Military readiness -- ready for what?

By Charles Bloomer
web posted June 5, 2000

Recently, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki announced his intention to convert the Army from a heavy, Cold War force to a lighter, more responsive force. While there is general agreement among military analysts and Congress that Gen. Shinseki is headed in the right direction, doubts are beginning to surface. The Washington Times last week carried a front page article that says that "An increasing number of the top [Army] officers are privately expressing disenchantment with the cost of developing a lighter, wheeled Army" that would divert billions of dollars from existing programs and warfighting capability.

Also recently, several articles have been published that question the projected size of the Navy. Today, the Navy has 315 ships, with 8 ships scheduled to be built in 2001. Older ships are being decommissioned faster than new ships are being built. The Pentagon's 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review called for a Navy of 300 ships. But increasingly, senior Navy officials are saying that 300 ships are not enough. Because of the growing commitments and demands on Navy assets, these officials say, a fleet of 360 ships would be more appropriate.

Both of these examples indicate some confusion and disagreement regarding the size, shape, and function of our military. This confusion should not be surprising. With the Cold War officially declared over, idealists have promoted the myth that the world is at peace and that there are no more threats to the United States. We are the world's sole superpower. America is now free to cash in the "peace dividend" on social programs. Skeptics of the peaceful non-threatening nature of the world have advised against rapid disarmament, but have been ignored, shouted down, or pressured into retreat.

The end of the Cold War did not simplify the military readiness determination. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the collapse of the Soviet Union have complicated the decisions that need to be made regarding our military forces and our preparedness for war. With no obvious enemy, with no glaring threat, we seem to have lost our direction. With no clearly defined "evil empire, we do not seem able to determine rationally what our defense posture and military readiness level should be.

But how do we balance the optimistic longing for peace with the observable realities of the world around us? How do we really decide what our defense capabilities should be? What factors should we take into account as we consider the structure of our forces? What is the threat, or potential threat? What threat should we prepare for?

We cannot reasonably look out across the globe today and say that there is no threat. Russia is unstable and heavily armed. Russian president Vladimir Putin has declared that Russia will sell nuclear technology to "whomever it pleases", in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Despite claiming economic distress and pleading for western financial aid, Russia is spending billions to update its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. China is belligerent and rapidly building up its military, increasing spending by over 12 per cent for each of the last two years and buying Russian destroyers with nuclear capable anti-ship cruise missiles. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea are aggressively pursuing plans to develop nuclear arsenals.

Even if we do close our eyes and refuse to acknowledge that there are countries in the world who wish us harm, we must still reconcile the expected role of the military with the assets we are willing to provide.

We must ask ourselves: What is the purpose of our defense organization? Is it to defend our vital interests? Or is it peacekeeping? Humanitarian assistance? Supporting the United Nations?

Should the Army re-organize into a lighter, more mobile force in order to respond to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions? Should the Navy cut more submarines from the fleet so we can provide more troops and equipment to multinational expeditions? Should the Pentagon delay upgrading combat equipment because it is not deemed necessary today? Are we safer in the long run by letting our combat capabilities stagnate while we pursue non-combat roles?

Whatever the role we have attempted to assign to our military, whether it is to defend our vital interests or to act as the world's primary peace enforcement agency, we are not providing the assets required to fulfill that role. Defense spending has been dramatically cut since the Gulf War. Ships, planes, and other equipment are deteriorating and experiencing shortages of repair parts. Procurement of new equipment has been cancelled or postponed. Yet while denying our military the tools it needs, we demand more and more from the people and equipment we expect to protect us.

Our forces are spread thin responding to the whims of an administration that has an avid dislike for the military culture but enjoys the feeling of power that comes with having the world's most powerful military at its beck and call. The president and his national security advisors have redefined the term "national interests" to mean whatever they say it means. Included with that redefinition is a globalist policy that sends our forces on more missions without clear, objective goals.

In addition to the lack of proper equipment, our military forces are being subjected to a demoralizing social experimentation. Our military personnel complain that they spend more time in sensitivity training than they do learning combat skills. The result of this attempt to socially re-engineer the military culture is an alarming exodus of talented people and a problematic inability to meet recruiting quotas.

The president and his advisors should read their own National Security Strategy, available on the National Security Council's web site. According to the NSS, the three core objectives of our national security strategy are: To enhance America's security; To bolster America's economic prosperity; To promote democracy and human rights abroad. As expected, the NSS states that we must have the tools necessary to carry out this strategy. Recognizing that our interests may at times be unique, the NSS declares that "America must be willing to act alone when our interests demand it." The strategy document further defines our "national interests" and divides them into three categories – vital, important, and humanitarian and other interests. Of these, vital interests are the only ones for which military might is a specifically identified option.

Our military should always be ready to defend our vital interests – interests that are of "broad, overriding importance to the survival, safety, and vitality of our nation." Determining the appropriate level of readiness and providing the requisite assets requires honest, logical debate that considers the current threat to our interests as well as any considerations regarding long-term threat development. Once that determination is made, our commitment to provide the tools of our defense should be unwavering.

Saying that the Cold War is over does not make the threats go away. Our ability to continue to live in peace will be determined by our readiness to respond to the threats that do exist.

© 2000 Charles Bloomer. Mr. Bloomer can be contacted at

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