Thursday, November 9, 2000

Questions still unanswered
on Bush's plans for military

By Chuck Vinch
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — George W. Bush has many gaps to fill in his plans for the military as he prepares to assume his duties should he become the 43rd president of the United States.

In an election campaign in which defense and foreign policy issues carried a decidedly low profile, Bush offered a number of proposals that on their face seem highly contradictory. For example, he said he wants to:

In summary, what Bush has revealed to date about his vision for U.S. defense and foreign policy is short on details and will have to be fleshed out at a later date. And that process must start with the bottom line: funding.

Bush, who fulfilled his military obligation in the Vietnam era as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, has proposed adding about $45 billion to the defense budget over the next decade.

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff told lawmakers earlier this year that they need $50 billion more a year to plug gaps that have developed in the 1990s as the services deferred weapons modernization to fund near-term operations and readiness.

Bush’s advisers have insisted that the $45 billion in additional spending covers only part of his planned defense increases, but neither Bush nor running mate Dick Cheney gave any hint of that during the campaign or in the presidential debates.

In charting his defense and foreign policy course, one thing Bush would not lack is advice. In the election campaign, Democrats often brought up his inexperience in those arenas, which is why he lined up an impressive roster of all-star advisers.

The list includes Cheney, a former defense secretary; former Secretaries of State George P. Schultz and Henry Kissinger; former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft; and retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been touted as a possibility for secretary of State in the Bush administration.

The two national security issues on which Bush has spoken in the greatest detail are overseas contingency deployments and missile defense.

Bush has staked out a far more insular posture than the Clinton-Gore administration on deploying U.S. forces for low-level peacekeeping and humanitarian missions abroad.

"American forces are overused and underfunded precisely when they are confronted by a host of new threats and challenges — the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of cyberterrorism, the proliferation of missile technology," Bush said last month.

"This dangerous combination of frequent but unfocused deployments and insufficient resources has resulted in damaged morale, problems with retention and recruiting, and a force unprepared to deal with the threats of a new century," he said.

Bush vowed to maintain "longstanding commitments" in places like Korea, but wants a review of many other overseas deployments, including the Kosovo and Bosnia missions, with an eye toward seeking an "orderly and timely" withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"What is our goal, can it be met, and when do we leave?" he said in September 1999 during his first major defense policy address at The Citadel in South Carolina.

In response to questions submitted last month by six major military advocacy groups, including the Association of the U.S. Army and the Navy League, Bush called for "an immediate review of overseas deployments in dozens of countries with the air of replacing uncertain missions with well-defined objectives."

Bush’s top national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said in an October interview with The New York Times that America’s allies in Europe should furnish all ground troops for the peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo while the United States offers "the kind of support we can provide, such as air power."

That stance has drawn criticism. "In other words: You Europeans take all the risks while we hover safely above the fray," The Washington Post said in an editorial. "No allies would long accept such a deal, nor should they be expected to."

The Post argued that pulling out of the Balkans would undercut U.S. leverage and credibility in NATO and noted that the United States has only 11,000 troops in the Balkans, less than 1 percent of its active-duty force.

"Surely helping democracy take root throughout Europe is worth the modest price of that modest deployment," the editorial said.

Bush also opposed deploying U.S. troops for purely humanitarian missions, arguing that the United States "should not send troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest."

On ballistic missile defense, Bush wants to forge ahead with a broad expansion of the Clinton administration’s $60 billion plan to provide a limited defense using land-based interceptors that would extend any shield developed by the United States to Korea, Japan, Israel and the European allies, as well as other "friends" and forward-deployed U.S. military forces overseas.

Defense analysts have said extending the system in that way would require interceptors not only on land, but also in space and aboard ships at sea and would cost far more than what Bush has proposed adding to the defense budget.

But Bush has insisted that his missile defense plans would not affect his plans to cut taxes by $1.3 trillion over 10 years, strengthen Social Security and promote new spending on education and defense programs.

He also has stated a willingness to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia if Moscow refuses to go along with his missile defense plans, which some analysts fear could spark a new arms race.

On other defense issues, including military modernization, Bush’s plans are a bit fuzzier. For example, he has criticized the Clinton-Gore administration for years of "inertia and idle talk" in failing to fully wrench the military out of its Cold War mindset. Yet his own blueprint for the U.S. military of the 21st century still is far from clear.

He has often talked of "skipping a generation" of weapons technology and devoting 20 percent of future procurement funds for advanced weaponry such as the Navy’s "arsenal ship" concept, a stealthy ship loaded with long-range missiles that can destroy targets accurately from great distances.

But he has not offered much detail about what that would mean in the short term for the military services, and to cloud the situation even further, his advisers have said he does not necessarily support cutting programs currently under development such as the F-22 and the JSF.

The idea of skipping a generation of weapons has caused particular concern for the Army, which is looking to build an "interim" armored force to carry it through its transformation into a lighter, more mobile force over the next two decades.

Yet Bush also has said he recognizes that heavy ground forces must be lighter, light ground forces must be made more lethal, and all must be easier to deploy.

In the end, his campaign has said decisions on future modernization would come out of a "comprehensive military review" to prepare the services for the "challenges of the next century."

"What we need is a new architecture for American defense that will permit the U.S. to project power swiftly under new conditions," Bush said last month.

Bush has had relatively little to say about military personnel issues, other than vague promises to spend more on health care and housing and boost military pay by $1 billion above currently planned levels. He has not spelled out whether that pay increase would come all in one year or be spread over several years.

He has expressed support for the controversial "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military, although the official Republican Party platform bluntly states that homosexuality is "incompatible" with military service.

Bush aides also have indicated he would be inclined to change the current practice of the Army, Navy and Air Force to mix males and females in basic training. The Marine Corps is the only service that doesn’t mix the genders in boot camp.

Conservative lawmakers have charged that the practice is responsible for a number of high profile sexual assault and harassment incidents in recent years, and the policy also was criticized by a blue-ribbon Pentagon panel two years ago.

But the services have balked at changing the policy, saying recruits need to "train as they would fight."