Military theater

By Mike Wasylik
web posted August 14, 2000

A recent Salon article ( has put GOP nominee George W. Bush under fire for his claim that two entire divisions of our Army are not ready for duty. As it turns out, these two divisions -- the Fourth Infantry and the Tenth Mountain Division -- are unready to fight two simultaneous conflicts because they're currently being frittered away as "peacekeeping" forces in Bosnia and Kosovo -- exactly what Bush meant when he said, "We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence." But the sad fact is that Bush was dead wrong. NONE of our military is ready for duty at the levels they were eight years ago, and the fault lies solely with the Clinton-Gore administration.

In March of 1993, the Clinton-Gore administration won massive Defense budget cuts from a Democratic Congress. These cuts were based in part on a flawed readiness analysis by then-SECDEF Les Aspin. ( As a result of those cuts, Aspin realized that our military was not able to uphold the two-front readiness standard which had been used as a measuring stick for decades, which would allow the United States to engage in a major theater war on one front and still be able to fully address a major theater war on another -- this to prevent enemies from taking advantage of our attention being directed elsewhere. This standard, assuming sufficient budgetary resources, makes sense -- don't leave the barn open while you chase down the horse thief.

In 1993, since we could no longer meet that level of readiness, Aspin proposed to lower the readiness bar to something he called "Win-Hold-Win," opponents ridiculed as "Win-Hold-Lose" and "Win-Hold-Ooops" due to its lack of strategic soundness. Under Win-Hold-Win, military readiness would essentially be reduced to one and a half major theater war capability, while the second theater, if it cropped up, would be essentially be half-fought until the other was resolved. After only 26 days, Aspin shelved this idea. He then proposed a new force level for two-front readiness, which consisted of exactly the same force level as his rejected Win-Hold Win plan. ( The key to this slight of hand was to slash force size standards for BOTH fronts -- instead of readiness for major theater wars, our military would be ready for two "major regional conflicts," or "MRC's", which fall somewhere in the middle of the possible scale of escalation.

What does this mean for our current state of military readiness? We're still sizing our forces based upon Aspin's two-MRC standard, and even though the administration is now calling it a two "major theater" standard since 1997, force size hasn't changed significantly. It's clear that those two divisions aren't ready to fight two major theater wars -- but neither is the rest of the military. Readiness is nowhere near the levels seen at the end of the Bush administration. And while the Clinton-Gore administration tries to hide that fact by redefining "theater" and "readiness," the real situation is much worse than even Bush told us.

This is Mike Wasylik's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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