Presidential Debate on Defense So Far, Has Lacked Substance

By Lawrence F. Skibbie

I recently attended a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, where he presented the Army Supply Excellence Awards. This is an annual competition, sponsored by NDIA, to recognize excellence and innovation in Army logistics supply operations.

It truly was inspiring to see soldiers—from privates to colonels—representing active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units, step up to receive their awards from the Chief of Staff. I should mention that NDIA has sponsored this competition and similar competitions for maintenance excellence since 1986.

However, that is not what I want to discuss in this edition of President’s Perspective.

In his remarks at the Supply Excellence ceremony, Gen. Shinseki commented that history teaches us valuable lessons. One of those lessons, regrettably, is that there is a war in our future.

That simple statement—that there is a war in our future—is not based on speculation or wild guessing. It merely is the conclusion one draws from looking at the history of our nation and the world. And that statement is the reason why the on-going presidential election debate about the defense preparedness of the United States is so important.

A Conflict Awaiting Us
Periodically, as a nation, we ask our youth to go into harm’s way to defend the sovereignty of our country and to protect our national interests. The period we are entering, the early portion of the 21st century—like every other in our history—undoubtedly has a conflict awaiting us.

Based on that premise, we owe it to our youth to invest adequate resources into our national defense. That means allocating enough dollars to train and equip soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines so they can be as invincible as we can make them, if they are to do the nation’s bidding. In addition, it means providing top-notch quality-of-life and educational programs, so that more young men and women will have incentives to enter military service.

For these reasons and many others, the candidates running for the White House next month owe the American people a more rigorous, comprehensive treatment of defense issues than the current piecemeal jockeying for political advantage, which is what has been witnessed so far. Those who aspire to leadership should demonstrate their ability to lead by identifying problems and proposing solutions. That has yet to be achieved in the 2000 electoral debates.

Last month, in this space, I suggested that you ask your candidates where they stand on defense issues. We have only about 30 more days for you to let your candidates know about your concerns regarding the nation’s security posture.

These are important issues you should raise with your candidates. I should remind you that our armed forces are now almost 40 percent smaller than they were a decade ago. The Army went down from 18 to 10 divisions, the Air Force from 36 down to 20 wings, and the Navy from almost 600 ships to about 300 today.

Further, the 2001 defense budget represents only 2.8 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Defense was almost 6 percent of the GDP in the mid-1980s.

So, I again suggest that you ask your candidates if they support a coherent national security strategy. Do they support modernizing our combat and training equipment? Do they agree to implementing the “revolution in business affairs,” needed to bring the Pentagon in line with commercial business practices?

Do they see the need to ensure a viable industrial base? Will they ensure the readiness of our forces—both now and in the future?

If this message sounds repetitive to you, it was designed to be that way. After all, we only have national presidential elections every four years. As you read this, we only have 30 more days before we determine who will guide our country during the next four years (or two or six years, in the case of House and Senate candidates). We need to make our voices heard. If we fail to do so, we will have four years to regret not voicing our opinions when it counted.

Topics: Presidents Perspective, Budget, Defense Department

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