Save 75% - Only $49.99 for 1 full year! digitalPLUS subscription offer ends 12/1
NewsOpinionOp-Eds

Defense cuts in line with strategy [Commentary]

DefenseArmed ForcesIraqDick CheneyIraq War (2003-2011)International Military Interventions

The recently proposed U.S. troop cuts are an important step toward re-sizing today's forces to meet the current U.S. defense strategy, which calls for defeating a major adversary and deterring a second by denying objectives or imposing unacceptable costs, in the process discouraging others from following the same path. It also calls for the ability to conduct smaller-scale, albeit highly important, missions such as humanitarian relief and counter terrorism.

These new force sizes — a reduction in active duty Army troops from about 520,000 to around 440,000 and a decrease in the reserve components from 559,000 to 530,000, along with a smaller cut to the Marine Corps and a reduction and reallocation of air assets — also reduce defense costs and better align government spending with revenues. Reductions do not go as far as those that would have been imposed by "sequestration," which could have seen the active Army fall to 420,000 soldiers or fewer in the process of cutting more than a trillion dollars in federal spending by 2021.

Senior defense officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argue, rightfully so, that a force size this small — the smallest since 1940 — poses risk through a lower margin for error: Insufficient force size could potentially disable the defense strategy and enable adversaries. This calculation is understandable. Dick Cheney, a driving force behind the decision to undertake the Iraq war as vice president, has also criticized the reductions, as have others who advocate a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Cheney notes a reduced ability of future presidents to deal with new crises that will arise.

Worth noting, though, is that a smaller standing force may also slow down, if not disable altogether, the kind of decision-making that preceded war with Iraq (and wars of choice in general): The smaller the force, the more cautious senior officials might be about employing it.

What's clear in any case is that a future force of this size will require presidents and their advisers to more carefully think through the means to a particular military "end" than was the case in the run-up to the war with Iraq. They will also have to think twice before elevating a potential crisis to a level that requires major, long term commitment of land forces.

A smaller military might also engender a call for a military draft in such cases; this enabled victory in World War II, with a 230,000-man active Army in 1940 soon swelling to nearly 1.5 million. In 1990, on the eve of the first Gulf War, scenarios ranging from a short war to a long one, with associated casualty estimates, were developed and briefed by my office; they carefully detailed manpower limitations of the all-volunteer force and a plausible need for a draft under certain, long-war circumstances. The war was short, a draft was never necessary, and of course, the American people and their representatives in Congress would have had to sign on to the idea then, as now.

Later, in 1996, I helped craft Army force reductions in anticipation of a $2 billion dollar cut to the Army personnel budget, with savings transferred to equipment modernization. The ensuing active force of 480,000, together with 555,000 reserves, larger than the recently proposed numbers, was still never envisioned as sufficient for fighting major, simultaneous, 10-year land wars. It did enable 10 active divisions' worth of combat brigades to be manned at greater than 90 percent strength — but with nowhere near the kind of "rotation base" required for major combat, in two theaters of war, over a decade.

Going forward, senior officers and the thin layer of defense officials appointed over them will have to more carefully consider the sufficiency of available resources over a complex range of scenarios, in the course of preliminarily planning major military operations. This was not done with any real effect in the planning for the Iraq war; likewise, hysteria (the mushroom cloud) and hype (mobile weapons labs) often appeared as much the norm as the exception. The Bush administration evidently brooked no dissent from senior officers on force size required to fight that war or on its possible duration, either.

Smaller force sizes, one would hope, could be an additional hedge against that kind of scenario being replayed.

Ralph Masi is a retired Army infantry officer and force planner who studied the effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Army manpower while with RAND Corporation from 2002 to 2012. His email is rmasi@verizon.net.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
DefenseArmed ForcesIraqDick CheneyIraq War (2003-2011)International Military Interventions
  • A smaller, more nimble force [Editorial]

    Our view: The U.S. military is due for an overhaul that leaves it more sustainable and better equipped to meet contemporary threats

  • Chuck Hagel leaves Obama's war against war
    Chuck Hagel leaves Obama's war against war

     The surprising decision of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to leave his Pentagon post after only 21 months of service has been widely greeted as a combination of his frustration in the job and a conclusion at the White House that he turned out to be the wrong man...

  • Don't reduce city schools' capital funding
    Don't reduce city schools' capital funding

    Baltimore should be proud of its tremendous achievement to secure approximately $1 billion to fully rebuild and renovate up to 28 school buildings over the next 5 years — the first phase of the city schools' 21st Century Buildings program. This is the single largest investment in...

  • Giving thanks for ugly fruit
    Giving thanks for ugly fruit

    It was the last outing of our harvest season, and 500 pounds of apples lay before us in 25 bags. A group of nine harvesters from the Baltimore Orchard Project combed through the fruit trees for the last of the yield at this impeccably-kept orchard so we could give the fruit to those in need.

  • 'OUR Walmart' is a union front
    'OUR Walmart' is a union front

    The Friday after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is reliably one of the busiest shopping days of the year. And, just as reliably, you can expect a group called OUR Walmart, which is financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), to attempt to disrupt the day with...

  • Cold War all over again?
    Cold War all over again?

    Reading the latest headlines transports me into my childhood, which was spent in a country that no longer exists. I grew up in St. Petersburg, then in the USSR, in the mid '70s and '80s. The Cold War was in full swing. The news stories that involve Russia now are almost identical to the ones...

Comments
Loading