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.
Readiness measures the ability of a
military unit.to accomplish its assigned missions. Logistics,
available spare parts, training, equipment, and morale all
contribute to readiness.
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
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.
Because the security of the United States
is at stake, it is imperative to present the facts about military
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security
in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies at The Heritage Foundation.