- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush differ on the combat readiness of today's armed forces, but they do agree on one critically important issue: The Pentagon needs more money.

Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush both say they would increase the Pentagon's top line above this fiscal year's $309 billion budget.

They would boost pay beyond increases already enacted by Congress, build new housing and buy loads of new equipment. Both say the military needs to further transform itself from a Cold War force into lighter, more agile units able to respond quickly to overseas wars and disasters.

Mr. Bush refuses to specify the increase, saying the top number will be determined once he reviews strategy and forces.

Mr. Gore, in a recent speech to National Guardsman, spoke of devoting $100 billion of the projected federal surplus to new Pentagon spending. The figure is about in line with five-year increases proposed by President Clinton after the Joint Chiefs of Staff told him in 1998 their forces suffered a readiness problem.

Still, Democrat Gore and Republican Bush would lead the 1.4 million active force down decidedly different paths in terms of its culture, defense systems and overseas deployments.

Among the differences:

• Mr. Gore says one of his first acts as president would be to lift the military's ban on open homosexuals. At first, he said he would require candidates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support that policy before he would appoint them. He later backed off, saying he would expect the chiefs to carry out his order. One big stumbling block: The ban on open homosexuals is federal law, signed by Mr. Clinton in 1993, meaning Mr. Gore needs concurrence by both the House and the Senate.

Mr. Bush says he supports the current policy known as "don't ask, don't tell," which allows homosexuals to serve as long as they keep their sexuality private.

• Bush aides say he is inclined to change the disputed policy of mixing male and female recruits during basic training. The practice was condemned by a blue-ribbon Pentagon panel, but the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force balked at change. The Marine Corps trains the sexes separately in boot camp. Mr. Bush will examine separate training in the first weeks of training to give the young people time to acclimate to military life.

Unlike his position on homosexuals, Mr. Gore says he will leave the question of mixed-sex training up to the Joint Chiefs.

• Mr. Bush argues the military is over-stressed and over-deployed. One of his first acts would be to review all overseas deployments, especially in such open-ended missions as Bosnia and Kosovo, to see if U.S. allies can take over. Republican vice-presidential candidate Richard B. Cheney mentions Haiti as one peacekeeping mission he would never have asked American troops to undertake.

Mr. Gore has backed Mr. Clinton's decisions to send American troops on some 50 peacekeeping and war missions.

• The two candidates diverge sharply on building a missile defense against a limited attack of nuclear intercontinental missiles.

Mr. Bush would deploy the system in Alaska as soon as it proved itself in realistic test intercepts. He would also pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if Russia refused to amend the agreement to allow for the anti-missile system.

Mr. Gore, however, says only that he supports developing the technology. He would stick with the ABM treaty a stand missile defense advocates say means he would never deploy the system.

The candidates are leaving fundamental questions about force structure to reviews they would conduct once in office. Mr. Gore says his staff would quickly insert itself into the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The assessment of strategy and forces is due out next June.

Pentagon officials are looking at the 10 active-division Army, the 300-ship Navy and 13-fighter-wing Air Force. They will decide whether the units can still carry out the national military strategy of being capable of fighting two regional conflicts.

In speeches, Mr. Bush talks of skipping a generation in weapons development to give troops even more advanced systems now on the drawing board. He wants to allocate 20 percent of total procurement spending (now at $60 billion) for such research.

His advisers caution, however, that this does not mean he will cancel near-term weapons such as the F-22 Stealth fighter or multiservice joint strike fighter.

"It's got to be a balance between modernizing the current force and beginning to transform that force to the force of the future," said Steve Hadley, a Bush foreign policy adviser. "He has not gotten into the business of endorsing particular weapons systems."

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