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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

Key Recommendations

* Drop the "two major theater war" standard in favor of a military strategy that matches realistic threats, interests, and missions.

* Break with the annual tradition of dividing the defense budget into rigid shares among the military branches.

* Reduce and reshape conventional forces and modernization plans to suit the new century and to hold the line against further increases in annual defense spending.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's review of military strategy, forces, and equipment plans offers a critical opportunity to rethink priorities in light of the future.

Toward a New Military Strategy

America must decide as a nation how it means to use its military and then develop a military strategy consistent with the decision. Assuming that smaller-scale contingencies--including missions in the Persian Gulf, which account for three-quarters of deployed U.S. forces--will continue, Washington must stop pretending that preparing for two major wars, with forces substantially larger than are needed to prevail against any known enemy, takes precedence over all such smaller actions.

The first priority of conventional forces should be to fight and win wars. But the military's double insurance policy--"overmatch" for two major theater wars--is overly conservative and requires more conventional forces than the U.S. needs. A more appropriate hierarchy puts a single large war in first place, gives second priority to smaller-scale contingencies, and relegates any second large war to third priority--to be handled over time, as forces permit.

Toward More Suitable Forces

Dropping the strategic requirement for fighting a simultaneous second major theater war of the size the Pentagon currently envisions would allow the nation to reduce conventional forces and procurement plans by 15 to 20% across the board. The smaller forces would be more than adequate to handle a single war while conducting multiple smaller-scale contingencies at least as well as today's forces. Across-the-board force reductions would be the easiest choice from a bureaucratic point of view. They would also go a long way toward solving defense budget problems. However, such reductions would leave unaddressed the fundamental mismatch between the current military branch allocations (and the equipment the Pentagon envisions for them) and likely future operations.

Instead, Washington should reshape conventional forces and modernization plans to reflect national interests and priorities of the future, solve specific military problems, and take better advantage of modern technologies. For example, if coming to Taiwan's aid in a mainland blockade of the Taiwan Strait is important and likely, then the U.S. should emphasize naval and air forces at the expense of ground units.

Toward a More Affordable Military

By overhauling military strategy, forces, and equipment plans in light of the challenges and opportunities of the new century, the U.S. can ensure a very able military well into the future, without the rise in defense spending that current military allocations and plans will require. The new book, Holding the Line: U.S. Defense Alternatives for the Early 21st Century, outlines three strategic options, each of which would allow the Pentagon to reduce conventional forces and reshape plans for new equipment. The first, based on a maritime-centered strategy, would position forces especially well to fight wars when they do not have access to a developed local base structure. The second emphasizes military capabilities needed for long-term peacekeeping operations and for expelling adversaries from defended positions. The third exploits the potential of air forces to project power rapidly in a relatively unpredictable world. By eliminating outdated forces and scaling back on ambitious plans for equipment that made sense for the cold war but do not fit with these visions of the future, all three choices would keep defense budgets constant in real dollars for at least a decade. All would break with the fiscal strategy that annually divides defense budgets into rigid shares for the different branches but makes a mockery of military strategy. By making better use of modern technologies and emphasizing forces and equipment that make sense for the future instead of the past, all three options offer substantial military advantages over the Pentagon's current plans. The book establishes that the nation has more than one strategic alternative to hold the line against future defense spending increases while keeping a very strong military, better suited for future missions and interests than the one the Pentagon envisions.

Some observers hold that the U.S. should develop a strategy independent of budgetary considerations: "Let budgets follow strategy, not the other way around." But strategy means making choices and setting priorities in the face of constrained resources. It is therefore important to come to terms with budget, forces, and strategy in consonance.

Cindy Williams <cindywil@MIT.EDU>, formerly Assistant Director for National Security at the Congressional Budget Office, is Senior Research Fellow of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Article Details
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Author:Williams, Cindy
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:May 29, 2001
Words:795
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