- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

A Beltway commission is not without honor. Save perhaps among those whose activities it's trying to reform. Whatever else can be said about America's post-Cold War defense dilemmas, they've spawned no shortage of official studies. BFS, BUR, CORM, QDR I, NDP, NSSG, QDR II … all adding up to a fine example of the Military Law of Inverse Brevity: the smaller the force, the more gets written about it. Call it the weapons-to-words ratio.

Don't fret what you call it. Most of these studies aren't worth the downloading, mere apologies for the status quo, i.e., a smaller version of the Cold War/Industrial Age structure and budget. True, the 1997 National Defense Panel (which Congress created to critique Quadrennial Defense Review II because they knew it would be a whitewash) risked unilateral rationality by proposing a transformation strategy and suggesting that homeland defense might be nice.

Last month, the National Security Study Group (NSSG), which Congress created to critique QDR II pre-emptively and to offer suggestions to the next president, released its second of three reports. Media indifference has been loud, official hostility palpable. Still, it would be a mistake to ignore this report. For, despite its studied vagueness (the hard recommendations come next year) it provides a reasoned and prescient view of what America should be doing in the world.

The real name of the NSSG is the United States Commission on National Security/21st century, a k a the Hart-Rudman Commission. The commissioners and staff are good people, expert and earnest. Their Phase I Report, "New World Coming," (Sept. 1999) summed up the problem with a single sentence: " … for many years to come Americans will become increasingly less secure, and much less secure than they now believe themselves to be." Last month's Phase II Report, "Seeking a National Strategy," gets into the kinds of things the United States needs to do.

It is easy to read the report as mere laundry lists of desirable actions and conditions. But two recommendations and one premise deserve serious consideration. The recommendations have already been scorned and dismissed by senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary William Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton. The premise? Curiously, no, amazingly, no one seems to have grasped its implications.

The first recommendation entails abandoning the two-war sizing construct officially beloved of Pentagon force planners, and considered delusional by nearly everyone else. This holds that the United States must be able to fight two nearly simultaneous major theater wars, presumably in Korea and the Persian Gulf. Few if any competent analysts believe that the United States has that capability with present forces levels in their present condition … or the air and sea lift to move and sustain them. In one sense, there's nothing new here. American sizing requirements have always been more useful justifying the budget than planning for combat. What is new is that this is the 21st century.

Why are we even still planning to fight bloody and protracted 20th century land wars? Can we think of nothing else to do?

"Seeking a National Strategy" recommends abandoning this archaic fantasy and adopting a capabilities force tailoring some forces for heavy but brief combat, others for rapid intervention, others for constabulary duties. And that constitutes the second source of Pentagon hiccups. Especially Army hiccups. That service decrees its force's general purpose, i.e., if you prepare for the most demanding contingency (read here, sustained combat), lesser problems will take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, long-term humanitarian, peace-keeping, and peace-enforcing operations chew up combat forces. A separate active/reserve/Guard division (or maybe corps) devoted to these operations would protect and preserve other units. The Army counters, with some justice, that they're too short-handed already to specialize thus. Still, the idea makes sense and, properly implemented, could save the Army the endless problem of rotating combat units in and out of armed baby-sitting duties.

These recommendations notwithstanding, the report's greatest insight may be found between the lines, more in a sensibility than in a strategy. Or perhaps the strategy lies in the sensibility. The report quotes Shakespeare: "O, it is excellent/To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous/To use it like a giant." ("Measure for Measure," Act II, Scene 2)

The overt meaning is obvious. The United States should not careen about like a planetary school yard bully. Whenever possible, the United States should forebear; should work to develop local and regional arrangements and understandings; should let others be strong. While the United States must protect its security and interests, and sometimes must act to protect the security and interests of others, in the long run the best world for America is a world which has no need of superpowers.

Not everyone will find this notion congenial. Certainly, those who tout the one indispensable nation viewpoint, who hold that history plainly intended us to serve forever as the world's policeman and/or therapist, who define America's purpose as leading the lesser, won't like it. However, perhaps the time is approaching when these folks, and the nation generally, might consider a proposition well enough known to addicts of a physical sort.

If you need it … you don't need it.

Philip Gold is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and president of Aretea, a Seattle policy and cultural affairs research center.

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