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U.S. to Review Size, Mission of Military

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clinton Administration is gearing up for a major review of U.S. defense policy next year that could prove crucial in determining how big a force the nation will maintain and how the military will fight in the 21st century.

High on the agenda will be whether to abandon the requirement that the military be kept large enough to fight two major regional conflicts “nearly simultaneously"--the basic rationale for keeping up a force of 1.45 million troops.

If policy makers decide to scale back the overall mission--to fighting only one major war while providing troops for peacekeeping missions, for example--it could open the way for substantial cuts in the current force, possibly pushing it as low as 1 million troops.

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Finally, reformers contend that the Pentagon must soon come to grips with how to reshape the force to reflect the impact of high-technology weaponry.

Does the military need as many tanks, for instance, now that U.S. forces are using long-distance weapons such as Tomahawk missiles and sensors that can tell commanders what the enemy is doing from thousands of miles away? Can laser drones replace today’s bombers? Should headquarters staffs be slashed?

Administration officials say the review, which is scheduled to begin in early December and produce recommendations by May 15, is potentially the most sweeping look at the nation’s defense posture since the Cold War.

In a closed-door speech to the Defense Science Board a few weeks ago, Deputy Defense Secretary John P. White said: “The [review] will not just go through the motions.”

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“The goal is not to rationalize and protect what we have now,” said White, who proposed the review in 1995 as chairman of an independent commission. "[It] is to visualize and pursue what we will need tomorrow.”

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The looming policy review has already touched off a race among the four armed services to protect their turf and to position themselves to take the lead in the military of the 21st century.

And outside critics point out that the Defense Department has already undergone a series of major policy reviews over the last several years, with little change to show for it. Whether this one will be an exception remains to be seen.

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Reformers such as Harlan K. Ullman, a defense analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, say a major overhaul is needed because with declining defense budgets, the United States simply cannot afford to keep up the force that it has.

With 1.45 million troops to support--and frequent large-scale deployments, such as the U.S. intervention in Bosnia--Ullman says the Pentagon is already finding itself short of the money it needs to maintain and modernize its stockpile of weapons and equipment.

There is little prospect of getting more money soon. Although Republicans have boosted Clinton’s defense budgets in recent years, shrinking resources and a commitment to balance the overall federal budget are expected to crimp defense spending.

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Military planners also are facing imminent deadlines on some critical decisions about the types of new weapons to develop for the next 25 years to take advantage of technological breakthroughs of the kind the public first glimpsed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“There’s no question that we’re going to have to make some choices--and soon,” said Robert W. Gaskin, a former Pentagon strategist who now serves as a private defense analyst. “You’ve really got to try to pick your paradigm for the future.”

But defense experts warn that the job will not be easy. Despite the impressive array of new weapons being developed, there is no consensus on how the military will change its war-fighting strategy and tactics to take full advantage of the technology.

The Air Force and the Navy are pushing for greater use of “standoff” weapons, which enable aircraft or ship-fired missiles to destroy targets from hundreds of miles away. The Army and Marine Corps argue that only ground troops can ensure total victory.

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The services already are burdened by burgeoning prices for new weapons already in their plans, particularly jet fighters and bombers. Investing in still more high-tech equipment without resolving broad strategy questions would be prohibitively expensive.

And analysts point out that, given the president’s vulnerability on defense issues and his fear of being viewed as soft on national security, he may have difficulty going much further than he already has in reshaping the nation’s military posture.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, is regarded as reluctant to stir up any new controversies during his final year in the post. Shalikashvili already has been distracted by the need for planning for U.S. operations in Bosnia and Saudi Arabia.

The overhaul effort could suffer when Defense Secretary William J. Perry steps down, most likely early next year. Although far from a radical reformer, Perry is regarded as a good manager and is respected by the military--both important factors for a defense chief overseeing the review.

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Critics say the administration needs to decide how aggressively it plans to continue intervening in such situations as those in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia. Those missions gradually are becoming a major portion of the U.S. military’s overall purpose.

The president’s top national security advisors already have begun to describe such ventures as an integral part of an emerging “Clinton Doctrine” on the use of force, but there are indications they believe such ventures have limits.

“The U.S. Army is an army--it is not a Salvation Army,” Perry said Nov. 19, discussing the administration’s reluctance to become involved in a military mission to Zaire unless it were a genuine crisis.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says Clinton must act soon or current forces will continue on their recent path of deterioration.

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Williamson Murray, editor of Brassey’s Mershon American Defense Annual, warns that unless the military begins modernizing now, it will face an enormous “bow-wave” of needed purchases in the early 2000s.

The review will be the latest in a series that successive administrations have undertaken. The first, ordered by then-President Bush after the collapse of the Soviet Union, essentially trimmed the Cold War force slightly and continued the status quo.

The second, engineered by the Clinton administration in 1993, deepened Bush’s cutbacks only slightly and ordered the military to prepare to fight two “major regional contingencies” almost simultaneously. A third, evaluating the roles and missions of each service, avoided proposing major cuts.

But the administration’s 1993 proposal, known as the Bottom-Up Review, was derided for its failure to revamp the force structure and for not providing enough money to finance the military force it did propose.

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As a result, although the nation still is spending about $256 billion a year on its military, the services are having a difficult time maintaining and replacing equipment.

Still, Defense officials insist they are serious about the coming review, and they are putting in place the machinery to carry out what Congress has mandated. “What we have done so far,” White said, “is only the beginning of the changes needed.”


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