March 21, 2001 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense

Building a Better Military

For the past eight years, the Clinton Administration's national security strategy failed to balance defense budgets with missions and forces. Its force structure does not support its strategy, and its budget cannot support its force strategy.

Those are the words from The Heritage Foundation's book, Priorities for the President. By echoing those sentiments, President George W. Bush has built momentum to create change in a very traditional, and perhaps the most valuable, government department.

In February Bush said he planned to break with tradition and create "a new architecture for the defense of America and our allies," by investing in new technologies and weapons systems rather than trying to improve older systems.

"We do not know yet the exact shape of our future military," Bush said, "but we know the direction we must begin to travel. On land, our heavy forces will be lighter. Our light forces will be more lethal. All will be easier to deploy and sustain. In the air, we'll be able to strike across the world with pinpoint accuracy, using both aircraft and unmanned systems."

While this research takes place the president has decided not to pour money into his plan until after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld completes a comprehensive review of American strategy and the structure of military forces.

So, while we may not know precisely how Bush will earmark his military money, we can identify areas that were neglected during the past eight years, and suggest some next steps. According to Heritage analyst Jack Spencer, "The Facts about Military Readiness" are quite clear:

  • The size of the U.S. military has been cut drastically in the past decade,

  • Military deployments have increased dramatically throughout the 1990s,

  • America's military is aging rapidly, and

  • Morale is on the decline in the U.S. armed forces.

"Under the Clinton Administration, the U.S military has suffered under a dangerous combination of reduced budgets, diminished forces, and increased missions," Spencer writes. "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."

Evidence of that would be the recent accidental bombing death of six ground observers during a training exercise in Kuwait. Press reports covering the incident cited many experts saying "It is impossible to find a senior military leader who does not say our troops are underfunded and overstretched."

Spencer himself was quoted in the Houston Chronicle saying, "As a general matter, I do believe the apparent increase in military accidents can be traced to cutbacks in the money for training, and the amount of training, of America's military."

Strategy Before Spending

To address this dire situation, the Heritage Foundation has outlined, in great detail, more than 10 policy proposals that will revive America's military strength. The three main objectives to structure the proposals are:

  • A coherent National Security Strategy supported by a sound National Military Strategy and a Quadrennial Defense Review that is consistent with those strategies;

  • A commitment to fund the armed forces as recommended by the QDR; and

  • A commitment to the men and women in the armed forces--the military's greatest resource--that pay will be increased and quality of living will be a priority.

"By taking this broad three-pronged approach, the Bush Administration and new Congress will have the freedom to enact the policies that are necessary to rebuild U.S. military strength and forward-deployed power," Spencer writes.

But none of this is possible without strong presidential leadership. Let's hope Bush can steer the ship on the right course.

"[M]y 2002 defense budget will increase spending on the people of our military immediately with better pay, better housing," Bush said, in his remarks to troops and personnel at Norfolk (Va.) Naval Air Station "This need is urgent, and it's obvious. You give the best, and we owe you the best in return. My 2002 budget will also include $2.6 billion as a down-payment on the research and development effort that lies ahead.

"Yet, in our broader effort, we must put strategy first, then spending. Our defense vision will drive our defense budget; not the other way around."

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