Thursday, November 9, 2000

Gore's plan for military:
Stick with the basics

By Chuck Vinch
Washington bureau chief

WASHINGTON — Aside from pumping an infusion of cash into the Pentagon, the national security blueprint outlined by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore can be summed up fairly easily: Stick with the basics that have made America "the world’s greatest military force."

Gore has said he would maintain a policy of vigorous forward engagement in places like the Balkans, continue most big-ticket weapons programs now in development such as the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, and stay on course with current plans to develop a land-based national missile-defense system.

The one radical change Gore has talked about for the military is one that will likely put him in very hot water with Republicans and the Pentagon leadership — scrapping the controversial "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy and letting gays serve openly in uniform.

Gore has said the current policy is "ineffective" and should be changed to allow gay troops to serve without restrictions. "I feel it is a question of basic justice and equity," he told the Army Times newspaper in April.

Early in the presidential campaign, Gore sparked a brief media firestorm with his statement that he would require candidates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support his view on gays in the military before he would appoint them. He later backed off, saying he would expect the chiefs to carry out his order.

In any event, Gore would face an uphill battle to overturn the current policy because it is federal law, signed by President Clinton in 1993. To change it, Gore would need agreement from the House and Senate.

With defense and foreign policy issues holding a decidedly low profile during the presidential election campaign, Gore would have many gaps to fill in his broad vision for the U.S. military.

The statements he and his campaign aides have made to date indicate that the centerpiece of his defense agenda would be a goal of adding $10 billion a year to current military spending plans over the next decade.

While that level of additional funding is more than twice what his Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, proposed, it’s still far short of what Pentagon leaders — and many Republicans in Congress — say is needed to fix a range of defense shortfalls.

In congressional testimony this year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they need five times what Gore has proposed — $50 billion a year — to plug gaps that have developed in recent years as the services have deferred weapons modernization to fund near-term operations and readiness.

Yet Gore has said he believes his spending proposal is large enough to support sufficient investment in the kinds of future technologies the military will need for the new century.

"Our investments in America’s military must be consistent with a future-oriented vision and continue to project a strong deterrence posture against threats we face now and into the future, and what it will take to win on the information-age battlefield," Gore told military advocacy groups in a prepared statement last month.

Beyond such rhetoric, Gore has not specified exactly how he would spend the extra $100 billion he would devote to defense, although he has promised full funding for military health care, expanded partnerships with the private sector to improve military housing, and further pay and benefits increases for the troops.

Gore often has said that his experience as an Army enlisted man, which included serving a noncombat tour in Vietnam and living with his wife Tipper in a trailer park outside Fort Rucker, Ala., allows him to identify with the concerns of the average servicemember.

"In a Gore administration, there will not be a single member of the armed services paid so low that he or she is eligible for food stamps," he told the Army Times newspaper in April.

In terms of weapons technology, Gore rejected Bush’s notion of "skipping a generation" of weapons technology and says he will continue several high-profile procurement programs, including the Army’s Comanche helicopter and three new tactical aircraft programs — the F-22 for the Air Force, the F/A-18 E and F for the Navy and the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter.

In what will come as welcome news to the Army, Gore has said it is "especially urgent to lend full weight" to that service’s transformation to a "medium weight" battlefield presence that will be more agile than today’s heavy divisions and more lethal than today’s light divisions.

Gore said he plans to keep procurement funding, which recently hit $60 billion a year, on an upward path toward $70 billion a year within the next five years. "This funding is essential to support the next generation of defense technologies and bring on line new systems to replace the aging ones currently in the U.S. military," he said.

In the area of overseas deployments, Gore has promised a "thorough review" of current contingency missions, but generally has indicated he would continue a policy of forward engagement that could well-expand U.S. military participation in the kinds of overseas peacekeeping and humanitarian missions that many troops have complained are wearing out the force.

He has promised to attack that problem with "reasonable rotations and properly structure forces," but he has not commented on the military’s complaint that focusing on bolstering readiness for those kinds of near-term missions slowly saps funds to invest in weapons modernization.

During the campaign, Bush had called for developing a policy for an "orderly withdrawal" of U.S. forces from the Balkans, but Gore has said he supports continued U.S. participation in those Balkans peacekeeping missions.

On the hot-button issue of national missile defense, Gore has said he is comfortable with the Clinton administration’s plan to develop a $60 billion land-based system of interceptors to cover the United States, but also has said he places "high value" on preserving the current Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

Many Republicans, including Bush, want national missile-defense efforts to move faster and have talked about expanding the system to cover U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, as well as forward-deployed American troops. Analysts say that would greatly drive up the price tag and raise serious concerns in Moscow.

On the highly controversial anthrax vaccination program, Gore has mentioned a vague desire for a "a careful evaluation" of the current Pentagon policy of inoculating all troops against the deadly biological disease.

Because of vaccine shortages, the Pentagon now is vaccinating only those troops going to the high-threat areas of the Middle East and Korea, but expects to resume forcewide inoculations when new supplies of the drug become available.