Septermber 24, 1999


FROM: Thomas Donnelly, Deputy Director

SUBJECT: Defense

There was much to like about George W. Bush's speech at the Citadel yesterday on U.S. defense policy. It displayed an understanding of the importance of continued U.S. world leadership, the inability of the current force to meet all its missions, the need to restore and respect the core values of military culture, and the promise of the dawning "revolution in military affairs" to maintain the battlefield edge enjoyed by American troops today. The necessary next step will be to explain just how much in the way of additional resources is needed to address the military’s requirements and to provide a more fully worked-out national security vision to justify any defense proposals.

The speech had several strengths. Among them:

American hegemony. Bush characterized the current moment as the "era of American preeminence," marked not merely by the preeminence of America power but by the victory of American ideals. It is encouraging to hear a political leader who does not shy from the responsibilities of preeminence but welcomes the challenge to "turn these years of influence into decades of peace."

The military’s decline. Bush accurately diagnosed the disease of today's military forces: declining readiness rates, slowed equipment modernization and a declining quality of military life resulting from the growing gap between the aims of U.S. defense strategy and the capabilities of our armed forces. He also understands that the effects of these problems are exacerbated by the administration’s disdain for military culture and the resulting problems in civil-military relations.

Modernizing the military. While expressing his admiration for those "who willingly accept the burdens and dangers of service," Bush served notice that he will not be satisfied simply to preserve the status quo. His promise to inject a spirit of innovation in the Pentagon carried with it an implied threat: "I intend to force new thinking and hard choices." Indeed, the passages on innovation, or the revolution in military affairs, provided the most thoroughly developed ideas in the speech. In spotlighting new weapons like the "arsenal ship"-- a stealthy vessel packed with cruise missiles and capable of massive, long-range precision strikes -- and promising to increase research funding and to commit 20 percent of procurement spending to leap-ahead systems, Bush lends impetus to the stalled effort to transform the U.S. military to meet future challenges.

However, Bush’s speech left unaddressed three issues which are key to achieving his goal of maintaining American preemince.

National strategy? Bush left unaswered the fundamtental question -- what’s worth fighting for? What to make, for example, of Bush's complaints about "open-ended deployments" of U.S. forces? Bush supported our intervention in Kosovo, and he was right to do so. It is unclear from the speech whether Bush merely wants to bring clarity to the Balkans mission, or to withdraw U.S. forces from that troubled region as soon as possible. What other missions would he suggest we withdraw from? We no longer have troops in Somalia or Rwanda, and we are about to withdraw from Haiti. Does he intend to scale back the no-fly-zone operations over Iraq? Pull our two hundred-man commitment from East Timor? Draw down the American garrisons in Korea or Europe?

The balance between today's needs and tomorrow's requirements? Despite the need to build a very different military for the future, U.S. forces cannot afford to call a time-out from our current commitments around the world while they investigate the promise of new technologies. Keeping the American peace requires extraordinary efforts today as well as for tomorrow. And even for today’s responsibilities, our forces are in disrepair and too small -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimate that today's unfunded requirements exceed $150 billion over the course of the six-year defense program. Such shortages need to be addressed immediately. Preserving the peace requires a revitalization of the current military as well as the creation of new kinds of forces.

How much increased defense spending? A failure to invest significant additional funds in defense would undermine Bush's call to extend American preeminence. The Pentagon's money woes cannot be solved by greater management efficiencies. Simply matching the last Bush defense budget -- that enacted under his father in 1992 -- would cost $50 billion above what the Congress will approve for defense in FY 2000. Hundreds of billions of dollars in planned investments have been postponed during the Clinton years. As Bush noted in Charleston, not since the attack on Pearl Harbor has defense spending been such a small proportion of U.S. gross domestic product.

American military preeminence cannot be sustained, let alone transformed for the future, on the cheap or by technology alone. At the Citadel, Bush sketched a vision of American geopolitical leadership for the coming century. He should begin now to build the political consensus to realize this vision and provide the necessary resources.