Sponsored by the Project on Defense Alternatives
Eugene J. Carroll Jr.
Directed by Congress to conduct a thorough, critical review of U.S. defense strategy and America's military requirements in the 21st Century, Pentagon officials responded in predictable bureaucratic fashion. They formed a total of 64 panels and subpanels to consider the problem and came to a "startling" conclusion: We should keep doing what we are already doing, but we will need more money to procure new weapons to do it.
This outcome was virtually preordained when the Pentagon uncritically embraced this week the existing two-war doctrine. Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "I support the recommendation to fight and win two overlapping major-theater wars." Never mind that one of the original architects of the two-war strategy, former Defense Secretary William Perry, told Congress: "Nowhere in our planning do we believe that we are going to have to fight two wars at once . . . I think it an entirely implausible scenario that we would ever have to fight two wars at once."
It is difficult to conclude that the quadrennial defense review study supporting the two-war strategy was either thorough or critical when it accepted an implausible scenario as the basis for determining required forces. It is no surprise, therefore, that the study's projected force levels are basically unchanged. The Army keeps its 10 active divisions. The Navy keeps its 12 aircraft carriers and 12 Amphibious Ready Groups while reducing programmed levels of submarines and surface combatants from a total of 183 to 166 (9 percent). The Air Force keeps 20 total fighter wings and 187 bombers and the Marine Corps keeps all three of its Marine Expeditionary Forces.
The Pentagon study does propose personnel reductions from programmed levels. The active forces will be 1,360,000, down only 60,000 (4 percent), while combined reserve and civilian strength will drop 8 percent to 1,475,000. These cuts can be made largely from today's 660,000 uniformed and civilian support personnel without downgrading the combat forces.
Given the obvious fact that the United States faces no significant military threat today nor in the foreseeable future, the decision to continue business as usual with the United States as the world's only military superpower reflects the immense political clout of the military-industrial complex President Dwight Eisenhower decried in 1961.
This becomes more evident when it is noted that the defense secretary has called for two more rounds of base closings as well as the personnel cuts in order to generate savings that can be used to increase spending for development and procurement of new weapons. There is little money for defense contractors in payroll or bases but there are immense profits to be had by increasing spending to as much as $60 billion a year for new warfighting weapons as recommended in the study.
Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the policy is that it rests on a presumption that military spending is not subject to reductions in budget-balancing efforts. There appears to be close coordination between the Pentagon, the White House and Congress on this point.
While the details of the "deal" to balance the budget in the year 2002 are far from clear yet, one agreement is that military spending is "off of the table" for cuts.
On the same day that congressional leaders received advance Pentagon briefings concerning provisions of the study, the House Budget Committee approved a military spending plan under which budget authority for national defense would rise every year from 1998 until 2002, when it will reach $290 billion, up $27 billion from the 1997 figure.
Furthermore, there will be "firewalls" between defense and nondefense programs so that no member of Congress can seek cuts in military spending in order to restore money cut from vital domestic social and economic programs.
There has been a cruel denial of the democratic process in all of this. The president and Congress cut a deal on a balanced budget that exempts military spending from any cuts. Then the Pentagon submits a two-war strategy that justifies increased military spending.
If the interests of all Americans are to be protected, the quadrennial review cannot be the final word on national-security requirements. Military spending should be "back on the table" in competition with other vital national programs.
The democratic process must be given a chance to shape our military programs in the true interests of national security and the well-being of all Americans.
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