Instead, the Clinton administration imposed on the study an assumption that defeated its purpose. It declared that the American people would not support a defense budget of more than $250 billion. Laboring under this hypothesis, the QDR became budget driven, not strategy driven. The result was not a plan for meeting America's security needs but a way to cut forces to stay under an arbitrary budget ceiling.
The upbeat tone with which Secretary William Cohen presented cuts in force levels, reserves, modernization programs, and bases to the House National Security Committee was disturbingly similar to that expressed by the Truman administration in early 1950. When Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on 28 February 1950, he told its members, "We are tailoring our defense to fit today's situation.... By getting rid of what we no longer need for national defense, we get that much more money with which to meet our pressing requirements for combat forces.... We are getting more defense value out of every appropriated dollar than ever before." He concluded his testimony by assuring the country that "the forces we already have in being, plus what our potential allies are developing, should tend to discourage aggressive action by any potential enemy." Four months later, the North Koreans showed that they had not been discouraged.
Testifying 47 years later, Secretary Cohen tried to put the same happy spin on a document full of trade-offs that, however engineered, leaves our military both smaller and thinner than before. His source of joy is the belief that advanced technology will compensate for cuts in force structure. Truman had the same illusion; nuclear weapons were supposed to make conventional wars obsolete, so the U.S. Army was taken down to ten divisions—the same number to which the Clinton administration has reduced it today. Yet, when North Korea sent its tanks rolling south, the onslaught was met not with A-bombs but with GIs and Marines as in wars past. The outnumbered U.S. troops were almost pushed into the sea before the offensive ran out of steam.
Six months later, U.S. troops again were sent reeling when the Chinese intervened. Beijing knew it was technologically inferior, but its leaders had faith in its asymmetrical strategy of "people's war." Neither North Korea nor China were swayed by America's past victories.
When Korea erupted, the Navy had 7 fleet and 4 light carriers in operation, though only one was in the Western Pacific. During the war, 11 fleet carriers served off the coast of Korea, along with a number of light and escort carriers. Navy and Marine pilots flew a majority of close support and 40% of interdiction missions. The Navy pulled 9 World War II fleet carriers from mothballs, a mobilization option no longer available.
As we approach the new century, a huge gap looms between the QDR's declared strategy and its proposed force levels. According to Secretary Cohen's numbers, between the peak of the Reagan administration program in 1985 and today, the defense budget in real terms has dropped by one-third. The largest cut has been in procurement of new equipment and weapons, where the drop has been 63%. The defense budget has been cut in real terms 13 years in a row. Between 1992 and 1996, annual defense outlays declined by $32.6 billion in a budget that increased overall by $306.2 billion.
Since the Gulf War, the Army has declined from 18 divisions to 10, the Navy from 569 ships to 357, and the Air Force from 25 active fighter wings to 13.
In 1950, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Omar Bradley had the courage to testify, "It is truly understood that our Forces—Ground, Air and Navy—are not sufficient now to fight a major war." But he still professed faith in the country's mobilization base. Today, however, the defense industry has lost 1.5 million workers, and a host of critical production lines, military bases, and shipyards have been closed. And despite former Secretary of Defense William Perry warning that "we cannot and should not reduce below the force structure we have now," under the QDR, the military would lose another 60,000 active-duty people; the Navy another 15 ships; and the Air Force another fighter wing.
Despite these cuts, the QDR makes an impassioned case for maintaining U.S. commitments around the world and in particular the ability to fight two major theater wars at the same time. The QDR states, "Maintaining this core capability is central to credibly deterring opportunism—that is, to avoiding a situation in which an aggressor in one region might be tempted to take advantage when U.S. forces are heavily engaged elsewhere—and to ensuring that the United States has sufficient military capabilities to deter or defeat aggression by an adversary that is larger, or under circumstances that are more difficult than expected." A few lines further, the QDR states, "Such a capability is the sine qua non of a superpower and is essential to the credibility of our overall national security strategy. If the United States were to forgo 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 as the leader of the international community would be called into question."
We know what it takes to fight major theater wars in Korea and the Persian Gulf, the two most cited scenarios, because we have done so. The Gulf War was fought with two Marine divisions and seven active Army divisions, plus combat brigades from two additional Army divisions and three independent brigades. The Air Force provided ten fighter wings, and the Navy deployed seven carrier battle groups and two battleship groups. To repeat such an endeavor—and to sustain it over any length of time—would take nearly everything in the current inventory.
Despite the passage of time and advances in technology, what it takes to fight a major theater war has remained fairly stable. Forces deployed to Desert Storm included 427,000 active-duty troops and 106,000 reservists. This was somewhat more than the peak strength deployed during the Korean War (440,000 in April 1953) but less than the Vietnam War peak (625,800 in March 1969). In both Korea and Vietnam, allied contingents added about the same number of troops as in the Gulf. Also, in Korea and Vietnam, substantial local friendly forces, on the order of a million men, were available; far more than in the Gulf. In none of these wars did the presence of allies lessen the need for the United States to provide the coalition with its high-end capabilities.
In addition to the two-major-theater-war standard, the QDR says that "the U.S. military must be prepared to conduct successfully multiple concurrent smaller-scale contingency operations worldwide, and it must be able to do so in any environment, including one in which an adversary used asymmetrical means, such as [nuclearbacteriological-chemical] weapons." This is a definition of "peacekeeping" that goes beyond the missions conducted so far—missions that already have imposed very high operating tempos on a shrinking force.
The QDR calls on the Navy to "close time lines, decisively alter initial conditions, and seek to head off undesired events before they start." The fleet must "address the full spectrum of threats, providing information superiority, air and maritime supremacy, theater air and missile defense, and delivery of naval fires. Finally, naval forces will be increasingly called upon to provide sea-based focused logistics for joint operations in the littorals." This is within the traditional roles of "sea control and maritime supremacy, power projection from sea to land, strategic deterrence, strategic sealift and forward naval presence." This is a large global agenda for a Navy whose waning shipbuilding program appears headed more toward a 200-ship fleet than the 600-ship fleet envisioned just a decade ago.
By 2003, the Navy will have fewer capital ships, surface combatants, and submarines than on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Yet, America's worldwide commitments are larger and its underlying economy far stronger than in 1941. This posture does not maintain "credibility" no matter how often the word is used in the QDR.
When pressed to explain how these different missions could be performed successfully with the proposed force levels, Secretary Cohen resorted to the magic "black box" defense—that technology will allow our forces to do more with less. Again, however, the QDR speaks with two voices. It says its strategy "requires more capable attack platforms and advanced weapons and munitions" but then calls for cuts in planned procurement of many of these very systems. Since even the original programs had abandoned the concept that new systems should replace old on a one-for-one basis, the effect is to accelerate decline.
This is not how military technology works. U.S. troops in the Gulf had equipment undreamed of in Korea, but their enemies also were better armed. Had Iraq made better use of its advanced systems, which included a large inventory of chemical weapons, our victory might have come at a much higher price. Future enemies cannot be counted on to make the same mistakes. Trying to use technology to substitute for, rather than enhance, force size only works if potential enemies are standing still. It doesn't hold in a world where every nation is trying to improve its capabilities with new technology and asymmetrical tactics to counter U.S. strength.
The danger of the emphasis on technology—from information warfare to precision strike—is that it reintroduces the minimalist approach to force planning that characterized Vietnam's graduated escalation strategy under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the Iranian hostage rescue attempt during the Carter administration. This "whiz kid" approach to maximizing efficiency was to ensure that resources were not "wasted" on one more air strike or one more helicopter than was absolutely necessary. As historian Williamson Murray, currently the Horner Professor of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University, has written, "Technology can indeed offer us substantial leverage against future opponents. What is dangerous about the new technocratic view is the same thing that was dangerous about the older version: It is wholly disconnected from what others think, want, and can do. Precisely because we Americans have a long track record of overestimating our technological superiority and underestimating the ability of our opponents to short-circuit our advantages, this is a form of hubris we cannot afford to indulge in again." 1
To his credit, Secretary Cohen indicated that he has reservations about the QDR. When pressed. by the National Security Committee, he admitted that the QDR was risky and that he would feel better with an additional $15 billion in the defense budget. Joint Chiefs Chairman General John Shalikashvili quickly agreed. It would have been better, however, had the secretary and the chairman opened their testimony with this request.
Where are the military leaders with the courage to say, as General Bradley did in 1950, that we don't have the means to carry out the ambitious missions being required of the services? In testimony before one congressional panel after another, the service chiefs have followed the same pattern as the QDR. This is particularly true of Navy and Marine leaders, from whom little is heard about inadequate shipbuilding, oppressive operational tempos, and dire ammunition shortages. Rather than frankly tell Congress what the country needs, they have trimmed their sails to stay with the "politically correct" line of the administration. When asked in private what they need, they present a long list, but such closed-door discussions do not build public support for doing what is needed to close the credibility gap.
Our national leaders should never underestimate the American people. If they know what the country needs, they will deliver. This is particularly true for national defense, because there are a great many people with pictures of sons, fathers, daughters, and brothers on their mantles, proudly dressed in the uniforms of their country's military services.
1 Williamson Murray, "Clauswitz Out, Computer In: Military Culture and Technological Hubris," The National Interest, Summer 1997, p. 63.
Representative Hunter is a Republican from the 52nd District of California and Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee on Military Procurement.