The men and women who serve under the American flag will be
the best trained, best equipped, best prepared fighting force in
the world, so long as I am President.
President Bill Clinton
Reminding his audience of the President's pledge, Secretary of
Defense Les Aspin announced on September 1 the long-awaited and
much- delayed results of the "bottom-up review" of defense
requirements. Aspin's report, entitled The Bottom-Up Review: Forces
For A New Era, outlines a comprehensive U.S. defense plan for the
post-Cold War era, acknowledging the collapse of communism and the
end of the strategy of containment of the Soviet empire.
Recognizing that the 1991 Persian Gulf War signaled the need for a
regional focus in America's military strategy, the review proposes
a smaller military force structure that will depend more heavily on
technology than America's Cold War armed forces.
After harnessing the efforts of thousands of Pentagon
bureaucrats and military planners, Secretary Aspin presented a
force structure that bears a striking resemblance to that which was
outlined in A Safe and Prosperous America: A U.S. Foreign and
Defense Policy Blueprint, published by the Heritage Foundation last
May. (Kim R. Holmes, ed., A Safe and Prosperous America: A U.S.
Foreign and Defense Policy Blueprint (Washington, D.C.: The
Heritage Foundation, 1993).) For each military service, the
Bottom-Up Review proposes force levels nearly identical to those
described in the Heritage publication.This is surprising given that
the defense budget proposed by President Clinton in April will pay
for only a far smaller force, which then- House Armed Services
Committee Chairman Aspin presented last year and referred to as
Option B (see chart on following page).
But that is where the similarities end. The authors of the
Heritage study categorize specific U.S. security interests around
the world, identifying the primary threats to those interests. They
also outline region-by-region a new U.S. foreign policy and
delineate the diplomatic, economic, and military tools needed to
execute that policy. Finally, the authors propose a detailed
military force structure that is sufficient to defend the interests
and support the policies developed earlier in the study. Perhaps
most important, the Heritage analysis offers basic funding
requirements for the proposed force, and establishes limited but
attainable objectives for this lean post-Cold War military.
By contrast, Aspin makes no attempt to delineate specific
national interests or the global threats to them. He tells the
reader that he perceives "new dangers" to U.S. interests, but gives
no specific examples of those dangers. For instance, he cites
"economic dangers" as a category of new threats, but cannot explain
to Americans how the armed forces of the United States are
responsible for building "a strong, competitive and growing
economy." (Les Aspin, The Bottom-Up Review: Forces For A New Era,
p. 2.) Having thus failed to identify the vital and important
national security interests of the United States, he ignores any
detailed discussion of regional security policies to address those
interests. Consequently, when he outlines the Bottom-Up Review
force structure, it is unclear where and under what circumstances
U.S. forces may be asked to fight.
Aspin's plan thus falls well short of expectations. It suffers
greatly by comparison with the two-year review conducted by his
predecessor, Dick Cheney, and General Colin Powell, embodied in the
so-called Bush Base Force as outlined in the National Military
Strategy of the United States in January 1992. The authors of
Heritage's A Safe and Prosperous America differ with Bush and
Powell in that they reject the "share the pain" approach of
proportional force reductions in each service. However, the
differences with Aspin's Bottom-Up Review are even greater. There
are at least seven serious shortcomings in the Aspin review.
Shortcoming #1: Aspin's force structure will be unaffordable
according to the Clinton budget.
Aspin provides no detailed cost data for his proposed force
structure. But Aspin must know that Clinton's proposed defense
budget will not buy the force he wants. The force recommended by
the Bottom- Up Review most closely resembles the Option C force
presented by Aspin last year as one of four force structure
options. Aspin estimated then that the Option C forcewould cost
somewhat more than the $270 billion per year proposed by Clinton
for the period of fiscal 1993 through 1997. But the Clinton budget
reduces defense to $246 billion by fiscal 1997. (Les Aspin, Defense
1997 Alternatives, House Armed Services Committee, March 24, 1992.)
Thus Clinton's plan for the defense budget is $66 billion less than
Aspin's Option C budget (see chart).
Shortcoming #2: The capabilities of the Bottom-Up Review force
Aspin noted in his September 1 statement that the United States
must field forces sufficient to fight and win two wars "nearly
simultaneously," but acknowledges that "we need to avoid a
situation in which the United States... makes simultaneous wars
more likely by leaving an opening for potential aggressors" to take
advantage of U.S. engagements elsewhere. (Aspin, The Bottom-Up
Review, p. 10.) Having thus defined the problem, Aspin apparently
wants potential adversaries to believe that America will have
forces large enough to fight and win in two regional conflicts,
with the degree of simultaneity limited only by the Pentagon's
ability to get the forces to their respective regions.
Unfortunately, by his own measure, the forces for his strategy
do not add up. According to the Aspin plan, for example, 100 Air
Force heavy bombers will be devoted to a single regional conflict,
or 200 for the two-region strategy. (Ibid.) Yet in the projected
force structure for 1999, the Air Force is assigned "up to 184
bombers," not including those that would be assigned to the
strategic nuclear forces. (Ibid., p. 17.) Similarly, deploying the
forces proposed for a single major conflict from the other services
would leave virtually nothing in reserve once a second major
conflict began. Out of the total active force of eleven aircraft
carrier battle groups proposed, for example, Secretary Aspin would
assign four to five carriers to each of the two major regional
conflicts, leaving perilously little room for error.
Worse yet, there is a wild card in Secretary Aspin's deck. In
addition to his two regional war strategy, he notes that "peace
enforcement and intervention operations" will draw from the "same
collection of general purpose force" already obligated for major
regional contingencies. To support these operations, Secretary
Aspin intends to commit up to two Army divisions, one Marine
brigade, two aircraft carrier battle groups, and two Air Force
wings. (Ibid., p. 13.) This would stretch even thinner an already
By comparison, The Heritage Foundation's force is slightly
larger than the Aspin-proposed force, yet it is deemed adequate to
respond to only one major regional conflict, with sufficient in
reserve for a simultaneous small-scale conflict on the order of
Operation Just Cause in Panama. To support additional commitments,
including a second major regional conflict or sustained
peacekeeping operations, U.S. forces would have to be kept at the
1991 levels available for Operation Desert Storm (see the chart
Shortcoming #3: The Bottom-Up Review will create a "hollow
force" by Reducing spending on procurement.
The Clinton Administration will likely continue to reduce
current procurement accounts to pay for future defense budget
reductions. This is a practice whereby planned purchases of defense
systems in a given year are stopped or cut back. The 1994 defense
budget imposes a 17 percent real reduction in procurement spending
from the previous year. This means that commanders in chief after
Clinton will face future conflicts without the benefit of the
advanced defense systems and unchallenged technological superiority
that Ronald Reagan and George Bush bequeathed to him.
Reducing spending on operations and maintenance.
Cuts in the purchase of repair parts, fuel, and other items
needed by the military for day-to-day operations are commonly used
to provide short-term savings. The impact on combat readiness is
immediate. For example, according to Senator John Glenn, the
Democrat from Ohio, over 500 of the Army's M1A1 Abrams tanks will
be overdue for major maintenance and repair by fiscal 1994.
Moreover, because of maintenance budget cuts, the Marines will go
from no backlog in depot maintenance orders in 1992 to more than
$160 million worth of backlog by 1994. (Margo MacFarland, "Nunn
Warns That Outlay Problem in '95 Could Be Even Worse Than '94,"
Inside the Navy, June 21, 1993, p. 17.)
Increasing the tempo of operations by expanding commitments.
Secretary Aspin is planning for a much smaller force, yet he
claims no major overseas commitments will be abandoned. In fact,
with his plans to engage U.S. forces in new and ever-expanding
"peace enforcement" operations like the one in Somalia, U.S.
commitments overseas will be growing even as the force shrinks. The
only way around this problem is for U.S. forces to increase the
tempo of military operations. This means more time overseas or at
sea, more stress on equipment and vehicles, and -- most important
-- decreasing morale. Re-enlistment of trained personnel suffers as
a result. For example, in 1979, at the height of the "hollow force"
period, only 50.5 percent of enlisted personnel re-enlisted after
their first tour of duty; in 1991, after a decade of robust defense
spending, retention in the military stood at an impressive 73.4
percent. (Department of Defense, Directorate for Information,
Operations and Reports, Selected Manpower Statistics, Fiscal Year
1991, pp. 10, 103.)
Shortcoming #4: The Bottom-Up Review will result in a future
technology gap as older systems become obsolete without
Notwithstanding Clinton's pledge to the contrary, there is scant
evidence in the Bottom-Up Review that his administration is
committed to high technology defense. In addition to cuts to
America's premier high-tech military program -- strategic defense
-- Aspin proposes weapons cancellations that will eliminate whole
classes of systems. For example, the Navy's only all-weather strike
bomber, the A-6 Intruder, will be retired without a permanent
replacement. This will significantly restrict the Navy's ability to
conduct bombing missions and close air support of ground troops.
Moreover, at least four other fighter aircraft programs will be
terminated, including the Navy's A/F-X and F/A-18 Hornet C/D, plus
the Air Force's Multi-Role Fighter and F-16 Falcon.
Aspin is thus relying on modernizations to existing weapons to
sustain America's air power until a new generation of combat
aircraft can be conceived, designed, tested, and produced. Had
Ronald Reagan adopted this type of planning, many of the
magnificent systems that performed with such impact during the
Persian Gulf War -- the Stealth bomber, the Tomahawk cruise
missile, satellite communications systems -- would never have been
Shortcoming #5: The Bottom-Up Review continues the Clinton
Administration's assault on missile defense.
During his September 1 presentation, Secretary Aspin said that
he was allotting $12 billion for battlefield "theater" defenses to
protect forces in the field from ballistic missile attack. This
amount represents a $4 billion reduction from the Bush budget
proposal for theater ballistic missile defense spending for the
next five years. Moreover, the decision to cut $14.7 billion in
spending on strategic defense systems -- those that defend against
long-range ballistic missiles -- leaves only $3 billion in this
critical account. This will speed the decline of the most important
part of the nation's missile defense program.
Aspin further damaged the prospects for early deployment of
theater missile defenses by declaring that all theater programs
should comply with the nearly obsolete 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
(ABM) Treaty. Although this treaty was never intended to impose
restrictions on theater systems, the Administration is now prepared
to reverse the traditional interpretation of the treaty.
Aspin's proposed budget cuts and reorientation of the strategic
defense program will produce an effort restricted to little more
than research and development, with advance testing and deployment
Shortcoming #6: The Bottom-Up Review force lacks a sufficient
capability to project maritime power overseas.
Aspin calls for a naval force built around twelve aircraft
carriers, only eleven of which will be available for regular
forward presence and overseas deployment. A twelfth carrier will be
used primarily for training. In Heritage's A Safe and Prosperous
America, twelve carriers were deemed the minimum number sufficient
to satisfy the more limited goals of engaging in one major regional
conflict and a much smaller operation simultaneously.
The Aspin plan has a fundamental flaw. It relies on the ability
of the Navy to make the twelfth "training carrier" quickly
deployable in the event of crisis. However, this carrier will be
manned with only 80 percent active duty personnel; the rest will be
reservists. A carrier manned with a 100 percent active duty crew
normally takes eighteen months to prepare for an extended overseas
assignment. Aspin does not say how long it will take to prepare a
carrier for a six- month deployment in which one in five crew
members have trained onboard for only one weekend a month.
That is not all. The Clinton Administration's proposed carrier
force risks a dangerous gap between objectives and capabilities in
1) It fails to allow for necessary U.S. forward military
presence. According to a recent Congressional Research Service
study, every permanently deployed carrier presence requires at
least four additional carriers to allow for crew training, transit
time, maintenance, and other deployment preparations. (Ronald
O'Rourke, "Naval Forward Deployments and the Size of the Navy," CRS
Report for Congress, November 13, 1992.) The twelve-carrier
proposal in A Safe and Prosperous America acknowledges that gaps in
the Navy's presence in the Mediterranean Sea, the western Pacific
Ocean, and the Indian Ocean will occur. This acknowledgment also
was implicit in the Bush Base Force proposal for twelve carriers.
The eleven carriers proposed by Aspin will result in further and
longer gaps in coverage of critical regions around the world,
dangerously reducing U.S. forward presence and the ability to
2) It fails to account for a wartime "surge" in carrier
requirements. During Operation Desert Storm, the presence of modern
air bases and supporting infrastructure made it relatively easy for
land-based aircraft to dominate that conflict. Even with these
advantages, six aircraft carriers were deployed to the Persian
Gulf, Red Sea, and eastern Mediterranean Sea at the height of the
air campaign. Although future conflicts are likely to rely even
more on carrier-based air power, the Bottom-Up Review calls for
four to five aircraft carriers to be devoted to each major regional
contingency. Assuming the worst case, two "nearly simultaneous" (in
Aspin's words) major regional contingencies will absorb ten
carriers, leaving one available for presence in the rest of the
world. This does not account for the one to two aircraft carriers
Aspin says will also be needed to support a major peace enforcement
operation. While he promises that these operations would not
interfere with a major regional conflict elsewhere, what assurance
is there that American forces will not already be involved in major
peace enforcement operations when a regional conflict erupts?
Indeed, given the zeal with which the Clinton Administration has
approached U.N.- sponsored peacekeeping missions, the likelihood of
U.S. involvement in numerous peacekeeping operations is very
Shortcoming #7: Aspin's plan reveals specious assumptions about
In delineating threats to U.S. interests, Aspin argues that
defense spending must be cut to avoid "economic dangers to the U.S.
economy." (Aspin, Bottom-Up Review, p. 2.) This assumption accepts
at face value the view that America's economy is endangered by the
"bloated" defense budget. This is simply wrong. Real defense
spending already has fallen by nearly 30 percent since the Reagan
military build-up peaked in 1985. The Clinton Administration
proposes even further reductions. As a result, by 1998, the U.S.
will be spending 40 percent less to defend itself than it did in
1985 (see chart on page 4).
Compared to Bush, Clinton proposes spending $176 billion less on
defense during the fiscal 1993 to 1997 period. While this is a
nearly 15 percent reduction in the defense budget, it is a
negligible percentage of the more than $30 trillion value of goods
and services that will be produced by the American economy. While
the nation's defense will be profoundly affected by these cuts,
using these funds for federal domestic programs will have no
favorable impact on the nation's economy and no impact on the
budget deficit. For example, Clinton hoped to spend $16 billion of
these cuts last spring on his "economic stimulus" program to "grow
the economy," which he and Aspin consider necessary to national
security. However, most economists, including many who shared the
President's goals, believed that such a "small" amount of money
would have had little stimulative effect on so large an
But that same $16 billion could buy three aircraft carriers or
dozens of sealift ships. These could help guarantee America's
security and prosperity by maintaining access to foreign resources.
They also could place military muscle in the way of a potential
crisis and help avert a long, expensive conflict. The Clinton
defense cuts guarantee that new technology will not be developed,
weapons programs will be terminated, older systems will be phased
out without replacement, spare parts will become unavailable, and
military pay will lag behind civilian pay.
Aspin's Bottom-Up Review is fatally flawed. It is based on
faulty assumptions concerning the mission of the armed forces.
The first is that the shape and size of U.S. forces should be
based on peace enforcement and intervention. (Ibid., p. 13.) This
would be a mistake. America's armed forces will always be available
for participation in ad hoc peacekeeping operations, but the
anticipation of such operations should not be the basis for force
structure planning. As a superpower with global interests, the U.S.
should as a rule resist participating in ill-defined and poorly led
operations like the one in Somalia.
The second flawed assumption is that the "armed forces... can
play a significant role in" addressing "economic dangers to our
national security." (Ibid., p. 2.) Improving the domestic economy
is a laudable goal for all Presidents, and a strong economy does
indeed contribute to overall perceptions of national security.
Nonetheless, including that objective in national military planning
is misguided. In an extreme example, Kuwait had one of the
strongest economies in the world in August 1990, but was hardly
more secure from foreign aggression as a result.
Having outlined these faulty assumptions, Aspin develops a force
structure that is unaffordable. The $1.23 trillion in defense
spending the Clinton Administration has proposed through 1997 will
support a force plan developed when Aspin was still in Congress,
his so-called Option B force. The Option B force was far smaller
than the Bottom-Up Review Force, yet the funding levels are roughly
the same. Even according to Aspin's own budget criteria, if he
wants a force as large as that outlined in the Bottom-Up Review, he
will have to ask Clinton for more money to pay for it. In fact,
just two weeks after unveiling the Bottom-Up review, Aspin
testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that his force
would cost at least $13 billion, and perhaps $31 billion, more than
the $1.23 trillion the Administration has proposed. (Barton
Gellman, "Defense Program Exceeds Budget Target, Aspin Says," The
Washington Post, September 15, 1993, p. A16.)
Having developed this unaffordable force structure based on
faulty assumptions, Aspin then gives more cause for doubt by
assigning it unachievable objectives. The Bottom-Up Review force
would be hard- pressed to engage in two major regional conflicts,
let alone additional missions arising from the Administration's
commitment to the U.N.'s aggressive peacekeeping agenda. It is
unreasonable to declare goals that cannot be reached with the
modest forces the Clinton Administration is willing to pay for.
The Clinton Administration can recover from its flawed
reasoning. First of all, it must come up with the money to pay for
the force. This will require an acknowledgement that Clinton's
earlier assessment of what it will cost to pay for the nation's
security ($1.23 trillion over five years) was too low. Full funding
for his proposed force will be closer to $1.4 trillion over the
next five years, or about $280 billion per year.
Having committed to funding this force, President Clinton should
establish achievable strategic objectives for it. Overly ambitious
and ill-defined peacekeeping and "peace enforcement" operations
must be avoided; the quagmire in Somalia offers a disturbing
example of the inability of multi-national forces to sustain
cohesion and effectiveness in the absence of a clear threat to
their national interests. Such operations can only result in
open-ended and costly commitments, or worse, to the needless deaths
of young Americans.
Americans remember Operation Desert Storm as an expression of
the awesome capabilities of a well-planned, well-funded military
force. Often overlooked is the fact that the force President Bush
ordered to war benefited from over half a decade of sustained
military build-up by President Reagan. Even so, it took six months
to assemble that force for war against a mid-size power under
extremely favorable conditions. No responsible strategy would
assume that such advantageous circumstances will be present in
future regional conflicts. Secretary Aspin owes the American people
a better explanation of how his force will defend America's vital
interests in the post-Cold War era.