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Jewish World Review August 31, 1999 /19 Elul, 5759

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities -- HOW SHOULD AMERICA determine the size and shape of its military forces for the 21st century? The traditional answer is that the security threat determines military preparedness. We forged our nuclear deterrence and maintained large forces in Europe when we faced the threat of a Soviet nuclear strike and a Soviet-led conventional attack across Europe. Those global nightmares have faded. China, another possible foe, lacks the military means and the economic base to mount a global challenge for the foreseeable future.

So whom do we contain, and whom do we deter? We have reduced our manpower levels significantly since the end of the cold war. But we still have sufficient forces to contain North Korea and simultaneously turn back a regional attack on vital U.S. interests, as happened in the gulf with Saddam Hussein. Indeed, our Major Regional Contingency strategy is somewhat mitigated today because both Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea are weaker than they were in 1991, and U.S. forces in each region are stronger.

Beyond compare. The $265 billion we spend on defense is twice as much as the combined military spending of all our potential enemies and larger than the next six largest military budgets put together. It allows us to maintain the best-trained military leadership in the world. We have unrivaled ability to project power through air-lift, sea-lift, and aircraft carriers, and we have the most sophisticated military hardware. We have the intelligence capabilities to dominate any high-tech battlefield. Thanks to our panoply of satellites, we know more about the enemy and his units than he knows himself, and we know more quickly and precisely what is happening to our own units. Drones and high-resolution surveillance aircraft, flying at the edge of a battlefield, can pinpoint every vehicle or artillery piece in the entire combat zone, and AWACS do the same for aircraft.

This has changed the nature of warfare. We have shown we can win quickly and with minimal casualties.

So far so good. But many observers feel our forces today are stretched too thin. Planning for only two major regional conflicts may be optimistic, given the number of global spark points–India-Pakistan and China-Taiwan are the most recent–and the proliferation of ethnic conflicts that require U.S. peacekeepers. For all the brilliant technology, too much money today is going to infrastructure (the tail) and too little to the front line (the teeth), extending a tradition that was true in our previous wars.

Some of the "tail" is clearly necessary, but every dollar spent on the defense tail is a dollar less devoted to the military tooth. It is some tail. Recently the Defense Science Board and business experts concluded that the Pentagon could cut overhead by $30 billion annually if it used private business practices–including the outsourcing of accounting, maintenance, and other bits of the military tail. The Army has 15 million square feet of teaching space. It used to serve 350,000 students, staff, and faculty. That number is down by approximately 40 percent, but the classroom space is down by less than 10 percent. Military labs carry 35 percent excess capacity. Facilities that conduct flight tests, simulated electronic warfare, and weapon evaluations have 52 percent overcapacity. Clearly, we can be effective with fewer depots, facilities, and bases.

The Base Realignment and Closure program was shut down by Congress because the Clinton administration played politics with it during the 1996 election. But Congress has also helped squander millions. The secretary of defense wants to save money by reorganizing management, downsizing the work force, and outsourcing civilian defense jobs. Nearly all of these reforms have been opposed by Congress–at a time when we need about $20 billion more to maintain military readiness and invest in equipment and modernization.

That is where the money should go. Now we need a military strategy to identify the forces that support our bloated infrastructure–and then blow them out of their foxholes.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, Mortimer Zuckerman