WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military services say the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union and the nearly non-existent threat of global warfare against Soviet forces will have virtually no effect on their proposed budgets for 1993.
Although the services have already embarked on an extensive restructuring to cut forces by 25 percent over five years, defense analysts warn that the military appears to be postponing painful budget decisions and risking drastic cuts brought on by mounting federal deficits and lawmakers in search of a "peace dividend."
"The military's looking for trouble," said Steven Kosiak, an analyst with the Defense Budget Project, a research group that has been critical of Pentagon spending priorities.
Because of a budget deal struck last year between the Bush administration and Congress, the 1993 defense budget will be as high as $291.5 billion, but still nearly 4 percent less than the 1992 level after adjusting for inflation. The 1992 defense budget, which needs congressional approval this fall, is expected to be $290.8 billion.
Several military officials said last week that the services were reluctant to consider deeper cuts for the 1993 budget year -- which does not begin until October 1992 -- without a clearer understanding of how the political changes in the Soviet Union would affect that country's offensive military capabilities.
They also asserted that, for assorted bureaucratic reasons, military planners could not easily rewrite major portions of the 1993 spending plan, which are already nearing completion. Each service has an Oct. 15 deadline to submit its budget to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who must send final proposals to the White House by late December.
"What happened in the Soviet Union was so unexpected and so late in the process, we're really marching on the same course" in 1993, said Chief Warrant Officer Randy Gaddo, a Marine spokesman. "It's too late to make adjustments, even if we wanted to."
An Army officer familiar with budget planning remarked, "Probably the big chance to make changes will be in the 1994-1995 budget submissions. The '93 budget will just be sort of an update of the '92 budget.
"The Army budget won't be whipsawed around by what happens every year," he added.
As for Mr. Cheney, there are no signs that he will deviate from the Bush administration plan, initiated last year, to trim the military by 25 percent over five years, cut the number of troops in Europe roughly in half and restructure the forces to respond quickly to possible regional conflicts around the world.
Mr. Cheney has banked heavily on new technology to give U.S. forces an edge over the larger Soviet military. He has sought to cancel or cut purchases of tanks, combat aircraft and munitions to pay for strategic arms, "star wars" anti-missile defenses and the next generation of weapon systems, including the B-2 stealth bomber, SSN-21 Seawolf submarine and the Army's experimental Comanche light helicopter.
"We've got an excellent strategy in place, and we ought to stick to it over the course of the next several years," Mr. Cheney told an audience here late last month, 10 days after Soviet hard-liners launched an unsuccessful coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
"We have to take a long-term perspective in developing national security policy," he said. "We cannot simply be in the business of responding to the developments of the moment."
Although top defense officials will continue to review U.S. security policy annually, no review is anticipated in the near future, and there are no plans for a broader reassessment by the Bush administration, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said last week.
The events in the Soviet Union "don't change our fundamental assumptions about the nature of the Soviet conventional threat in Europe or, indeed, about the possibility of the Soviet strategic threat," Mr. Williams said. "We really haven't seen much change in the capability" of Soviet military forces, he said.
Officials were not inclined to adjust the defense budget "the way you would manage a stock portfolio by reading the daily stock quotations," Mr. Williams added.
Maj. Pete Keating, an Army spokesman, said that the last time senior defense officials gave the Army any guidance for preparing the 1993 budget was in May, about the same period when the Joint Chiefs of Staff made its last comprehensive assessment of worldwide threats to U.S. interests. No other high-level instructions are expected before Mr. Cheney gets the budget requests in October, he said.
Mr. Kosiak, among several outside analysts, acknowledged that the military was "already on a path toward making substantial reductions in force structure with a decline in defense spending by about 3 percent every year through 1996."