The Democrats have arrived in Washington, eager to correct the perceived mistakes of the last 12 years of Republican administration. Based on candidate Bill Clinton's campaign promise to concentrate on domestic issues (`The Economy, Stupid'), his temptation to cut the defense and intelligence budgets as `Cold War relics' will be great.
Increased budget deficit projections make the large Defense Department budget an even more tempting target from which to gain a `peace dividend.' Indeed, some of President Clinton's Cabinet nominees were quoted in the media as favoring large-scale cuts to the military and intelligence budgets. While these pronouncements may be politically appealing, history shows that we have cut too deeply in the past, and have usually paid a much more expensive price in the long run.
Contrary to what historian Francis Fukuyama claims, history did not end with the Cold War. History may have been frozen during the Cold War, but it is now thawing with a vengeance. The nationalist, ethnic, religious and border disputes that communist totalitarianism kept at bay now threaten stability around the globe. Political and economic reform in Russia are threatened by reactionary nationalism, former Soviet republics are in anarchy; and 30,000 nuclear missiles are now `controlled' by four republics known more for their mutual antagonisms than for their cooperation. Weapons of a nuclear, chemical and biological nature, as well as the weapons of terrorism and the insidious nature of narcotics trafficking threaten our stability. These threats to U.S. security are intelligence-collecting priorities. In short, we live in a much more complex and dangerous world than the neatly bipolar Cold War.
So then, what is the role of intelligence in this post-Cold War world? Clearly the intelligence community, as always, has to be in a position to understand the present forecast and the future, responding to the clear needs of policy-makers. In the post-Cold War, there is more, not less, demand on the intelligence community. Nobody a year ago would have predicted a U.S. troop deployment to Somalia. Will NATO allies Greece and Turkey be feuding as a result of a Serbian incursion into Kosovo or Macedonia this year? Will the Baltic States attempt to push out the remaining Russian troops by force? Will the United States need to support a United Nations `peace-making' force in Angola?
Above, all, in this kind of environment, intelligence needs to maintain the flexibility to respond to unforeseen challenges.
The notion that our intelligence gathering resources can be significantly reduced in the wake of the Cold War is certainly prevalent, but is probably mistaken. As we have seen, the world is if anything more complicated and dangerous than before. Keep in mind that between 1967 and 1980 the intelligence community lost 40 percent of its people and 50 percent of its budget. By the end of the 1970s, Congress (largely as a result of the failure to predict the Iranian Revolution) decided that intelligence capabilities needed to be rebuilt. Rebuilding human and technical capabilities takes time and is enormously expensive; the benefits of the early 1980s buildup were seen in the Gulf War of 1991. We should not repeat past mistakes by again making deep and ill advised cuts.
As director of central intelligence, Robert Gates oversaw probably the most revolutionary period of change in the intelligence community during this past year. He established more than 15 task forces, which looked at a wide range of issues and problems, and implemented virtually all their recommendations.
Intelligence entities at the Defense Department have been reorganizing on their own for the past two years. Thus, the intelligence community is changing, refocusing priorities to better meet policy-makers' needs. Amid the refocusing, their budget has also been cut, according to Mr. Gates, by 10 percent in resources, and by 18 percent in personnel.
In his confirmation hearings, Les Aspin stated that as defense secretary, he would be quicker to recommend the use of U.S. military force in a wider variety of shapes and sizes than the Bush administration. Mr. Aspin foresees more flexibility for incremental use of U.S. military force in regional trouble spots such as Iraq. Yet, it is arguable whether U.S. troops would deploy anywhere before our intelligence agencies have reported on what to expect. What will permit Defense Secretary Aspin to support these small-scale troop deployments to different regions is good intelligence. The cost of bad intelligence is measured in lives.
In an era of budget austerity, and given the reduction of U.S. troop levels, intelligence assumes an even more important role as our nation's `first line of defense.' Recognizing the increased complexity of intelligence collection in the post-Cold War period, cuts to collection capabilities may result not only in lost lives, but lost policy opportunities and greater military expenditures. Since the Intelligence Community only months ago implemented its task force recommendations, we should allow for gradual--not impetuous--change. I have always advocated evolution instead of revolution.
Working closely with the intelligence community, we can make some responsible, informed cuts where appropriate, always mindful not to hurt capabilities. The Democrats have arrived in Washington sorely tempted to make deep cuts to intelligence; I sincerely hope that prudence, reality and a sense of history will prevent them from doing so. Let us hope they do not repeat past mistakes. As statesman and scholar Abba Eban wrote: `Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.'