The Folly of Clinton's Defense Plans for Korea


The Folly of Clinton's Defense Plans for Korea

June 28, 1994 11 min read Download Report
Baker Spring
Baker Spring
Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Baker is a former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

(Archived document, may contain errors)

6/28/94 228


(Updating Backgrounder No. 957, "rhumbs Down to the Bottom-Up Review," September 22, 1993.) In the wake of former President Jimmy Carter's recent visit, the communist dictatorship in North Korea has promised to freeze its nuclear program. Pyongyang's refusal to cooperate with international inspectors and fears that the North was developing nuclear weapons prompted the Clinton Administration to announce its intention to seek economic sanctions from the United Nations Security Council; Pyongyang has said that sanctions would be mated as an act of war.

A war in Korea is one for which the Clinton Administration should be particularly well-prepared. In 1993, the Administration conducted a comprehensive review of America's defense requirements. Known as the Bottom-Up Review (BUR), it has served as the basis for Clinton's 1995 defense budget and for White House national security strategy through 1999. To develop these budgets and strategies, then-Secre- tary of Defense Les Aspin noted in his October 1993 "Report on the Bottom-Up Review" that "while a number of scenarios were examined [for planning purposes], the two that we focused on most closely ... en- visioned aigression by ... Iraq against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and by North Korea against the Republic Of Ir ,,orea.99

In the Bottom-Up Review, these two scenarios were referred to as major regional conflicts. The Clinton Administration proposes that the U.S. must be prepared to fight two such conflicts "nearly simultaneously:' and that America's military forces must remain large enough to do so. But with each passing month, the rapid military draw-down on which the Administration has embarked makes it clearer that U.S. conven- tional forces today are nowhere near large enough to conduct two such operations at the same time. If Clin- ton holds firm to his intentions as outlined in the Bottom-Up Review, then military commanders will be given far fewer resources to fight in Korea than commanders were provided to fight the war in the Persian Gulf. In fact, the Korea force will be almost 50 percent smaller than the Desert Storm force. The impact of fighting a war in Korea with a force this small would certainly be higher casualties and a longer time to vic- tory. Moreover, because of dffficult terrain, a mom well-disciplined enemy, and the absence of extensive basing facilities nearby, such as those provided by Saudi Arabia in the Gulf War, a war in Korea would be a more challenging endeavor than Desert Storm. Depending on the duration and intensity of a second Korean war, U.S. military planners preparing for the conflict would certainly ask for forces much larger than those allocated by the Bottom-Up Review for a sin- gle regional war. But the Administration's track record on supporting the needs of its overseas commanders

I Department of Defense, Report o .f the Bottom-Up Review, October 1993, p. 14.

for military equipment is suspect. A request last year by the U.S. com- mander in Somalia for armored fight- PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC RUSSIA ing vehicles was turned down be- OF CHINA cause of the political sensitivities of civilian Pentagon officials. 2 Shortly thereafter, the absence of armor led directly to the deaths of 18 American 6 NORTH soldiers trying to rescue peacekeep- KOREA ers caught in a firefight with armed Taechong Y 4 . ....... . ..... ....... .. .......... military factions in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. W t T; Developmen Nuclear Centers Will Pentagon planning for a war AL ..V. Pyonvang in Korea be similarly hampered by political considerations, which might 010 Demihmnzed Zone P include the Administration having to 0 5L Seoul -.4 acknowledge that its own comprehen- e Sri L sive review of America's defense re- .RM :4, -Aw'. SOUTH quirements is invalid? Will the mili- KOREA tary services be asked to conduct a war in Korea that in many respects will be more stressful than the Per- . ..... JAPAN sian Gulf War with far smaller 5 forces? To prevent these outcomes and avoid a disaster similar to that seen in Somalia, but on a much . . . . ...... larger scale, Congress should: North Korea.- Asia's Newest Nuclear Power? or Adopt a sense of the Congress resolution expressing the view that the Bottom-Up. Review should in no way be seen as limiting the size of the force military com- manders planning a campaign in Korea may request. V Insist that regular military briefings on the U.S. preparations for a war in Korea be given to select Members of Congress.

The Clinton Administration's Plans for War in Korea When then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced the findings of the Bottom-Up Review on Sep- tember 1, 1993, he asserted that his recommendations for the size of the military America needs were based on the need to fight two major regional conflicts "nearly simultaneously." The force proposed to meet this requirement included: 1) between 15 and 16 Army divisions, 2) 346 Navy ships (including 11 active air- craft carriers and one reserve/training aircraft carrier), 3) 20 Air Force tactical fighter wings, and 4) 174,000 active-duty Marine Corps troops.

2 Secretary Aspin acknowledged during an October 7, 1993, White House press conference that he turned down the request for armor. Aspin said his decision was motivated in part by a political comn-dtment to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia. Total U.S. forces now remain somewhat larger Bottom-Up Review Force Represents a Significant (see adjacent chart). But while the North Koreans Reduction from Guff War Military Force Levels buy time through disingenuous negotiations, the U.S. is continuing to cut its defense budget. In 1991 l"s 1999 fact, during the 1990s defense outlays will de- (Actual) (Clinton Budget (BUR) crease by 35 percent. Request) With each concession Washington makes to Affny Divisions 26 20 is the North Koreans, U.S. forces approach the Air Force 34 20.5 20 wholly inadequate levels outlined in the Bottom- Wings Up Review. That force would be too small to fight two major regional conflicts, such as in Ko- Navy Ships 528 373 346 rea and the Middle East, "nearly simultaneously." Active Marine 194,000 174,000 174,000 An ArmyToo Small Corps Troops According to the Clinton plan, the Army will Souroe: Department of Defense. be reduced to between 15 and 16 divisions. One division will be dedicated to forward presence in Europe to meet minimum NATO obligations. At least one division is to be available for peacekeeping; the Admini- stration has already committed to deploying a fu- ture peacekeeping force in Bosnia, for example. Clinton's 1994 Korea Force Significantly Below Press accounts indicate that the Administration 1991 Guff War Force Levels expects to send up to 25,000 troops to Bosnia as- 12 suming a settlement is reached in the conflict. UJR Plan for Korea (estmated) 10 - - - - - - - - - - - - =3 Persian Gulf War (aMal) This means that as few as 13 divisions will re- main to be divided between the two major re- a ------------ ---------------- gional conflicts in Korea and the Middle East. Of --- ---- - ---- -------- this, a maximum of four Army divisions could be 6 committed to Korea at the outset of the conflict 4 because three divisions would have to be held in reserve as a so-called rotation base. Six divisions 2 would have to be allocated to prepare for the sec- ond conflict in the Middle East. The rotation base AmV Divisions Air For VVIngs hkvy Carriers Marine Bripdes will allow troops to be relieved in the event of a sources: Hedtage esfimates; Depa. ti, nt of Defense. lengthy deployment and as replacement for com- bat losses. The six divisions allocated to the Middle East would allow four to be sent to the conflict and two additional divisions would serve as a rotation base for this second hypothetical conflict. By comparison, the force deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Storm included seven divisions plus two armored cavalry regiments (see above chart). While American troops would be fighting alongside well-trained forces of The Republic of Korea, no American commander would rely solely on the forces of another country to guarantee minimal loss of American lives. A ground war on the Korean peninsula could be expected to be a much more challenging proposition that the war in the Iraqi and Kuwaiti desert, due to difficult terrain and a lower probability of a decisive air campaign. General Gary E. Luck, Commander of U.S. forces in Korea, implicitly acknow-

3 Susanne M. Schafer, "Shalikashvili: About 25,000 U.S. Troops Likely in Bosnia," The Associated Press, March 10, 1994. IS

ledged as much when he told Congress recently that Balance of Forces on the Korean Peninsula he would need an addi- U.S. Fbmes Other U.S. Form tional 4W,OW troops to re- North Korea South Korn In ROK in Asia inforce those already as- ARMY signed to Korea should Man I== 520.000 26,000 (2nd Div) in Japan: war break out. 4 Tanks 3,700 1,800 116 18.300 I'Vines Amixired PersonnelCarriers zSW 1550 138 In Hawaii: Artillery 2.300 3.500 48 18,000 Army Troops An Air Force with Seff-Propekd Artillery 4= 9W 0 Multiple Rocket Launchers 2.280 140 36 Nothing in Reserve Surfacw1to SuJrfice Minim 30-100+ 12 0 Surbce-u:,.Alr Missiles; 10,000 850 0 The Bottom-Up Review Helicopters 290 588 2W+ is no easier on the Air AIR FORCE Force than on the Army re- CoinbatAircrat 730, includec 445. incJudm: 84, inicludw- InJapan: 14 MIG-29 48 F- 16 72 F-16 36 F- I 5C garding a future war in Ko- 46 MG-23 96 F-4 12 OA-10 18 F- 15E rea. The plan calls for the 160 MiG-21 190 F-5 24 F-16 '80 MIG-19 +60 combat aircraft on Air Force to retain 20 tacti- 240 MiG- 17 U.S.S. Independence cal fighter wings, ten for NAVY 36 Su-25 each major regional con- AircrAcarriers 0 0 6 flict. This leaves nothing Cruisen 0 0 29 available for forward pres- 25 .4 34 ence in Europe or for Demoyers 0 9 17 FrIpam 3 ..29 14' peacekeeping operations. Patrol Craft 387 120 Aside from leaving no tac- 2ji 14' Note: FWires estimates of early 1994 fbme levels. tical aircraft in the United sources, A4,1,wy 8,1,n,, 1993-1994, De;iartment oF Deleme- States for the defense of U.S. airspace, the Clinton plan would leave no reserve forces to back up those squadrons fighting in one of the major regional conflicts. This is obviously an unrealistic allocation of resources. How might Air Force wings really be allocated in the event of a conflict in Korea? First, at least one wing likely will remain in Europe to support NATO forces. Another probably will be dedicated to a peacekeeping operation such as in the Balkans. Finally, no fewer than three wings will remain in the U.S. for air defense and training. This leaves 15 Air Force tactical wings to be divided between conflicts in Korea and the hfiddle East. Perhaps as many as eight wings, or more than half of those available, could be dedicated to the Korean conflict. But at least three of these eight would have to be held in reserve to reinforce those sent into the conflict at the start. This means that the Air Force will be able to send only five tactical fighter wings to Ko- rea in the event of a conflict, if the war is fought as outlined in the Bottom-Up Review. In Operation Desert Storm, by comparison, 29 Air Force fighter squadrons, or roughly 10 wings, participated.

Too Few Aircraft Carriers The Clinton Administration intends to retain a navy built around 12 aircraft carriers, one of which will be dedicated to training new pilots. In the Bottom-Up Review, the Administration plans to commit four to five aircraft carrier battle groups to each major regional conflict. But the simple math of aircraft carrier employ- ment does not add up for the Clinton plan. One carrier battle group is deployed in the Mediterranean Sea to

4 "Clinton May Add G.Vs in Korea While Remaining Open to Talks," The New York Times, June 17,1994, p. Al. support such U.S. and NATO commitments as the no-fly zone in former Yugoslavia. One carrier is dedi- cated to training. This leaves ten carriers to be divided between a war in Korea and a war in the Middle East. Of the ten remaining carriers, at least one will be out of action undergoing a long-term overhaul, as is al- ways the case. Further, given the normal rotation of aircraft carriers around the world, an additional three will be unavailable because they either will have just returned or are preparing to embark upon an overseas assignment. 5This leaves six aircraft carriers for the two major regional conflicts the Clinton Administra- tion envisions. Thus, three aircraft carriers could be sent to Korea, three to the Middle East. By way of com- parison, six aircraft carriers were sent to the Persian Gulf Naval aviation will be even more critical to the defense of the Korean peninsula than it was during Opera- tion Desert Storm. In that conflict, Saudi Arabia and other 'Gulf states provided large and well-equipped air- fields at which the U.S. could deploy the significant numbers of U.S. Air Force fighters and bombers that conducted so much of the air campaign during the war. Equally capable facilities close to the Korean penin- sula simply do not exist and will make the U.S. that much more dependent upon naval forces to provide the aviation superiority that proved so critical in the Persian Gulf.

A Marine Corps Stretched Thin The Bottom-Up Review does not cut the Marine Corps strength as deeply as it does that of the other serv- ices. As a result, the Marine Corps probably can meet the requirement to fight at full strength in two major regional conflicts at the same time. But the Corps will have little room to spare. The Clinton plan provides the Marine Corps with 12 brigades, made up of both active and reserve units. Assuming one brigade is par- ticipating in a peacekeeping mission, 11 brigades will remain to be divided between the two conflicts. The Marines could thus assign four brigades to both Korea and the Middle East conflicts and have three in re- serve. Five Marine brigades were deployed during the Persian Gulf War.

Avoiding a Repeat of the Disaster in Somaha Military commanders preparing for a war in Korea are certain to ask for forces larger than those envi- sioned in the Bottom-Up Review. When this happens, it will be clear to military commanders that the entire Bottom-Up Review force is inadequate. The likely result will be that civilian officials will be tempted to overrule the professional judgment of the military commanders and deny requests for forces large enough to win the war at the minimum cost to the U.S. Doing this would be a repeat of the mistake made when this Administration in September 1993 refused a request of military commanders for armored fighting vehicles in Somalia. Only this time the mistake would have much graver consequences than the 18 Americans who lost their lives because of that decision. More- over, such actions would be contrary to the prudent decision-making process established during the Persian Gulf War. In that instance, force requirements were left to the professional judgment of competent military officers.

5 For a full discussion of aircraft carrier deployment patterns, see John Luddy, '@Charting a Course for the Navy in the 2 1 st Century," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 979, March 9, 1994, pp. 4-5.

Avoiding a Future Disaster.- What Congress Can Do The time for Congress to express its concern about declining defense capabilities is now. To do so, Con- gress should consider: of Adopting a sense of the Congress resolution that states that the Bottom-Up Review should not be used to impose a cap on the forces that could be allocated to a campaign in Korea. Further, the resolution should state that Congress is prepared to reconsider the Bottom-Up Review in its entirety in light of force requests from the military in planning for a Korean conflict. In other words, the resolution-should-state that Congress will send 4he. Administration back to the drawing board if the real-world lessons taught by preparing for a Korean campaign show the Bottom-Up Re- view is invalid-as is becoming increasingly apparent. Insisting on regular military briefings on preparations for a war in Korea for select members, including the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, and the Chairmen and Ranking Members of both Armed Serv- ices Committees. These briefings will give congressional leaders the opportunity to assess the prepa- rations for war and the degree of support the military commanders are receiving. This option should be supported by the Clinton Administration because the President will need congressional support for war should a Korean nuclear stalemate lead to that. By offering Congress briefings from his military commanders, Clinton will be seen as a Commander in Chief confident of his preparations and eager to elicit the support of the American people through their elected representatives.

Conclusion The U.S. still has forces strong enough to prevaiI in Korea, although not as strong as those used in the Persian Gulf War. But the likelihood of a disaster in Korea will increase dramatically if military planners' options are narrowed by the unrealistic assumptions and dictates of the Clinton Administration's budget- driven Bottom-Up Review. Congress can take steps to ensure that America's military commanders are given every chance to succeed. Thousands of American lives hang in the balance, as does the nation's secu- rity and global standing. The stakes are too high to defer entirely to an Administration that has shown itself to be unsteady and unsure in its handling of U.S. foreign and defense policy. Baker Spring Senior Policy Analyst


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy