NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pentagon's Military Strategy Questioned

April 24, 1997

The Defense Department is coming under criticism for bowing to external pressures to cut its budget while maintaining expensive but unnecessary programs.

Some analysts warn that the department is forsaking its Quadrennial Defense Review process, which is supposed to look at a variety of emerging threats, compare them with existing national security strategy based on vital U.S. interests, and develop a plan to deal with the most likely combination of threats.

  • Instead, critics warn, it is adopting the common bureaucratic approach of a series of tiny budget cuts to each service in an effort to "share the pain."
  • The relative portions of the Pentagon budget assigned to the Army, Navy and Air Force have not varied over 2 percent in the past 25 years.
  • Today, the Army continues to receive about 24 percent, the Air Force gets 29 percent and the Navy -- including the Marine Corps -- 30 percent of the overall Pentagon budget..
  • All of the armed services have taken budget cuts in recent years to pay for the growth of various bureaucratic agencies of the Pentagon.

Some analysts say we need a military capable of fighting two major theater wars, while continuing to be engaged world-wide in places such as Haiti, Panama and Cuba, as well as remaining capable of evacuating Americans from areas such as Albania or Zaire.

They say the Defense Department must determine the least costly method of maintaining a force that fulfill both missions. But some specialists complain the Department focuses instead on expensive, high-tech systems needed for only one of those contingencies -- a major war -- even though there is now little threat of one. This is done, they fear, at the expense of preparedness on the lower end, readying nonlethal weapons for operations in areas like Haiti, planning for urban warfare settings, and adding new vehicles to replace an aging transportation fleet.

They advise, for the QDR to be successful, that the Department view everything through the lens of tomorrow's strategy -- not yesterday's Cold War mentality.

Source: Richard J. Sherlock (senior program analyst), "New Realities, Old Pentagon Thinking," Wall Street Journal, April 24, 1997.


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