- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

In 1993, Defense Secretary Les Aspen undertook what came to be known as a Bottom-Up Review (or BUR in Pentagonese) to consider the U.S.military's force structure and capability requirements in the post-Cold War World. The idea was that from that assessment would be derived the necessary funding profiles to pay for the building and fielding such a military. It didn't work out that way and there is cause for concern that a similar review being undertaken by his successor, Donald Rumsfeld, will not be allowed to follow such a logical progression either.

What happened in the Aspen BUR exercise was that the Clinton administration characteristically did not deliver on its promise. Instead of allowing the defense budget to be derived from the projected needs of the armed forces for modern aircraft, ships, ground combat vehicles, missiles etc., and the wherewithal to operate and sustain them, the Bottom-Up Review wound up being driven from the top-down. The Aspen Pentagon was told by the White House how much it would be able to spend and from that point on the only question was how much of what the military really required could be afforded within the mandated budget "bogey."

The answer was not nearly enough. Instead of undertaking in the 1990s the sorts of long-term investments that would have permitted the "next generation" of weapon systems to replace in an orderly and cost-effective fashion those bought during the Carter and Reagan years, the Clinton-Gore team consistently failed to provide the money or the authorization required to recapitalize the force. As a result, each of the armed forces effectively wound up "skipping a generation" in the procurement of their main battle systems.

This then is the backdrop of the new bottom-up review being undertaken for Les Aspen's successor, Donald Rumsfeld, and the superb team he is recruiting for senior Pentagon positions. Under the leadership of the director of net assessment, Andrew Marshall, the most comprehensive reevaluation of the Defense Department's requirements in a generation is being undertaken. As predicted, at least some of the conclusions of this study seem likely to be controversial and politically charged; for example, according to press reports, a briefing to the president last week of some of the preliminary findings of this new "Marshall Plan" indicated it would dispense with the construction of any additional large-deck aircraft carriers. Dr. Marshall's prescriptions would also reportedly make short-range fighter aircraft and heavy armored vehicles endangered species.

More important than any of Dr. Marshall's detailed recommendations, though, is the over-arching question: Will his review (and the plans that flow from it) be allowed to conclude that the United States military requires a substantial infusion of additional funding? Or will the answer once again be dictated, not by the armed forces' deficiencies which have been hugely exacerbated by the past decade or so of malign neglect and overutilization but by externally dictated budgetary direction that is woefully inadequate to the task?

At this point, the signals are somewhat mixed. On the one hand, press reports indicate that shortly after taking office, Mr. Rumsfeld sought an increase in the range of tens of billions of dollars to make up for readily identifiable shortfalls affecting near-term readiness and to begin to address longer-term modernization requirements. According to news accounts, this request was turned down. What is more, the Wall Street Journal has reported that "Pentagon officials have prepared a list of about 30 weapons programs that could be cut back or killed to produce savings of as much as $3 billion annually over the next several years."

On the other hand, there are signs that even though George W.Bush did not campaign on a platform of significantly increased defense spending the president recognizes that such increases will be required starting this fiscal year, and has directed his subordinates to plan accordingly. Even if this is the case, however, it is not clear that the Bush team is fully prepared for what is needed.

There's the rub. In the past, the driver for the military's requirements has been the so-called two-war scenario. But The Washington Post's report on Mr. Rumsfeld's briefing to President Bush last week quoted a "Pentagon official" who says the Marshall review " 'basically does away' with longstanding doctrine that the U.S. military must be prepared to fight two major wars nearly simultaneously. It is not clear, he said, whether the review will formally abandon the policy or simply ignore it."

The principal object of U.S. defense spending, of course, is not to fight wars but to prevent wars from occurring. Successive administrations have appreciated that to do that requires the nation to have sufficient military power not only to prevail in one conflict but to persuade all comers that it could, if necessary, fight and win a second one as well. This formula has served us well even when it has not been fully funded. Any decision to depart from it entails real risks and should be not only carefully thought through by the Pentagon leadership and the president, but weighed and vigorously debated by the Congress.

Under no circumstances should such a decision be made first and foremost for budgetary reasons. History teaches us that it is not only more desirable but far cheaper to deter wars than it is to fight them. Let this bottom-up review be done on the basis of fully funding military requirements to deal with two, nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts, and let the American people and their elected representatives decide whether we can afford to do any less.

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


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