In recent months, the major foreign policy issue debated by the candidates in the 2000 presidential election campaign has been military readiness. Governor George W. Bush has accused the Clinton Administration of neglecting the military, referring to the status of the U.S. armed forces as "a military in decline." Vice President Al Gore, on the other hand, countered that the military is the "strongest and the best" in the world.
Evidence of a widespread lack of readiness within the U.S. armed forces exists. Recently leaked Army documents report that 12 of the 20 schools that are training soldiers in skills such as field artillery, infantry, and aviation have received the lowest readiness rating. And the Pentagon in November rated two of the Army's 10 active divisions at the lowest readiness level.
The Facts About Readiness. In the early 1990s, the Bush Administration began to reduce the size of the U.S. military so that it would be consistent with post-Cold War threats. Under the Clinton Administration, however, these reductions in forces escalated rapidly, with too little defense spending, while U.S. forces were deployed more often.
FACT #1. The size of the U.S. military has
been cut drastically in the past decade.
Between 1992 and 2000, the Clinton Administration cut national defense by more than half a million personnel and $50 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Army alone has lost four active divisions and two Reserve divisions. The number of total active personnel in the Air Force has decreased by nearly 30 percent. In the Navy, the total number of ships has decreased from around 393 ships in the fleet in 1992 to 316 today. Even the Marines have dropped 22,000 personnel.
In spite of these drastic force reductions, military missions and operations tempo increased. Because every mission affects far greater numbers of servicemen than those directly involved, most operations other than warfare, such as peacekeeping, have a significant negative impact on readiness.
FACT #2. Military deployments have
increased dramatically throughout the 1990s.
The pace of deployments has increased 16-fold since the end of the Cold War. Between 1960 and 1991, the Army conducted 10 operations outside of normal training and alliance commitments, but between 1992 and 1998, the Army conducted 26 such operations. Similarly, the Marines conducted 15 contingency operations between 1982 and 1989, and 62 since 1989. During the 1990s, U.S. forces of 20,000 or more troops were engaged in non-warfighting missions in Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1996), and Iraq and Kuwait (1998).
This dramatic increase in the use of America's armed forces has had a detrimental effect on overall combat readiness. Both people and equipment wear out faster with frequent use. Frequent deployments also take funding away from ongoing expenses such as training, fuel, and supplies. Moreover, the stress of frequent and often unexpected deployments can be detrimental to troop morale and jeopardize the armed forces' ability to retain high-quality people.
FACT #3. America's military is aging
Most of the equipment that the U.S. military uses today, such as Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, surface ships, submarines, bombers, and tactical aircraft, are aging much faster than they are being replaced. Due to a shortsighted modernization strategy, some systems are not even being replaced. Lack of funding coupled with increased tempo and reduced forces strains the U.S. military's ability to defend vital national interests.
As weapons age, they become less reliable and more expensive to maintain. The services have attempted to provide for their higher maintenance costs by reallocating funds, but they often take the funds from procurement accounts, effectively removing the money from modernization programs. Shortages of parts and aging equipment are already affecting readiness, and the effects are expected to worsen. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon recently reported that spare parts are so scarce that the Air Force is made to "cannibalize" perfectly good aircraft for spare parts.
FACT #4. Morale is on the decline in the
U.S. armed forces.
According to an August 1999 U.S. General Accounting Office review, more than half of the officers and enlisted personnel surveyed "were dissatisfied and intended to leave the military after their current obligation or term of enlistment was up." Because U.S. servicemen are the military's greatest asset, a ready U.S. military requires bright, well-trained, and highly motivated active and reserve personnel. Unfortunately, due largely to low morale, the services are finding it difficult to recruit and retain servicemen.
Conclusion. Under the Clinton Administration, the U.S military has suffered under a dangerous combination of reduced budgets, diminished forces, and increased missions. The result has been a steep decline in readiness and an overall decline in U.S. military strength. Nearly a decade of misdirected policy coupled with a myopic modernization strategy has rendered America's armed forces years away from top form.
To deny that the United States military has readiness problems is to deny the men and women in uniform the respect they deserve. America's military prowess can be restored, but policymakers must first admit there is a problem. Only then can the President and Congress work together to reestablish America's top readiness capabilities.
Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.