The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder Update #249

May 23, 1995

May 23, 1995 | Backgrounder Update on

At Stake in the Defense Budget Battles: America's Freedom and Prosperity

(Archived document, may contain errors)

5/23/95 249


(Updating Backgrounder Update No. 242, "Clinton's Defense Budget Falls Far Short Again," March 7, 1995.) The Senate Budget Committee's May 9 plan for federal spending for the next five years demonstrates the willingnessIof some Republicans to accept President Bill Clinton's failed budget-driven approach to na- tional security. The Senate plan, announced by Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM), ac- cepts the Clinton 1996 defense budget proposal without any changes. 2 The result will be too few military forces to protect America's vital interests and maintain its military commitments abroad. The Senate Budget Committee has adopted the Clinton Administration's green eyeshade approach to na- tional security. To be sure, the Republican victory in the 1994 congressional election produced a mandate to balance the federal budget, but it also raised hopes that security policy could be based once again on a ra- tional assessment of America's global interests. If Congress accepts the Senate Budget Committee guide- lines for defense, this will not be the case. Instead, the Republican-controlled Congress will be tacitly en- dorsing an approach to national security budgets that conservatives have rejected for years. Domenicils and Clinton's Defense Budgets Are Identical. Coming on the heels of cuts that have re- duced defense budget authority by about 40 percent in real terms since its peak in 1985, Senator Domenici's recommendations would impose an additional reduction of almost 10 percent through fiscal 1999. His plan would allow defense budget authority to increase about I percent in the final year of the five-year period. If accepted by the full Senate, the Domenici budget proposal would imply that Congress will assume responsibility for the yawning gap between the budget and the cost of the force structure the Clinton Administration claims the country needs. 3 The Clinton Administration's national security strategy, published in February 1995, calls for the U.S. to be able to @!pht two major regional conflicts, roughly equivalent to Operation Desert Storm, "nearly simul- taneously." The Administration claims the force outlined in its September 1993 Bottom-Up Review is ade- quate to handle this requirement. This assertion has been challenged by The Heritage Foundation, the Gen- eral Accounting Office, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Defense Budget Project, and

I Senate Budget Committee, FY 1996 Balanced Budget Resolution: Chairman's Mark, May 1995. 2 For a full assessment of the Clinton defense budget for fiscal years 1996-2000, see Baker Spring, "Clinton's Defense Budget Falls Far Short Again," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder Update No. 242, March 7, 1995. 3 For a full assessment of the Clinton defense plan, see Lawrence T. Di Rita et al., 'Thumbs Down to the Bottom-Up Review," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 957, September 22, 1993. 4 The White House, "A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement," February 1995, p. 9.

a number of other independent organizations.5 At best, the Bottom-Up Review force, if it were fully funded, would be able to handle simultaneously one major regional conflict and one minor regional conflict roughly similar to the 1989 invasion of Planama.6

THE FALSE CHOICE BETWEEN READINESS AND MODERNIZATION The Clinton Administration's proposed defense budget, now matched by the Senate Budget Committee, fails to provide enough money to fund the Botto'm-Up Review. Estimates of the shortfall vary, but the best estimate is around $110 billion in budget authority over five years.7 If this shortfall is not corrected, the conventional force structure will have to be reduced some 20 percent on average from Bottom-Up Review levels. When coupled with earlier reduc- Bottom-Up Review Force vs. tions, the What Clinton/Domenici Budget Will Buy force struc- ture will be FY 1991 Bottom-Up Clinton/ about 50 per- Actual Review Force Domenici cent smaller than what ex- _Amms- Army isted at the Divisions* 26 Is 12 time of the Cold War. Air Force 34 20 is Tactical Wings This down- ward pres- Navy Ships 528 Ships 346 Ships 300 Ships sure on the 15 Carriers 12 Carriers 9 Carriers defense budget will Marine Corps oo create a false Personnel 194, 0 Active 174,000 Acdve 140,000 Active choice be- tween mili- Accounts for separate brigades not organized into divisions. tary readiness' and the modernization of weapons and equipment. For the past few years, the Clinton Administration has used modernization funds to pay for the day-to-day operations of the armed forces. This problem has been exacerbated by the expanded use of the military in places such as Haiti and in other United Nations peacekeeping operations, which were unplanned and unbudgeted.8

5 See the following publications: Di Rita et al., "Thumbs Down to the Bottom-Up Review"; General Accounting Office, "Bottom-Up Review: Analysis of Key DOD Assumptions," January 1995; Don M. Snider et al., "Defense in the Late 1990s: Avoiding the Train Wreck," CSIS Report, 1995; Andrew F. Krepinevich, "The Bottom-Up Review: An Assessment," Defense Budget Project, February 1994. 6 For a detailed explanation of why the Bottom-Up Review force will be unable to execute the two-war strategy, see Baker Spring, "GAO Report, Echoing Heritage Warnings, Says Clinton Military Force Is Not Enough," Heritage Foundation F. Y. L No. 52, February 27, 1995. 7 For a detailed assessment of the shortfall in the Clinton Administration's defense program, see Spring, "Clinton's Defense Budget Falls Far Short Again." 8 For a detailed examination of the readiness problem, see John Luddy, 'The Truth Is Out: The U.S. Military's Looming Readiness Crisis," Heritage Foundation F. YL No. 5 1, February 21, 1995.


If Senator Domenici's budget guidelines are accepted, the size of the armed forces will have to be re- duced drastically to free up money to sustain combat readiness and force modernization. At the end of the current fiscal year, the number of military active and reserve personnel will have fallen by over 800,000 from the fiscal 1987 level of over 3.3 million. The Bottom-Up Review planned for an additional 122,000 positions to be eliminated by the end of fiscal 1995; the Domenici proposal would force an additional re- duction of about 316,000. Can the U.S. Win Even One Desert Storm-Type Conflict? Slashing the force structure in this way will deny the U.S. the capability to win even one major regional conflict on the order of Operation Desert Storm. The forces used in a regional war overseas must be drawn from a larger total force. For example, the ten Air Force fighter wings that participated in Operation Desert Storm were drawn from the 20 wings worldwide. Smaller units from each wing, which were left behind, served to back up those sent to the Per- sian Gulf. But the Clinton budget will pay for only 15 fighter wings for the entire U.S. Air Force. In other words, there would not be enough fighter aircraft to fight and win one regional conflict. Similar reductions would have to be made in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps as well.9 The bottom line: U.S. commanders would have to abandon all other theaters of operations to support a single regional conflict. This was done to some degree in Desert Storm-many of the forces there came from units committed to NATO for the defense of Europe. But since the end of the Persian Gulf war, the U.S. has withdrawn some 220,000 forces from Europe. Should the U.S. find itself at war again in the Per- sian Gulf, therefore, it might have to take forces from Asia as well. But a drawdown of U.S. forces in South Korea, for example, could embolden North Korea to challenge the U.S. and South Korea. The result would be not only fewer chances of a relatively low-cost and quick victory in the Persian Gulf, but dangerous in- stability in Northeast Asia. Indeed, a conflict on the order of Desert Storm would require nearly all of U.S. conventional forces. With- drawing all or most of U.S. forces from Europe to fight a war in the Persian Gulf or Korea would be inter- preted as a breach of U.S. security commitments. Thus, the Clinton/Domenici plan could result in a force structure that leads inevitably to the total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe at the same time the U.S. is attempting to expand the NATO alliance to include new members. The defense budget proposed by the Clinton Administration and tacitly accepted by the Senate Budget Committee is not compatible with the current two-war national strategy. The smaller force structure re- quired by this budget is insufficient to fight and win even one major regional conflict. Further, it is unrealis- tic to expect the resulting force to conduct a major regional operation and still maintain a minimum forward presence in other theaters. Abandoning Vital Interests. The central purpose of defense budgets, military forces, and strategies is to protect U.S. vital interests. As outlined in the annual Heritage Foundation blueprint for foreign and defense policy, these vital interests include: 1) the protection of U.S. territory, borders, and airspace; 2) preventing a major power threat to Europe, East Asia, Latin America, or the Persian Gulf-, 3) access to foreign trade; 4) protecting Americans against threats to their lives and well-being; and 5) access to resources. 10 The U.S. needs a global strategy and a global military capability to protect these interests. Nothing less will do. Yet the defense budget endorsed by President Clinton and the Senate Budget Committee will guar- antee that the U.S. lacks the forces to protect these interests. Because it will deprive the U.S. of the capabil-

9 For a detailed examination of the force structure reductions that have already taken place, see Lawrence T. Di Rita and Baker Spring, "ne Decline of U.S. Military Strength Since the Gulf War," Heritage Foundation F. YL No. 42, October 17, 1994. 10 These vital interests were described in Kim R. Holmes, ed., A Safe and Prosperous America: A U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy Blueprint (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1993), pp. 5-18.


ity to fight and win even one major regional conflict, this defense budget asks the American people to ac- cept the proposition that America no longer has global interests in Europe, Asia, Latin America, or the Per- sian Gulf.

The practical effect of this budget proposal will be to cast doubt on the value of the American security commitment. No ally can be expected to base its security on a U.S. commitment that is not backed by suffi- cient military force. The NATO alliance is likely to be the first casualty, followed shortly by security ar- rangements with Persian Gulf and Pacific friends and allies such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. In the end, the U.S. will find itself facing a very different geostrategic balance of power, with consequences that are impossible to predict.

CONCLUSION The common perception in both houses of Congress is that a defense budget large enough to fund a mili- tary force of the size recommended by the Bottom-Up Review is incompatible with the need to balance the federal budget by 2002. The budget resolution approved by the House of Representatives on May 18 ac- cepts this notion almost as much as that proposed by Senator Domenici. But this perception, no matter how common, is wrong. It is possible to balance the federal budget, provide family tax relief, improve Medicare through con- sumer choice, and fully fund a military force capable of defending America's global interests. Doing so re- quires returning to first principles and answering the fundamental question: What are the main purposes and responsibilities of government? The budget proposal released earlier this year by The Heritage Foundation provides a clear answer: The first business of government is to provide for the common defense. The Heri- tage budget would 1) fully fund a military force slightly larger than that of the Bottom-Up Review by in- creasing defense budget authority from Clinton/Domenici levels by $147 billion over five years, 2) allow a net tax cut of $105 billion over five years, and 3) achieve a balanced budget by the year 2000 instead of by 2002. 12

How much America spends on defense should be determined by the threat to American interests. Na- tional security is not a budget issue. While no more should be spent on defense than is needed-and some pork indeed exists in the defense budget and should be cut-to spend less than is needed is to endanger not only the freedom and security of Americans, but their long-run standard of living as well. The stakes are high. Nothing less than America's freedom and prosperity are in the balance. Baker Spring Senior Policy Analyst

I I For a detailed assessment of the defense budget proposed by the House Budget Committee, see Baker Spring, "Defense Freeze Would Harm National Security," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder Update No. 244, March 31, 1995. 12 Scott A. Hodge, ed., Rolling Back Government: A Budget Plan to Rebuild America (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1995).



About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy