- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

To be sure, there are many devils in the details of the new plan still to be worked out. The administration will begin to reveal them in congressional testimony this week, and President Bush is slated to give a major defense address at the Naval Academy May 25. But it is already clear from news accounts that the defense secretary is considering replacing the policy that has guided U.S. defense planners since the end of the Cold War retaining a force capable of rapidly and decisively conducting two large regional wars.
Over the past decade, this "two-war standard" has been both a blessing and a curse on the Defense Department. On the positive side, it has provided a minimum level of capability below which U.S. military forces would not be reduced. In the absence of the Soviet threat, retaining the two-war capability was intended as an expression of Americas desire to lead the way in creating a new security order. As Colin Powell put it when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the two-war standard was a sign saying, "Superpower lives here." For a military establishment then nearing free-fall, the standard provided a solid floor.
Since then, however, the two-war standard also has become a rallying point against attempts to reform the military internally. What began as a measure of overall military capability calcified into a fixation on two particular past and potential future wars: a North Korean invasion and a repeat of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As the U.S. military faced new threats, acquired new constabulary missions and even as the U.S. Air Force launched an unanticipated operation of "regional war" proportions in Kosovo, Pentagon planners seemed to keep their heads buried deep in the Desert Storm sand.
George Bush campaigned for president on a promise to reform the Pentagon. Messrs. Rumsfeld and Bush would not be the first to try to walk away from the two-war standard. Indeed, President Clinton and his three defense secretaries all tried and failed to do so. In 1993, the late Les Aspin floated a "win-hold-win" approach to solving the two-war dilemma; his idea was that air power could halt a second invader while ground and joint forces won the first war and then redeployed to the second. When this idea was revealed in the press and to angry allies the Clinton administration quickly disavowed "win-hold-win." The two-war standard thus was enshrined as the measure of U.S. military pre-eminence, and subsequent attempts to lower the standard failed, in large part thanks to the complaints of the Republican Congress.
Yet while the two-war standard remained official American policy, it was also apparent that the United States no longer had a force that met the standard.What became known as the strategy-resources gap metastasized to the point where even Clinton administration officials estimated it to be $100 billion per year. Not only was the active-duty force too small, but modernization slowed to a crawl, force readiness fell, military pay scales lagged, the quality of military life declined and innovation was stifled.
These are the many problems that have provoked the Bush administrations strategic review and provided the impetus behind replacing the two-war standard. But if Mr. Rumsfeld is to succeed where his predecessors have failed, he must define a new but convincing way to maintain American military dominance and the world leadership that rests upon it. In the past, getting rid of the two-war standard has been a slogan for transformation zealots willing to make deep force cuts to pay for new weapons. But that would be robbing Peter to pay Paul; the real solution is to retain an adequate force and to increase defense spending.
The two-war standard, for all its drawbacks, does express an elemental truth about what it means to be the worlds "sole superpower." The Pentagons own 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review expressed it well: "If the United States were to forego its ability to defeat aggression in more than one theater at a time, our standing as a global power, as the security partner of choice, and the leader of the international community, would be called into question. Indeed, some allies would undoubtedly read a one-war capability as a signal that the United States, if heavily engaged elsewhere, would no longer be able to help defend their interests."Anything less than a two-war capability tends to become, in effect, a no-war capability.
There is no denying that the canonical version of the two-war standard needs to be reviewed. A Chinese strike against Taiwan looms as likely and as demanding as any other major regional conflict, yet this scenario is nowhere accounted for in Pentagon force planning. And despite a decades worth of no-fly-zone and other constabulary duties, there has yet to be a formal reckoning of these requirements for sizing U.S. forces.
The concern is that the administration will abandon the two-war standard without simultaneously offering a substitute.The burden of proof now falls to Messrs. Bush and Rumsfeld to set a new standard that is an unambiguous expression of commitment to restore the military strength needed to maintain American global leadership. They need to remind both our allies and our adversaries that a superpower still lives here.

Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly are executive director and deputy director of the Project for the New American Century.


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