- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

This is the first in a series of editorials on the state of the American military.

Official Washington is quickly reaching consensus that U.S. ground forces need to be bolstered by a significant margin over the long-term. The proposals are in the range of 40,000 to 150,000 more troops. We’re inclined toward the high end of those proposals, and maybe even higher.

Historically speaking, expenditures on ground troops are absurdly low, even by peacetime standards. As the Congressional Budget Office’s September 2004 report on long-term defense spending showed, U.S. expenditures on ground forces are about half what they were at the height of the Reagan defense buildup in the mid-1980s, when the United States was without a hot war to fight and waged the Cold War mostly by proxy.

That decline — most evident at the Cold War’s end and reaching a nadir during the Clinton administration — was unsustainable well before the September 11 attacks. All the more is it unsustainable afterward, in an era with new and challenging commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

As retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales pointed out on the opposite page yesterday, these days, if all Army and Marine infantrymen were collected together in one place, they wouldn’t even fill FedEx Field. It hasn’t always been this way. Five years after World War II ended, amid the postwar “peace dividend” and a pre-Korean War retrenchment, the end-strength of the U.S. Army was almost 700,000. Right now, it’s about 480,000.

Last week, Senate Democrats, including John Kerry and Carl Levin — the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee — proposed increasing the Army and the Marines by 40,000 over the next two years. In a statement explaining the move, Sen. Levin pointed up troop needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even in the short term this won’t do: The Army estimates it takes about two years for any increases to affect the number of “boots on the ground” at all, so Iraq and Afghanistan would scarcely benefit.

Maj. Gen. Scales proposes a ground-force hike of 150,000 over the next four years, which is closer to the mark. He calls to increase the number of Army brigades to 50 from the current 33 and adding two Marine Expeditionary Brigades. Maj. Gen. Scales’ proposal includes the 30,000 already authorized by the Secretary of Defense, and so is really an increase of 120,000 over current levels. The price tag of those 150,000 additional ground troops will be in the tens to scores of billions.

We will probably need even more than this over the long run. The war on terror’s conflicts will require a significant presence on the ground — surely that is proving to be the case in Iraq. About a quarter of all active-duty U.S. forces are currently in Iraq, but the ratio of U.S. troops to population in Iraq is about a quarter what it was in Germany after World War II, and about one-third what it is currently in Kosovo.

What’s more, as the historical data show, even in peacetime the United States has usually marshalled larger forces than what we currently have, not considering the counter-insurgency and counter-terror nature of the current wars. It’s time to rectify that situation by increasing the number of ground troops by a significant and historically justifiable amount.

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