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Pentagon Plans Modest Cuts Strikingly Similar to Bush’s : Military: Proposals to call for strong global presence. Review reflects lessons learned in Bosnia and Somalia.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Pentagon has completed the bulk of the work on its widely touted “bottom-up review” of U.S. defense policy and plans to recommend an overall military strategy and long-range spending plan that will be remarkably similar to that of the George Bush Administration.

The broad re-evaluation, the brainchild of Defense Secretary Les Aspin, probably will call for only modest cuts in current programs, despite President Clinton’s sweeping campaign rhetoric suggesting that the nation’s defense policy needed a thorough overhaul.

Analysts said that the recommendations reflect an increasing concern by the Administration about maintaining a strong U.S. military presence abroad--an outgrowth of its frustrating experiences with Bosnia, North Korea and Somalia.

The plan is expected to come as a jolt to congressional liberals and others who had been counting on the review to provide a framework for slashing defense spending sharply in coming years, freeing up money to meet other needs.

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Top Aspin aides had been touting the effort as a dramatic departure from previous Pentagon budgetary and policy-making exercises, one likely to result in a major shift in current defense policy. Aspin had advocated such a review as a member of Congress.

At the same time, the proposal is expected to cheer conservatives and defense industry leaders. The industry, much of which is based in Southern California, has been reeling from Pentagon cutbacks and uncertainty about its future.

The recommendations--likely this week or next--are expected to be accompanied by a new White House report arguing that, despite the end of the superpower rivalry, America must maintain a large armed force to “remain engaged” in the post-Cold War world.

Although the report is expected to argue that America should rely more than it has on preventing conflict by supporting democratic governments and movements around the globe, it asserts that maintaining a strong military presence--and using it selectively--also is a necessity.

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As a result, the defense review is expected to recommend that the United States retain sufficient forces to maintain its “forward presence” around the globe--including at least 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe and 11 aircraft carriers worldwide.

It also will call for holding the line on further cuts in defense spending beyond the $88 billion over five years that Clinton already has recommended. The President has proposed a $263.5-billion military budget for fiscal 1994, dropping to $254.2 billion by fiscal 1998.

Analysts said Friday that the results are more conservative than expected for two reasons:

* Partly to meet congressional and budgetary deadlines, the re-evaluation did not include a full review of strategic forces--such as bombers, submarines and missiles. Instead, the Pentagon is expected to take up these issues in coming months.

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* It did not propose any major changes in the basic roles and missions of the individual armed services. Sources said that Aspin probably would have additional proposals on that issue, but they are expected to hew closely to the modest suggestions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

More important, however, the review reflects hard lessons learned by the Administration in the face of the crisis in Bosnia, the humanitarian aid effort in Somalia and the controversy with North Korea over nuclear non-proliferation.

As Clinton has been forced to confront each problem, the Administration has become more and more convinced that the United States must continue to exercise leadership in the international arena. And that, one analyst said Friday, means having a strong military.

In Asia, fears about North Korea’s apparent new nuclear capability and apprehension about sharp U.S. troop cutbacks in Europe prompted Southeast Asian countries to demand reassurances of a continued U.S. presence in the region. Last week, Secretary of State Warren Christopher was forced to assure Southeast Asian foreign ministers that the United States not only would maintain its current force levels there but that it would enhance U.S. firepower and mobility as well.

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Pentagon officials cautioned that Aspin and his aides still have some secondary decisions to make. And the recommendations have not yet been submitted to the President, who will be asked to approve the plan formally before it is made public.

But strategists say that the White House has been kept fully apprised of the Pentagon’s recommendations and Aspin has been working closely with the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has incorporated some of his recommendations into the new defense authorization bill.

“It’s strikingly similar to the last budget that Bush and (former Defense Secretary Dick) Cheney left behind,” a source familiar with the Aspin recommendations said. “For all the noise that the (Clinton) Administration made about the review, they’re not very far apart.”

Sources familiar with the plan said that it still constitutes one of the most sweeping reviews of the nation’s defense policy in recent years, delving into such fundamental questions as which kinds of forces are necessary to meet current threats and whether existing forces can be cut.

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The strategy paper to be made public by the White House is being described by Administration officials as part of a broader white paper on “international security” that includes international economic policy as well.

But analysts said that continuing differences among top policy-makers over elements of trade and economic policies have left the White House unable to complete that entire plan. As a result, only the defense-related part of the plan will be made public.

The major elements of the new Aspin recommendations include:

* Modest cuts in the overall size of the military force. The Navy would be allotted only 11 aircraft carriers, down from 12 now. And the Army would keep 10 divisions, down from the current 12.

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* A continued commitment to maintain the U.S. “forward presence” around the world. That includes holding the line at keeping at least 100,000 troops in Europe and taking steps to improve the firepower and intelligence-gathering of U.S. forces in South Korea.

* No major changes in the mix between active-duty forces and reserves and the National Guard. Although there may be some minor changes in training practices, the Administration apparently has decided that the issue is too controversial to contend with this year.

* Some reshuffling in plans for building new tactical aircraft to replace the current aging fleet of warplanes. The Air Force would build a new joint F-22 fighter, but would have to scrap plans to develop its new AFX fighter.

At the same time, the Navy would build a new F-18E/F fighter, but would share development with the Air Force. The Navy also would be allowed to upgrade its existing F-14 aircraft, but would have to speed up the retirement of aging A-6 attack planes.

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Analysts who have seen the Pentagon’s proposals said that the decision to maintain a sizable military structure within the proposed budget means that the Administration must do more to slash costly “infrastructure,” such as military bases, armories and reserve units.

The Defense Department also is wrestling with proposals to parcel out more maintenance and overhaul work--of tanks, aircraft and ships--to private contractors, rather than having so much of it done by military installations.

But both of those ideas are controversial and may be difficult to push through at a time when the economy already is being pinched by the rapid reduction of the military Establishment.


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