During the past several weeks, much advice has been deluged on
our new president; at least some of this advice deals with national
defense issues. The suggestions cover the spectrum: from accelerating
the nation’s missile defenses to postponing further development;
from quantum increases in defense budgets to drastic cuts in Pentagon
spending; and from cutbacks to major system procurements to reductions
in the size of our uniformed forces.
Every columnist seems to have his or her menu of pet rocks—but
this columnist will not join in that exercise.
It would seem timely, however—as the new administration organizes
itself—to review the predicament in which our country find
itself in this new millennium. For 15 long years, from 1985 to 2000,
defense budgets have decreased each year, when measured in constant
dollars. Only in 2001 did the defense line tick up.
As a result, the indicators of incipient problems in the U.S. military
are manifold. Overall levels of readiness are decreasing; morale
is reported to have declined, not only among junior, but also among
mid-career officers, and recruitment and retention concerns have
become almost a way of life.
Further, it is now widely accepted that the U.S. military can no
longer postpone efforts to re-capitalize equipment and must begin
to execute a concerted modernization program.
Much of the equipment in use by our forces is older than the young
men and women who operate it. And even though U.S. equipment may
still be the best in the world, the way to minimize casualties is
to use overwhelming power—which necessitates equipment overmatch,
rather than systems that are merely on a par with our enemies.
Obviously, any large-scale modernization program requires large
investments. Estimates vary from an additional $50 billion per year—according
to the Congressional Budget Office—up to $100 billion per
year, as recommended by the Center for Strategic and International
Studies. Unfortunately, the new administration’s program only
calls for an additional $5 billion per year, and much of that is
earmarked for basic quality-of-life improvements.
Recall, also, that the electorate has said that, while it wants
the United States to maintain its global position of leadership,
it does not want to spend more on defense. In fact, the average
citizen on the street thinks we should spend less on defense.
But there is no fat in defense, if in fact there ever was. The
force structure is already lower than it should be; the procurement
holiday, in which we have forgone equipment purchases has lasted
for at least 10 years—and is one of the reasons for our current
Rounding out the picture are the many other claimants for the nation’s
resources: the promised tax relief, school systems in need of upgrading,
reducing the national debt, as well as fixing Social Security and
Medicare, to name only a few.
Today’s realities mean that the country is desperately in
need of leadership in the national security arena. This leadership
must come from the Congress—where Sen. John Warner (R-VA)
continues to serve as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
and Congressman Bob Stump (R-AZ) takes over as the new chairman
of the House Armed Services Committee.
But most especially, this leadership must come from the nation’s
commander-in-chief. President Bush must be visible on this issue,
and must convince our fellow citizens that significant increases
in defense expenditures are not only needed, but mandatory.
Our new commander-in-chief faces many hurdles on the road ahead,
not the least of which is the political challenge of leading a country
and a Congress split almost precisely down the middle. However,
one of the top priorities of our chief executive must be our national
security. It is the fundamental prerequisite for the social security
for which we all strive. Without a major effort in defense, President
Bush risks, in 2004, some new presidential candidate alleging our
military continued its decline under the second Bush administration.
You can help the political process by communicating with your elected
officials and telling them that you support reversing the decline
of our military. Unless we all speak up, our political leaders will
assume that we’re comfortable with the current state of affairs.
You can locate your congressional representative through our Web
page at www.ndia.org/advocacy. On the left side of the screen, click
on “Write Your Senator,” or “Write Your Representative.”