The Military of the Future
Reining in Military Overkill
With no major threat in sight, the Pentagon should ease up on its planned buying spree and focus more on nonmilitary means of bolstering U.S. security.
The end of the Cold War set off contentious debate about what constitutes the most effective and least expensive security policy for the United States. A central issue has been the size, pace, and direction of efforts to develop new and improved weapons to meet emerging threats. Although congressional leaders have called for rapid increases in funding for weapons modernization, most of the new weapons spending in the past two budgets has been devoted to older, existing weapon systems and to accelerating R&D funding of new systems in areas where threats are, arguably, dubious. The Clinton administration has argued that congressional add-ons will jeopardize its modernization budget, which is slated to grow to $60 billion in FY2001, a 40 percent real increase over the president's FY1997 request. Critics, however, blame both Congress and the administration for failing to curtail funding for Cold War-era systems, such as the B-2 bomber and the Seawolf submarine, and for modernization programs that lack a coherent rationale in the post-Cold War world, notably the New Attack Submarine and national ballistic missile defense.
Despite this fractious debate, little light has been shed on the critical question of whether the U.S. military really needs to rapidly pursue weapons modernization, especially given its decisive technological advantage in virtually every militarily significant field. Remarkably, there has been a lack of public deliberation about the merits of specific weapon programs based on the probable military threats posed by potential foes. Nor has there been serious consideration of how the continuous pursuit of military superiority can bring with it technological uncertainty and substantial risk of escalation of the cost of new weaponry. And despite recent efforts at joint planning, the armed services' modernization plans still overlap with considerable redundancy in missions and weaponry. This redundancy implies significant overkill capabilities in the Department of Defense's (DOD's) most daunting scenario of two major, nearly simultaneous regional conflicts. Even more remarkable is the absence of a substantial evaluation of the plausibility of the two-war scenario, which guides planning for all post-Cold War defense requirements.
Although Congress has now required DOD to conduct a new review of defense requirements, which will take place early in 1997, there has been scant discussion of which overarching security doctrine these defense requirements should support. The lack of a debate has allowed congressional Republicans to advance an almost entirely military-based approach to preserving U.S. security. Indeed, an alliance of Republican defense and deficit hawks has pushed through cuts in nonmilitary programs to promote international stability, including the modest but important Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which is helping to dismantle nuclear warheads in the former Soviet Union and protect the extracted fissile materials from theft. As an alternative, defense hawks have aggressively promoted national ballistic missile defense as the counterproliferation means of choice. Meanwhile, the administration, though still supporting nonmilitary, alternative security approaches, has largely gone along with the Republican push to boost the military's technological superiority with new, even more lethal, high-tech conventional weapons while preserving a large nuclear arsenal.
But the increasing emphasis on purely military solutions is extremely shortsighted, especially because our greatest near-term threats-the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ethnic and religious conflicts, international terrorism, and so on-rarely lend themselves to such solutions. Outgoing Defense Secretary William Perry has acknowledged this to be the case with his notion of "preventive defense," enunciated in a speech at Harvard University in May 1996. It is time to seriously examine how these threats could be addressed by alternative security approaches, such as the strengthening of international institutions, including the UN, and the pursuit of multilateral initiatives and other nonmilitary, nontechnological means. It would be a far wiser course than our current hellbent, expensive, and unnecessary path to military overkill.
During the FY1997 defense budget debate, pro-defense members of Congress expressed concern that military spending for FY1996 had declined in real terms by one-third and weapons procurement by two-thirds from the Cold War peak in 1989. Consequently, Congress appropriated $11 billion more than the Pentagon had requested for FY1997, with $5.7 billion earmarked for procurement. Yet leaders such as House National Security Committee Chairman Floyd Spence (R.-S.C.) are still unsatisfied, pointing out that even after taking into account proposed congressional increases for future defense budgets, overall spending will fall by 8 percent between 1997 and 2002.
What is often overlooked in this debate, however, is that military spending is projected to exceed 80 percent of the Cold War annual average, adjusted for inflation, through the end of this decade. In addition, the United States spends more on defense than the next eight leading industrial nations combined, including Russia and China. Moreover, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), DOD assessments of the modernization programs of potential foes forecast a shrinkage in forces and a slowdown in the acquisition of new weapons, particularly for combat airpower. Thus, there are good grounds on which to question the claim that defense spending has fallen too far, too fast. There are also reasons to question the merits of many facets of the modernization program.
The administration claims to have largely removed the Cold War baggage from the defense budget while making the procurement process more efficient and affordable. But the military's performance-driven demands for new weaponry are fraught with uncertainty and a substantial risk of cost escalation. The symptoms of classic cost-ratcheting are already being reflected in the F-22 combat aircraft and in theater missile defense programs. Despite the Pentagon's attempt to encourage weapon designers to trade off performance for cost savings, the military services have not shown any inclination to relax their demands for securing an absolute strategic advantage over all competitors, even though no other nation can keep pace. For these reasons, current modernization plans are likely to repeat long-standing problems of cost control, schedule slippage, and performance attainment. Thus, it is unlikely that the Pentagon's attempt to significantly reduce military specifications will solve chronic cost-control problems in developing new systems such as the Joint Strike Fighter. In essence, the modernization imperative will swamp the marginal cost savings of commercial-military integration. Meanwhile, procurement reforms are being undermined by the erosion of competition in the upper tiers of the defense market because of mergers and acquisitions that have been encouraged by dubious federal subsidies.
As for the Cold War baggage, at least $56 billion of the $398-billion five-year procurement and research budget is slated for weapons conceived to meet the Soviet threat, including the Seawolf submarine, Comanche helicopter, B-2 bomber, and C-17A aircraft. Another $43 billion is for developing and buying advanced weaponry, including the F-22 combat aircraft and Joint Strike Fighter, both of which have capabilities that far exceed those of potential foes, according to General Accounting Office (GAO) studies.
Completion of scheduled weapons modernization programs will greatly increase the military's overkill capabilities in executing the Pentagon's most demanding two-war scenario. For instance, according to a GAO study of U.S. combat airpower, the military already has the power to hit a target 10 different ways for more than 65 percent of the 100,000 targets in the Pentagon's two-war scenario. Some targets could be hit by 25 or more combinations of aircraft, missiles, bombs, or precision-guided munitions. Current procurement plans would multiply this already awesome overkill to 85 percent of the targets that could be hit 10 or more ways. Similar concerns about overkill have been expressed by CBO and others.
Cumulatively, the size and scope of the modernization plans are staggering. The Joint Strike Fighter, designed to meet the needs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force while saving money, is but one piece of an extravagant upgrade plan that includes the Air Force's F-22 stealth combat aircraft and the Navy's F/A-18E/F aircraft. CBO estimates the total cost of this aircraft modernization at $355 billion in 1997 dollars. In addition, the Army plans to buy the Comanche helicopter even as the Pentagon proceeds with the upgrading of existing helicopters and aircraft. The Navy is considering developing a new vessel, called the arsenal ship, that would provide a new option for delivering stand-off precision-guided munitions, thus rendering redundant some fraction of the capabilities of currently deployed aircraft, ships, and submarines. Yet the Navy continues to assert the need for 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, even though an arsenal ship would presumably obviate the need for a carrier and its complement of aircraft. Finally, the Army, Navy, and Air Force are all developing their own versions of theater missile defense systems, to the tune of $44 billion under current administration plans.
Overkill is also affecting plans to develop a national ballistic missile defense system. Most experts, bolstered by the CIA-coordinated National Intelligence Estimate, believe that there is little likelihood that the United States will be significantly threatened by any new foreign missile capability over the next 10 years. Intelligence experts, as the GAO points out, estimate that at least five years of extensive testing are required for the deployment of a truly intercontinental missile. Thus, the United States, given the ease of detecting new missile development, would have plenty of time to deal with a new threat. Despite the low risks, the Republican Congress appropriated $3.4 billion, a 13.1 percent increase, to accelerate missile defense R&D in the FY1997 budget. (President Clinton had asked for $2.5 billion and a delay in deployment until the technology was better proven.) This increased funding is unfortunate, because many of the risks that missile defense is designed to deal with could be reduced by more aggressive, nonmilitary nonproliferation efforts. In this light, the push for a national missile defense system is a very expensive and technologically uncertain response to a complex problem that might be better addressed through multilateral initiatives.
A reevaluation of the modernization program in terms of risks, capabilities, and alternatives would yield a different set of priorities. A proper accounting of the risks and benefits and forms of overlap and excess capacity could put into question tens of billions of dollars in procurement and research budgeting. In this context, a debate on the overarching principles and doctrines that guide defense planning is in order.
Beyond the Bottom-up Review
The Clinton administration's 1993 Bottom-up Review (BUR) defined the nation's post-Cold War defense requirements in terms of the capacity to simultaneously wage and win two major regional conflicts, while maintaining the capability to carry out humanitarian missions. But the loose consensus within the defense community about the merits of the BUR force structure has unraveled because of skepticism about the BUR's cost and threat assumptions. Today, analysts from across the political spectrum have begun to doubt the credibility of the two-war scenario. The Heritage Foundation, for example, argues that preparing to fight one major and one smaller conflict at nearly the same time would be far more realistic. Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon takes a similar position, arguing that it is unlikely that the United States, together with its allies, would have to wage two major wars at once. Yet despite these analyses and Secretary Perry's admission that the simultaneous occurrence of two major regional conflicts is "implausible," the administration continues to adhere to this model as the basis for overall defense requirements.
In 1996, Congress sought to redefine the debate by mandating a quadrennial review of force requirements as well as an "independent" National Defense Panel appointed by the secretary of defense to assess alternative security force structures to meet potential threats. But neither assessment will evaluate whether the probable threats to U.S. interests justify the planned purchasing binge. Instead, Congress directed the National Defense Panel to develop military responses to virtually every potential threat to U.S. interests and to estimate the costs needed to deal with them. The study appears to be a congressional gambit to bid up the defense budget by creating a higher baseline of threats and costs. But without an assessment of the probability of these threats and the cost of alternatives, such an approach amounts to a request for a blank check.
The current congressional dominance of the defense debate has largely superseded efforts in the first two years of the Clinton administration to defuse potential conflicts through nonmilitary means. The administration worked to make the Cooperative Threat Reduction nonproliferation program succeed, sought to promote partnerships that encouraged democracy, and invested in international efforts to assist the development of market-based economies.
During the past two years, however, Congress has forced cuts in practically every preventive defense program in the budgets of DOD and the Department of State. The Cooperative Threat Reduction program, for example, was cut 17 percent in 1996, and similar cuts were handed out to other U.S. foreign assistance programs, including direct economic development assistance and U.S. contributions to the programs of the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA). U.S. contributions to IDA were cut even though Republican Senators Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.) and Nancy Kassebaum (R.-Kan.), writing in the Washington Post in 1996, characterized IDA as "critical to America's ability to shape events around the world," and added that, "We believe IDA is a cost-effective way to foster economic reform, growth, and stability in the developing world." In addition, U.S. contributions to UN operations and peacekeeping missions have fallen further in arrears.
Support for these programs by key Republicans such as Kassebaum and Lugar has not been enough to prompt the administration to more rigorously defend them. Instead, the administration has done what the majority of defense hawks in Congress want it to do: focus on the military options. The Clinton national security team has argued that deterrence is best achieved by maintaining the U.S. military's qualitative superiority over all potential foes through the development of extremely precise and lethal conventional weapons and the demonstrated willingness to use them. The leading edge of the administration's modernization policy is aimed at acquiring more precision-guided conventional munitions; additional air cargo planes and sealift ships for rapid troop deployment; and new information systems and sensors and communications, computing, and surveillance technologies to aid in precision targeting.
Reliance on technological superiority for security, however, may pose serious risks by provoking dangerous responses. In particular, because Russia cannot hope to match these high-tech conventional capabilities, it may decide not to ratify the SALT II treaty, thus halting the momentum toward drastic reductions in the world's nuclear stockpile. The U.S. push to accelerate national missile defense may also prompt Russia to rethink its security strategy. In addition, nonnuclear nations may seek to build up their own arsenals of advanced weapons or even to develop or acquire biological and chemical weapons to counter the U.S. advantage. Some nations or substate groups may rely more heavily on terrorism as an effective and cheap counterstrategy. Other nations may build up large quantities of military equipment and troops to deal with the qualitative U.S. advantages.
Neither the development of overwhelming conventional forces nor of an effective ballistic-missile defense can adequately address some of the long-standing problems involved in stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For example, the Nuclear Suppliers Regime has relied on a national and industrial self-policing process that has often been undercut by promotional trade policies and the pursuit of profits. In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the key nuclear-nonproliferation organization, lacks the resources and clout to fully implement its mission; it can only inspect declared nuclear installations, not those suspected by members of the international community of nuclear weapons-building potential. Similar problems abound in enforcing other nonproliferation treaties.
Problems in controlling advanced dual-use technologies that are used to build essential components for weapons of mass destruction also pose a real proliferation threat. For instance, between 1985 and 1990, Iraq was able to acquire from U.S. and European companies many advanced technologies with potential military applications, despite restrictions set by the U.S. Export Administration Act. Today, these types of problems are not being adequately dealt with under current arms control and disarmament agreements and are continually being undermined by the lure of profits. Although the recently established Wassenaar Arrangement sets up a forum of Western and former Eastern Bloc nations to forge cooperation in curbing conventional and dual-use technology transfers, significant shortcomings in the framework exist, especially its reliance on national self-policing. Currently, many countries are trying to relax controls in order to promote high-tech trade in high-speed computers, telecommunications equipment, and advanced machine tools.
U.S. arms-trade policy is also promoting the export of high-tech conventional weapons with the aim of preserving the defense industrial base. But this policy could have deleterious effects. If state-of-the-art military equipment is exported, U.S. arms producers can argue that even more advanced (and expensive) weaponry must be developed. Exporting sophisticated aircraft that have the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons could promote proliferation potential among regional adversaries. And, of course, the arms trade could have a boomerang effect by providing weapons to nations that later become our adversaries.
Forging alternative security approaches
It is time to move beyond almost exclusive reliance on deterrence and power-projection capabilities and consider a wider variety of approaches for enhancing security in the era that lies ahead. More concerted action is needed in four areas.
International and regional security institutions. Despite NATO's problems in Bosnia and the underfunded and undersupported UN's shortcomings in peacekeeping and other diplomatic efforts, the world has made some progress in building an international peacekeeping system, albeit tentative and incomplete. More can be done to shore up these and other international institutions, including the following: Work to ensure that member states pay their UN dues in a timely fashion; provide additional support for UN peacekeeping activities, including the establishment of training facilities for forces assigned to UN operations; increase funding for refugee repatriation and reconstruction of war-devastated areas; provide more resources for conflict-resolution efforts, including the strengthening of the International Court of Justice; provide more support for regional security organizations for capacity-building, including training, logistics, and command and control capabilities; and establish an elections monitoring agency to help nascent democracies.
Nonproliferation.. It's time for a fundamental reexamination of current international inspection approaches to the enforcement of treaties and arms-control regimes. Early in the Clinton administration, several members of the national security team, including Secretary Perry and former DOD assistant secretary for international security Ashton Carter, discussed ways of improving the system, including the possibility of integrating control regimes. These discussions, however, failed to crystalize into any concrete action. In its second term, the administration should relaunch this initiative to seek, where feasible, further integration of the technical, institutional, and budgetary resources necessary to stem the international flow of dangerous technologies.
A more comprehensive disarmament and arms control inspection process must include the policing of supplier countries in the industrialized north as well as those in the developing world. A more intrusive inspection process could reduce the risks associated with high-technology trade while allowing businesses greater freedom to provide nonnuclear states with advanced technologies.
The administration should also actively seek bipartisan support for shoring up the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which is key to preventing the proliferation of Russian nuclear materials.
Nuclear weapons reduction.. The administration's immediate challenge is to secure Russian ratification of the START II treaty and establish the conditions for the treaty's full implementation. Clearly, movement on START II demands that the United States deal with Russia's concern about U.S. deployment of a national missile defense system. In the longer term, the United States must seek to fulfill both the spirit and the letter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by seeking further cuts in, and eventually elimination of, its nuclear weapons. The administration should start by taking the lead in developing a new framework for dramatically scaling back nuclear arsenals beyond the START II treaty limits.
Restraints on trade in conventional arms. A bill introduced in the last two sessions of Congress by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oreg.) and Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), titled The Code of Conduct for Arms Sales, would establish greater congressional oversight and tighter restrictions on U.S. foreign arms sales and transfers than are currently permitted under the Arms Export Control Act. The bill would bar transfers to nondemocratic governments and human rights violators and require that potential recipient governments meet presidential certification. The passage and implementation of this bill would help restrain arms exports and make a substantial commitment to the process of supporting democratization and human rights.
Options such as these could lay the foundation for a post-Cold War order that does not depend so heavily on the unilateral projection of U.S. military power. They could provide a process as well as the capacity for addressing long-standing international disputes and conflicts, even those that are not on the U.S. geostrategic agenda. Building up international institutions would require more money from member nations. But in the longer run, these same nations could curtail their military expenditures as nonmilitary approaches become increasingly capable of providing stability and securing peace.
Ashton B. Carter, William J. Perry, and John D. Steinbruner, A New Concept of Cooperative Security. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1992.
U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Combat Air Power: Reassessing Plans for Interdiction Capabilities Could Save Billions. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, May 1996.
U.S. General Accounting Office, Foreign Missile Threats: Analytic Soundness of Certain National Intelligence Estimates. Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, August 1996.
William J. Perry, "Defense in an Age of Hope," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1996.
Michael Renner, Budgeting for Disarmament: The Cost of War and Peace. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1994.
Greg Bischak, former executive director of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, is a policy analyst in Washington, D.C. This article is based partly on a paper prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations study group on Consolidation, Downsizing, and Conversion in the U.S. Military Industrial Base.