court of Arbitration in 2013, after China seized a reef well beyond its territorial waters. In response, the tribunal summarily rejected China’s outlandish claims in the South China Sea – claims based on a map created by Chinese cartographers in 1947 – and concluded that Beijing violated international law by damaging marine environments, endangering Philippine vessels, interfering with Philippine fishing and oil exploration, and trespassing into Philippine waters.
Just how outlandish are Beijing’s claims? By international convention, a country’s territorial waters extend 12 miles from its coastline. Beyond that, nations observe an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 miles off a country’s coastline and allows for exploration rights. Not only does Beijing expect others to observe its EEZ as sovereign Chinese territory (which it is not), Beijing claims waters 500 miles from the Chinese mainland and 80 percent of the Philippines’ EEZ.
But this is about much more than the Philippines. Beijing claims 90 percent of the South China Sea. These waters comprise one of the world’s main trade arteries and hold some 200 billion barrels of oil.
The tribunal’s decision not only confirms China’s outlaw behavior; it also validates the rationale behind Washington’s renewed focus on security in the Asia-Pacific – commonly called the “Pacific Pivot.” To ensure that the Pacific Pivot keeps the peace, Washington needs to resource the rhetoric, remind Beijing of the rules of the road and relearn the art of signaling in great-power relations.
Between 2011 and 2015, Beijing increased military spending 55.7 percent – and 167 percent between 2005 and 2014. The payoff: China will deploy 73 attack submarines, 58 frigates, 34 destroyers, five ballistic-missile submarines and two aircraft carriers by 2020. The Pentagon reports China can “project power at increasingly-longer ranges,” deploys more than 2,800 warplanes, and has a bristling missile arsenal with “the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the Western Pacific.”
Beijing is cordoning off swaths of the South China Sea, violating Japanese airspace (Japan intercepted Chinese warplanes 571 times in 2015), conducting provocative war games in the area with Russia, and, as U.S. Pacific Command’s commander, Adm. Harry Harris, concludes, turning reefs hundreds of miles from its territorial waters into man-made islands that “are clearly military in nature.”
Beijing’s goal is to dissuade Washington from intervening in what China considers its sphere of influence. The Pentagon’s shorthand for this is “anti-access/area-denial” (A2AD).
The good news is that China’s behavior has forced America’s Asia-Pacific allies to get serious about defense.
Despite the diplomatic row caused by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s undiplomatic comments, Manila and Washington are closely cooperating in the defense sphere. The Philippines is allowing Washington to preposition equipment, combat aircraft and troops on its territory. In 2015, more than 100 U.S. warships docked in Subic Bay, and U.S. planes are again landing at Clark Air Base. Manila increased defense spending 25 percent this year and signed a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Japan. The former foes have held joint naval drills, and they are exploring plans to base Japanese troops on Philippine territory.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan recently persuaded parliament to approve a reinterpretation of the constitution to allow Japan’s military to come to the defense of its allies. Japan is increasing East China Sea troop strength by 20 percent (to 10,000 personnel), expanding its suite of missile defenses, acquiring F-35 fighter-bombers, deploying massive “helicopter carriers” that can be up-converted to launch vertical-takeoff F-35Bs, and creating amphibious units modeled after the Marine Corps.
Australia plans to increase defense spending 81 percent by 2025. The Aussies are doubling their submarine fleet, procuring scores of new warplanes (eight P-8 maritime-reconnaissance planes, 12 EA-18G attack aircraft, 72 F-35s), hosting thousands of U.S. Marines for rotational deployments, and considering Washington’s request to base B-1Bs and B-52s in Australia. Plus, Australia plans to join U.S.-India-Japan naval exercises.
“U.S.-India military exercises have grown dramatically in size, scope and sophistication,” the Pentagon reports. India, which boosted defense spending 50 percent 2007-15, is deploying fighter-interceptors and U.S.-built P-8s to islands west of Thailand.
Washington has lifted arms-sales restrictions on Vietnam, and the two former foes recently signed a Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations.
What’s emerging is a chain-link fence of bilateral and trilateral partnerships. Those who counter that such a posture might trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict don’t remember the lessons of the 20th century – and don’t live in China’s neighborhood.
This return to deterrence by China’s neighbors enhances the prospects of the Pacific Pivot. However, without U.S. military might, it won’t be enough to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.” Just imagine Western Europe trying to deter Stalin with a hamstrung or halfhearted U.S. commitment.
It’s simple arithmetic. The U.S. military cannot carry out a growing list of missions with the dwindling amount resources available under the bipartisan gamble known as sequestration. By definition, sea power is an essential element of America’s deterrent strength in the Pacific. Regrettably, Washington is allowing U.S. sea power to atrophy.
At the height of the Reagan buildup, the Navy boasted 594 ships. The Navy of the mid-1990s totaled 375 ships. Today’s fleet numbers just 272 ships. While today’s Navy may be more ambidextrous than its forerunners, deterrence is about presence. And the sequestration-era Navy lacks the assets to be present in all the places it’s needed. “For us to meet what combatant commanders request,” according to former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, “we need a Navy of 450 ships.”
These cuts are directly related to the declining defense budget, which, in a time of growing international instability, has fallen from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009, to just above 3 percent of GDP today. This shrunken military makes deterrence less credible – and miscalculation more likely.
Miscalculation can lead to crises and even conflict. Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet, worries about a “tactical trigger with strategic implications” – an incident, mishap, midair collision or maritime confrontation that escalates into a test of wills. Before he retired as Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, without mentioning China, warned that “if we’re required to cut too much … they will challenge our credibility and they could miscalculate.”
Given the size of the U.S. defense budget and reach of the U.S. military, the balance of power would still seem to favor the United States – until one considers that America’s military assets and security commitments are spread around the globe, while China’s are concentrated in its neighborhood.
Contrary to the nation-building-at-home caucus, a forward U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific isn’t charity work. It’s essential to defending the national interest: Fifty percent of global trade moves through the South and East China Seas. U.S. trade with Australia, China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand totaled $1.13 trillion in 2015. And the United States is a Pacific power – it borders the Pacific, has territories throughout the Pacific and has treaty commitments with several allies in the Pacific.
Abe says China’s leaders must “realize that they would not be able to change the rules or take away somebody’s territorial water or territory by coercion or intimidation.”
In other words, the time for “strategic ambiguity” has given way to a time for clarity. Washington should be clear about its security commitments – ensuring the free movement of ships through international waters and aircraft through international airspace, defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of U.S. allies, preserving a status quo that has kept the Pacific peaceful and prosperous – and clear about promoting a rules-based order rather than allowing China to impose a might-makes-right order.
Toward that end, Washington should challenge international organizations to deal with China’s illegal actions. Manila has offered a roadmap by taking its behemoth neighbor to court – and winning. Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and any nation whose maritime rights have been infringed by China should follow Manila’s example. Washington should help by offering technical assistance, diplomatic support, and satellite and reconnaissance evidence to keep international attention focused on Beijing’s misbehavior – and to reinforce a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific.
ASEAN has issued a declaration endorsing “freedom of navigation in, and over-flight above, the South China Sea.” The United States, Australia and Japan reaffirmed this in a joint statement expressing “strong opposition to any coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.” Washington should put muscle behind those words – and the U.N. tribunal’s decision – by organizing a multinational maritime taskforce to enforce the rules of the road and prevent the piecemeal annexation of the South China Sea.
In addition to Japan, the Philippines, Australia and India, it looks like Washington could count on France to participate in such a taskforce: French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian notes, “Several times per year, French navy ships cross the waters of this region, and they’ll continue to do it.” He says France is committed to “sailing its ships and flying its planes wherever international law will allow, and wherever operational needs request that we do so.” Interestingly, his words are almost identical to those of Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who notes, “We will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
Backing up those words with actions is crucial.
After the Cold War, the United States was the world’s sole superpower. As a consequence, America’s civilian policymakers seldom had to engage in the sort of signal-sending that kept the Cold War from turning hot. With China’s rapid rise, those days are gone. The good news is that the U.S. military hasn’t forgotten the finer points of signaling America’s adversaries:
• Reminding Beijing that two can play the A2AD game, senior Pentagon officialsenvision the Army “leveraging its current suite of long-range precision-guided missiles, rockets, artillery and air-defense systems” in the context of “our ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.” Such an effort could protect vital waterways and dissuade Beijing from further upsetting the status quo. RAND researchers suggest that “using ground-based anti-ship missiles (ASM) as part of a U.S. A2AD strategy” and linking strategically located partner nations in a regional ASM coalition “would serve as a major deterrent” to China.
• To enforce freedom of the skies, B-52s have cruised through China’s self-declared “air-defense-identification zone.” To enforce freedom of the seas, U.S. warships have sailed within 12 miles of the made-in-China islands, and B-52s have overflown the instant islands. A-10s are conducting similar flights over Philippine waters.
• For the first time in a decade, the Pentagon deployed B-1Bs to Guam in August to underscore America’s “commitment to deterrence” and “assurance to our allies.”
• Two days after China conducted bomber exercises near Taiwan, a pair of U.S. F-18s landed in Taiwan – the first such landing in 30 years. The U.S. military said the unexpected visit was due to a “mechanical issue.” But it seems the Pentagon was reminding Beijing that Taiwan is not alone.
With enough window dressing to allow China to save face and enough substance to underscore America’s capability to project power, these are the kinds of signals Beijing understands. But without adequate investment in that deterrent capability, the signals will grow weaker – and the Pacific Pivot will fail.