- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Finally, there is reason to believe that one of the most important challenges likely to confront the next president will actually become a focus for the 2000 elections: the present and future readiness of the U.S. military to fight the nation's wars.
In his acceptance speech on Thursday, Republican nominee George W. Bush put the issue squarely in the spotlight when he declared, "If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report: "Not ready for duty, sir.' "
The next day, the Clinton Pentagon responded with interviews by its highly political press spokesman, Ken Bacon, and a statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, asserting that all of the Army's divisions are good-to-go. Of course, they could not deny that the two divisions of which Mr. Bush spoke the 1st Infantry Division and the 10th Mountain Division had been declared unready for war last fall because of the detachment of a brigade from each to peacekeeping duties in the Balkans. But that was then, reporters were told, and this is now. According to The Washington Times, Gen. Shelton declared that "the Army had 'jumped right on top of that' and brought [both divisions] back to combat readiness."
The problem for the Clinton-Gore administration is that, whatever the status of any given unit at any point in time, the overall trend for the armed forces is bad and getting worse. This fact is so palpable that the Joint Chiefs chairman was compelled to acknowledge it, even as he carried out his assignment of rebutting Mr. Bush's specific point. As The Times reported, Gen. Shelton felt compelled to add, "That doesn't mean that everything is the way we would all like to have it." There are "some readiness shortfalls" that will not be fixed quickly. "Once readiness starts down, you don't just turn it around overnight."
To be sure, this is not the first time Gen. Shelton has warned about these "readiness shortfalls." In September 1998, he used an aeronautical metaphor to describe the situation the armed forces faced: "In my view, we have 'nosed over' and our readiness is descending. I believe that with the support of the administration and Congress, we should apply corrective action now. We must 'pull back on the stick' and begin to climb before we find ourselves in a nose dive that might cause irreparable damage to this great force we have created, a nose dive that will take years to pull out of."
Interestingly, just a month before, Under Secretary of Defense Jacques Gansler had declared that the military not only had already entered such a "nose dive." He opined that it was an irrecoverable one: "We are trapped in a 'death spiral.' The requirement to maintain our aging equipment is costing us more each year in repair costs, down time and maintenance tempo. But we must keep this equipment in repair to maintain readiness. It drains our resources resources we should be applying to modernization of the traditional systems and development and deployment of the new systems. So, we stretch out our replacement schedules to ridiculous lengths and reduce the quantities of the new equipment we purchase, raising their costs and still further delaying modernization."
In other words, the truth of the matter is far worse than Mr. Bush suggested. Not only is today's military facing severe shortfalls that are impinging upon its combat readiness. The fact that the armed services are obliged constantly to rob Peter (tomorrow's forces) to pay Paul (allowing today's barely to make do) means that future defense capabilities may be seriously inadequate. History suggests that the consequence of such a practice is a vacuum of power that hostile nations often feel invited to fill.
The magnitude of this double whammy is staggering. According to the most rigorous independent analysis done to date concerning the deplorable condition of the U.S. military a study entitled "Averting the Defense Train Wreck in the New Millennium" published last year by Daniel Goure and Jeffrey Ranney: "A substantial defense strategy-resources mismatch … already exists. It is profound. It has been ongoing for sometime and will take years to overcome. It is reaching crisis proportions and requires immediate attention, involvement and action by the White House, Defense Department, Congress and the general public. It is of great national importance today because military spending levels now are too dangerously low in relation to current and future U.S. foreign policy and national security interests which remain global and immense."
The irony is that, as Messrs. Goure and Ranney observe, the military is getting far less than even the Clinton-Gore administration believes it requires. In order to pay for the forces deemed needed by the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) performed by the Pentagon in 1997 would entail an allocation "equal [to] 3.9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in Fiscal Year 2001. Thereafter, to provide for continued modernization and replacement of military hardware, the QDR force will require slightly larger defense budgets. Based on the cost characteristics of the QDR force, the defense budget will need to equal 4.0 percent of the GDP in FY 2010 and, later, 4.3 percent of the GDP in FY 2020."
But as the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Jones, told Congress in February: "The percentage of our gross domestic product that we currently invest for the national security pillar upon which our superpower status maintains itself is about 3 percent roughly 3 cents on the dollar. [Over the last 60 years, the average has been 8 percent.] Three cents on the dollar for global responsibilities and global leadership. My opinion is that if we do not sustain this turnaround that we will not sustain our role as a superpower, we will not be able to recapitalize and modernize at the rate that we require, and we will not sustain the all-recruited force, which we refer to as the all-volunteer force, that the nation deserves."
The prognosis for the future is worse yet. According to the Goure-Ranney analysis: "The February 1999 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) FY2000-2009 10-year budget projection provided to the Senate Budget Committee projected that [while] the defense budget will grow during this period at an average annual rate of 1 percent (from $270 billion in FY 2000 to $293 billion in FY 2009) measured in terms of GDP, [it] will fall from 2.9 percent of GDP in FY 2000 to 2.4 percent of GDP in FY 2009. Thereafter, if defense budget levels continue to grow at an annual rate of 1 percent during FY 2010-2020, [the Pentagon's] share will gradually fall from 2.4 percent of GDP in FY 2010 to 2 percent of GDP in FY 2020."
A nation with a projected $1.9 trillion budget surplus can afford consistently to allocate a minimum of 4 percent of its GDP to ensure its security. Such an commitment of resources would assure the readiness of both today's armed forces and tomorrow's for many years to come, while allowing important new defense initiatives like Mr. Bush's laudable pledge to protect the American people against ballistic missile attacks at the earliest possible time to be fulfilled. We must not forget that the alternative has, in the past, often proven to be far more costly: unnecessary, avoidable wars whose price in blood and treasure dwarfs the savings achieved by pound-foolish "peace dividends."
This election is an opportunity not only to acquaint the American people with the full magnitude of the crisis facing our military but to seek a mandate from them for correcting it by adopting what might be called "the 4 percent solution." If all candidates will pledge, as Mr. Bush did so eloquently last week, to "use these good times for great goals," there is surely no greater goal than assuring we have the freedom to pursue our other ones in peace and security.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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