As the federal budget process heats up this fall, I thought we
would take a moment to review some of the important elements
of our nation''s defense policy.
During the presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush
laid out his thinking at the Citadel.
"As president, I will begin an immediate, comprehensive review
of our military...(covering) the structure of its forces, the state of
its strategy, the priorities of its procurement." He went on to say
how a Bush defense plan would attempt to "skip a generation of
technology" in its modernization efforts.
With this broad mandate for change the president took office in
January, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in tow, but
the sweeping changes that the Bush team has begun to propose
are meeting resistance at almost every level.
For starters, the 2001 fiscal year defense budget (ending 9/01)
called for about $296 billion in appropriations. President Bush
and Secretary Rumsfeld then called for an increase to $329
billion, which, after accounting for inflation, equated to a pickup
in spending of $18 billion. This $18 billion would go for
increases in pay and housing, health care, and readiness (such as
critical flight training). About $8 billion would be spent on
national missile defense (NMD) in 2002, though much of that
was already allotted in existing Clinton-era NMD programs.
But right from the start, there were many experts who felt that
the $18 billion increase was far from sufficient, with some saying
$35 billion was the correct figure and others going so far as to
wish for $50 billion. [Rumsfeld was initially in the $35 billion
camp.] It was Vice President Cheney, after all, who said during
the campaign that "help is on the way."
So what happened? Well, the tax cut took precedence when it
came to spending priorities. [I''m not taking sides for this article,
just stating the facts as I see them.] Now, with the heated talk
about dwindling surpluses and tapping into Social Security,
hopes for even $18 billion are fading fast. The military brass,
which was fired up over the prospects for a Bush administration
dedicated to upgrading America''s defense, is, shall we say,
pissed. Remember that $329 billion, while it seems like a huge
amount (and it is), still is just 3% of our nation''s GDP.
NMD now becomes a target of a potential reduction in defense
appropriations from what was originally planned. Which is why
the current negotiations on the fate of the 1972 Anti-ballistic
Missile Treaty (ABM) with Russia may be critical.
Currently, both sides have between 6-6,500 nuclear warheads.
[There are many different ways to calculate this. The U.S. figure
is closer to 10,000 if you include warheads that are locked up in
storage both here and in Europe.] But under the START II
treaty, the levels for both sides are to fall to 3,500 by 2007. And
Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are working on the
rudimentary elements of a START III agreement which may take
warhead levels further down to around 1,500; a level which, for
fiscal reasons, Russia may be forced to seek regardless, and, a
level which President Bush says the U.S. may unilaterally
achieve, if combined with an effective NMD. But Putin has said
he would rip up all existing treaties if the U.S. went ahead with
NMD. And it needs to be noted that the importance of START
II is that it provides the framework for effective inspection and
verification of both sides actual disarmament procedures. In
other words, for the first time, Russia and the U.S. have a handle
on compliance, and this could go out the window if Putin so
chose to abrogate START II.
But compromise between the U.S. and Russia is a distinct
possibility over the coming months, particularly if the U.S. offers
to bring Russia into its NMD plans, including the purchase of
Russian systems for integration into NMD. Of course China
wants a say as well and has its own reasons to fear missile
As for NATO, many of whose members remain obstinate
opponents to NMD, they could be brought on board if the Bush
administration proceeds with the unilateral disarmament of its
offensive nuclear weapons.
This will all come to a head over the coming months. Bush and
Putin meet in Crawford, TX in November (as well as an earlier
planned get together in Asia), and Bush has vowed to withdraw
from the ABM Treaty as early as that date, "or (at a ) time
convenient to America," as the president recently said.
The ABM Treaty does allow for some testing of anti-missile
technology but bars providing a "base" for such a defense in the
U.S. and the old Soviet Union. For instance Russia has an ABM
system to protect Moscow, the U.S. initially chose to defend its
ICBM forces in the West (though it later abandoned this as being
unfeasible). But the Treaty prohibits any system designed to
defend the entire nation (which obviously NMD seeks to do,
eventually), and it prohibits the testing or deployment of sea- or
space-based defenses against long-range missiles.
Lastly, there are other topics that will come up in the budget
debate when it comes to the level of defense spending. The
Pentagon has officially abandoned its plan to fight two wars
simultaneously, a longstanding policy of U.S. defense doctrine.
For example, the thought was that our forces should be capable
of waging war in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula at
the same time. But if the president is to get his NMD funding,
the feeling was that the Pentagon could cut elsewhere. If you
announce you won''t build your armed forces around the two-
wars doctrine, then you can free up money by cutting
conventional forces in areas like Europe.
Rumsfeld, himself, has laid out some of the new thinking for
America''s defense. "No one is likely to challenge the U.S.
military directly," but the secretary is worried about
"asymmetrical" threats; such as small nations acquiring long-
range missiles or attempting to cripple U.S. computer networks,
or terrorist groups attacking targets in the U.S. It''s a different
American force that the Bush administration seeks. But it''s
running up against concerns over the fiscal state of affairs, as
well as resistance from the Pentagon brass itself. In other words,
look for folks like John McCain to wage war on the Senate floor
for increased defense spending, while opponents complain we
can''t afford larges increases for the Pentagon and a tax cut at the
same time during an economic slowdown.
Various; including New York Times, Washington Post, Wall
Street Journal, Newsweek, U.S. News, Reuters, and AP.