In 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspen undertook what came to be
known as a Bottom-Up Review (or BUR in Pentagonese) to consider the U.S.
military’s force structure and capability requirements in the post-Cold War
The idea was that from that assessment would be derived the
necessary funding profiles to pay for the building and fielding such a
military. It didn’t work out that way — and there is cause for concern
that a similar review being undertaken by his successor, Donald Rumsfeld,
will not be allowed to follow such a logical progression either.
What happened in the Aspen BUR exercise was that the Clinton
administration characteristically did not deliver on its promise.
Instead of allowing the defense budget to be derived from the projected needs of the
armed forces for modern aircraft, ships, ground combat vehicles, missiles,
etc., and the wherewithal to operate and sustain them, the Bottom-Up Review
wound up being driven from the top-down.
The Aspen Pentagon was told by the White House how much it would be able to spend, and from that point on, the only question was how much of what the military really required could be afforded within the mandated budget “bogey.”
The answer was not nearly enough. Instead of undertaking in the
1990s the sorts of long-term investments that would have permitted the “next
generation” of weapon systems to replace in an orderly and cost-effective
fashion those bought during the Carter and Reagan years, the Clinton-Gore
team consistently failed to provide the money or the authorization required
to recapitalize the force. As a result, each of the armed forces
effectively wound up “skipping a generation” in the procurement of their
main battle systems.
Matters were made worse by President Clinton’s proclivity to use the
U.S. military intensively. As a result of years of sustained operational
tempos that were, in some cases, as high or higher than those of the Vietnam
War, much of the equipment currently in the Pentagon inventory is not only
reaching the end of its design service life; it is proving very difficult
and hugely expensive to maintain at the safety and reliability standards we
expect — and that our military personnel deserve.
This then is the backdrop of the new bottom-up review being
undertaken for Les Aspen’s successor, Donald Rumsfeld, and the superb team
he is recruiting for senior Pentagon positions. Under the leadership of Director of Net Assessment Dr. Andrew Marshall, the most comprehensive reevaluation of the Defense Department’s requirements in a generation is being undertaken.
As predicted, at least some of the conclusions of this
study seem likely to be controversial and politically charged; for example,
according to press reports, a briefing to the president last week of some of
the preliminary findings of this new “Marshall Plan” indicated that it would
dispense with the construction of any additional large-deck aircraft
carriers. Dr. Marshall’s prescriptions would also reportedly make
short-range fighter aircraft and heavy armored vehicles endangered species.
More important than any of Dr. Marshall’s detailed recommendations,
though, is the over-arching question: Will his review (and the plans that
flow from it) be allowed to conclude that the United States military
requires a substantial infusion of additional funding? Or will the answer
once again be dictated, not by the armed forces’ deficiencies — which have
been hugely exacerbated by the past decade or so of malign neglect and
over-utilization — but by externally dictated budgetary direction that is
woefully inadequate to the task?
At this point, the signals are somewhat mixed. On the one hand,
press reports indicate that shortly after taking office, Mr. Rumsfeld sought
an increase in the range of tens of billions of dollars to make up for
readily identifiable shortfalls affecting near-term readiness and to begin
to address longer-term modernization requirements. According to news
accounts, this request was turned down. What is more, the Wall Street
Journal has reported that “Pentagon officials have prepared a list of about
30 weapons programs that could be cut back or killed to produce savings of
as much as $3 billion annually over the next several years.”
On the other hand, there are signs that — even though George W.
Bush did not campaign on a platform of significantly increased defense
spending — the president recognizes that such increases will be required
starting this fiscal year, and has directed his subordinates to plan
accordingly. Even if this is the case, however, it is not clear that the
Bush team is fully prepared for what is needed.
Fortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld is taking advantage of the talents
of Dan Goure and Jeff Ranney, two of the nation’s most knowledgeable
authorities on the condition of the military — and what it will take to fix
it. They have previously concluded that as much as $100 billion more a year
will be needed over and above the Clinton-Gore projections, assuming the
United States will retain the kind of force structure and power-projection
capabilities to which Mr. Bush’s predecessors at least paid lip-service.
There’s the rub.
In the past, the driver for the military’s requirements has been the so-called two-war scenario. But the Washington Post report on Mr. Rumsfeld’s briefing to President Bush last week quotes a “Pentagon official” who says the Marshall review “‘basically does away’ with
long-standing doctrine that the U.S. military must be prepared to fight two
major wars nearly simultaneously. It is not clear, he said, whether the
review will formally abandon the policy or simply ignore it.”
The principal object of U.S. defense spending, of course, is not to
fight wars but to prevent wars from occurring. Successive administrations
have appreciated that to do that requires the nation to have sufficient
military power not only to prevail in one conflict but to persuade all
comers that it could, if necessary, fight and win a second one as well.
This formula has served us well — even when it has not been fully funded.
Any decision to depart from it entails real risks and should be not only
carefully thought through by the Pentagon leadership and the president, but
weighed and vigorously debated by the Congress.
Under no circumstances should such a decision be made first and
foremost for budgetary reasons. History teaches us that it is not only more
desirable but far cheaper to deter wars than it is to fight them.
Let this Bottom-Up Review be done on the basis of fully funding military requirements to deal with two, nearly-simultaneous major regional conflicts, and let the American people and their elected representatives decide whether we can afford to do any less.