we need to improve military pay, especially for enlisted personnel,
some of whom still qualify for food stamps? Can taxpayers afford
enough economic incentives to woo potential recruits from higher-paying,
lower-stress jobs in a booming private sector? Is it time to think
about conscription the widely resented draft toward which
some still cast a nostalgic eye the method used to keep the
military at full strength between 1940 and 1973?
More fundamentally, do we need to rethink the role of the United
States in a world without a competing superpower, a role that is
growing haphazardly as the government lurches from one commitment
to another? Is it time to take a fresh look at the commitments our
leaders have made and scale them back to a more realistic level?
Those are among the choices facing military and diplomatic policy
WE LEARNED FROM KOSOVO
By end of March, only two weeks into
the Kosovo bombing war, US military leaders were complaining the
effort was cutting into an already low level of US combat readiness.
The Navy had no aircraft carrier in the region because the Joint
Chiefs of Staff require that at least one of them be in the Persian
Gulf at all times and some crews and equipment need rest and repair
time. The Air Force noted that it was already short 2,000 pilots
and was cannibalizing planes for spare parts. The Pentagon said
it was running out of cruise missiles. The Air Force asked Congress
for permission to convert 92 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles into
satellite-guided conventional missiles.
Experts early on estimated that it would take 200,000 troops to
win a ground war in Kosovo. That turned out not to be deemed necessary,
but some 30,000 troops are scheduled to be deployed there with no
date for a pullout. They wouldn't be available should there be a
flare-up with North Korea, a confrontation between China and Taiwan,
a decision to step up direct military aid to Colombia (the latest
policy enthusiasm of drug and other warriors) or a concerted campaign
of terrorist attacks.
The shortages at least compared to commitments highlighted
by the Kosovo war are not new. Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union and the end of the Cold War the US military has been reduced
substantially, but not enough that taxpayers have noticed a "peace
dividend.'' The Navy has 324 ships compared to a Cold War high of
600. It had 15 aircraft carriers in 1991 and one reserve but 12
now not, given rotation schedules and travel times, enough
to maintain a permanent presence in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean
and the Pacific as current doctrine would prefer.
The Army says it is short more than 10,000 soldiers, the Air Force
is short 1,400 to 2,000 pilots and lost 45 percent of eligible pilots
in 1998 compared to 14 percent in 1994, the Navy says it needs 22,000
more sailors than it has. During the Kosovo war the Air Force banned
all pilots, navigators and support crews from leaving the service,
affecting about 6,000 Air Force personnel who already had approval
to retire or leave for civilian jobs.
These recruiting and retention shortfalls
have been matched by reduced spending. Between 1985 and 1996 military
budgets declined some 35 percent according to former Defense Secretary
Caspar Weinberger and analyst Peter Schweizer in a Hoover Institution
report. By 1996 a commitment to a conflict on the scale of the 1990
Gulf War would have taken all of the Army's ten active divisions,
including those deployed in Europe and Korea.
Yet the nation's strategic doctrine remained and remains what it
had become by the end of the Cold War: to be able to fight and win
two wars on two fronts virtually simultaneously. As of 1996 the
Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated that the
cost of meeting administration goals would be 4.5 percent of the
gross domestic product but the administration was calling for defense
spending that amounted to about 3 percent of GDP.
Repair, maintenance and spare parts problems abound. In 1988 70
percent of Navy ships in US ports were rated in a high state of
readiness; in 1998 it was 50 percent. The Army has waived some training
requirements because of shortages of ammo, rockets and grenades.
Humvee trucks bought in the 1980s were wearing out; only 52 percent
of the Marines' Humvees were in good repair in 1998. The readiness
of Air Force fighter squadrons fell from 86 percent in 1992 to 75
percent in 1998 and the accident rate for Navy pilots was climbing,
a problem attributed to old equipment and a shortage of experienced
Meanwhile, international commitments
have been increasing. The Iraq bombing campaign added $200 to $250
million in short-term operating costs as of 1996 and ties down 5,900
Air Force personnel, many living in tents in the desert, on longer
overseas assignments. The Persian Gulf military presence altogether
costs taxpayers about $40 billion a year. The Army has deployed
34 times since 1990, more than three times the number of missions
it took on during 40 years of the Cold War.
Many of these missions are far removed from traditional military
operations. Soldiers in the US Southern Command have been sent to
32 Latin American and Caribbean countries to help catch poachers,
work on conservation projects and defend endangered species. The
Pentagon budget for nonmilitary operations environmental
cleanup, drug interdiction, humanitarian assistance increased
from $3.5 billion in 1990 to $10.9 billion in 1995, according to
the Congressional Research Service.
In 1997 the administration's Quadrennial Defense Review predicted
that the most serious security problems would be "instabilities''
caused by poverty, disease, terrorism, global climate change and
the like. Such missions are said to reduce morale because peacekeeping
and social missionary deployments require longer work weeks and
longer overseas deployments than some thought they were signing
up for, at a time when an increasing number of servicepeople are
married with families. Not surprisingly, divorce rates among military
personnel are on the rise.
OTHER COUNTRIES SPEND
another context that puts military spending and readiness in a different
perspective. In today's world, arguably much safer (though not without
dangers) than during the Cold War, the United States accounts for
40 percent of the world's military spending. We recently spent (according
to a 1996 Cato Institute policy study by Doug Bandow) nine times
as much per year as China, four times as much as Russia, and nearly
twice as much as France, Germany, Japan and Britain combined. On
a per capita basis we spend twice as much on defense as France and
Britain, two to three times as much as Germany and Japan, and more
than three times as much as South Korea, which lives under active
threat from a hostile regime but spends less on its own defense
than the United States does.
The US and its allies account for 80 percent of global military
spending. Against what realistic military threat is all this spending
and manpower deployed?
COMMITMENTS AND DANGERS ANTICIPATED
White House global strategy for the next century, drafted by the
National Security Council and obtained
last week by the Washington Times, makes a case for continuing
US intervention in a variety of trouble spots and claims the country
is facing its biggest espionage threat in history (interestingly
enough, without even mentioning the Cox report or mainland China's
recent antics). It also speaks of the threat of attacks by terrorists
and "rogue'' states using sophisticated biological, chemical
or even nuclear weapons.
More missions like those in Haiti, the Balkans and Africa, designed
to change the behavior of other nations, are anticipated and endorsed.
"We must be prepared and willing to use all appropriate instruments
of national power to influence the actions of other states and non-state
actors, to exert global leadership, and to remain the preferred
security partner for the community of states that share our interests,''
said the NSC report. "In our vision of the world, the United States
has close cooperative relations with the world's most influential
countries and has the ability to influence the policies and actions
of those who can affect our national well-being.''
That's in line with the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, done
in 1997, which said that without a two-war capability, "our standing
as a global power, as the security partner of choice, and as the
leader of the international community, would be called into question.''
Those are general goals that don't offer precise guidelines as to
whether the US should get involved in this or that future regional
conflict. The significance of the most recent documents is that
they show no evidence of anything resembling serious rethinking
of the general line that it's important for the United States to
be the dominant political and military power, that the bias is toward
interventionism (`to influence the actions of other states'').
There's little or no cautionary language about the limits of globalism
or the necessity to match US goals and resources. Though many have
criticized our interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere,
the NSC sees them as necessary, almost inevitable consequences of
our leadership of the post-Cold War world.
Perhaps most interesting, the report mentions almost no actual military
threats and aside from the possibility of small-scale terrorist
attacks (which we've been warned about for the last 20 years) no
real threat to US territory or to civilians who aren't overseas.
Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of the Kosovo war was
its enthusiastic support in certain quarters of "elite'' opinion
circles precisely because no real US national interest was at stake.
Rather than defending something so grubby and selfish as a national
interest, we were there to promote the lofty and hopelessly utopian
ideal of multiethnic states in a part of the world that has always
resisted them. But that was fine. The more abstract and ethereal
the goal the better some liked it. Perhaps that made it easier to
overlook then fact that the chosen instrument of humanitarian compassion
was the cruise missile.
Boston University international relations professor Andrew J. Bacevich
puts it in the August 9 issue of National Review: "Clinton
will bequeath to his successor a nation that has shouldered quasi-imperial
burdens. As evidenced most recently by Kosovo, the responsibilities
of the `indispensable nation' entail the frequent and protracted
exercise of military power. The United States employs that power
not to defend American shores or even to win wars, but to make and
keep the peace, enforce norms of behavior, and advance the cause
of globalization that will, we are assured, make the world more
stable, more peaceful, and more prosperous.''
BACK THE DRAFT?
But the desire to meddle (or intervene
benevolently) comes up against the very real problem of declining
levels of recruitment and retention in the armed forces. How to
assure the means to reach the lofty ends? Various small policy fixes,
including better pay, are being proposed and partially implemented.
And we are starting to hear nostalgic calls ("remember when
we had a common purpose and the shared experience of forced military
service throwing people from all classes into the barracks together'')
for a return to conscription.
Aside from Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos, the
intellectual godfather of the notion that forced national service
is the essence of citizenship and community, who never misses a
chance to promote any mandatory service program of any stripe, hardly
anyone says this year that they want a draft. A draft "would be
harder to do than in the past, and an unfair one might do more harm
than good,'' says Army Secretary Louis Caldera. "Only as a last
resort,'' says Rep. Herbert Bateman, a Virginia Republican who heads
the Armed Services readiness subcommittee.
Of course, when a policy wonk says "I'm not for it but we need
to think about it,'' it usually means "I'd do it in a heartbeat
if I thought we could get away with it, and if nobody shoots down
this trial balloon look out.'' Whether that's really the attitude
of South Carolina Republican Rep. Floyd Spence, Illinois Republican
Rep. Steve Buyer, of South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom or of
California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke'' Cunningham of the
San Diego area, all have publicly flirted with the idea of conscription.
PHASE OUT THE SELECTIVE SERVICE?
has vowed to fight a provision quietly placed in a House appropriations
bill that would shut down the Selective Service System, which has
been registering 18-year-old males since Jimmy Carter reactivated
it in 1979, but hasn't drafted anyone since 1973. Republican Rep.
James Walsh of New York, who heads an Appropriations subcommittee
that oversees independent agencies, led the campaign to "zero
out'' Selective Service, mainly to save the $25 million a year or
so the registration system costs. Cunningham promises an amendment
to keep the Selective Service in business.
Currently draft registration serves no useful purpose. Registration
was intended to generate a large conscript army for a protracted
war, such as World War II, when the most recent draft program was
begun (conscription is not a long-standing part of the American
tradition and a good bit of American history has centered around
resistance to standing armies and conscription).
Today's military, however, requires highly skilled personnel able
to operate advanced weaponry. No longer, as Arizona Sen. John McCain
has put it, can you "spend six weeks showing a recruit the
right end of a gun and send him on his way.'' If anything, retention
of highly skilled personnel is a more important problem than recruitment,
and conscription would do nothing to solve it.
REAL VALUE OF VOLUNTEERISM
commentators ever mention one of the truly useful aspects of a volunteer
military: the reality check it imposes on policy makers with a yen
to remake the world. If you can't raise enough military forces through
persuasion and incentives to carry out your policies, maybe it's
time to check whether or not those policies are realistic or desirable.
Hardly anybody wants to look at it that way. Study the literature
and news stories on military recruitment and retention problems
and you'll find a lot of discussion of the role of the booming economy
in holding down recruits. If a young person can earn more with less
danger and hassle in the private sector, many will take that option.
And many recruits attracted by a "be all you can be'' ad campaign,
having received valuable technical and organizational training,
take their skill and knowledge into the civilian marketplace rather
than re-upping. The administration is responding by improving military
pay and benefits and a $268 million TV ad campaign.
You'll also hear about the increasing gulf between civilian life
and military culture and there might be some mention of lower morale
due to more extended overseas deployments. Occasionally somebody
will note that the current Commander in Chief doesn't exactly command
respect and undying loyalty from military types.
But you'll almost never hear that young people, including those
who joined the military a few years ago, are underwhelmed to disgusted
by the kind of missions they are likely to be asked to perform.
ABOUT THE MISSION
you listen very long to current or recent military personnel and
you'll hear numerous anecdotes about people in the military who
can't wait to get out because they no longer believe in the kinds
of missions they're assigned to.
Ted Carpenter, defense and international relations expert for the
libertarian Cato Institute,
told me the services do exit interviews when service members decide
not to re-enlist. While he knows of no systematic study of these
interviews, he says they're showing an increasing incidence of people
who are willing to tell others that they're getting out because
they no longer believe in the mission.
There's little question that a booming economy and changes in the
culture are important factors in the military recruitment and retention
problem. But any approach that ignores the strains on morale and
pride imposed by imperial overstretch sending would-be warriors
on policing, conservation, "nation-building'' and social welfare
missions with vague objectives and fuzzy timetables will miss
what might be the most important reason the military is having trouble
The military may seem kinder and gentler these days, but it does
impose hardships and involve danger. People will endure hardship
and danger if they're proud of what they're doing. They're less
eager to do so if they're indifferent or ashamed.
BACK AT THE EMPIRE
intelligent approach to the military recruitment problem should
involve a fundamental rethinking of American policy not just
tinkering with pay and benefits something that really hasn't
happened since the Soviet Union collapsed. The world has changed
in fundamental ways and the potential dangers are different than
in the 1980s.
Do we want the United States to be an imperial power, ever ready
to put down those who violate current norms of what passes for civilization,
to punish ethnic cleansers, to step in to prevent instability or
put down insurgents, to mold the rest of the world to fit into the
patterns envisioned by US policy elites as molders of the new world
Do we really need a military capable of fighting and winning two
major regional conflicts simultaneously? Or do we want to have a
military devoted to defending the homeland, able to deploy overseas
in a real emergency, but with a bias against intervening in the
affairs of other countries?
Do we want, in short, a military appropriate to an imperial power
or a military appropriate to a free republic? A military appropriate
to a free republic could be even smaller than ours is now, but prouder
and more focused on beneficial, even noble missions.
Even in an economy more prosperous than what we're enjoying now and wage earners without stock portfolios can imagine and would
welcome such a boom it would have little trouble attracting volunteers
with a sense of pride and mission in performing essential duties
contribution of $20 or more gets you a copy of Justin Raimondo's
Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in
the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual
ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration
and its allies in Congress. Send contributions to
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