U.S. military all armed up with no one left to fight Brass argue for might, look for ways to cut costs.

December 27, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

WASHINGTON -- For the first time since the Cold War began more than 40 years ago, the sun is rising on the Pentagon without the Soviet threat to justify the edifice.

Military officers and Defense Department civilians alike reacted to Mikhail Gorbachev's resignation with little surprise, but a ready acknowledgment that their world is undergoing fundamental change.

PD "It was sort of like watching 'Dr. HD in reverse," said one Army

officer of Gorbachev's departure this week, referring to the film epic portraying the tumultuous beginnings of the Soviet state. "Now it's going to be our turn."

Publicly, top Pentagon officials maintain with steely resolve that their future spending plans -- set down nearly three years ago, before the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe and shattered into 15 separate republics -- are not subject to change. Those plans would pay for a "base force" about 25 percent smaller than 1990's military.

"We believe that the base force is the minimum force structure that we have to have to assure the national security of this country," argued Adm. David E. Jeremiah, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But, fearing deeper congressional cuts it cannot control, the Pentagon already is preparing privately to shrink its 1993 budget request before sending it to Capitol Hill in about a month, defense officials say.

Added cuts averaging $10 billion over each of the next five years are being weighed. Such cuts would double the Pentagon's planned annual 3 percent budget decline.

Proposals now circulating in the Pentagon call for a round of budget reductions that might kill the B-2 "Stealth" bomber, the F-22 warplane and the Seawolf submarine.

The plan would cut the Army from 18 active divisions to 10 by the late 1990s, instead of the 12 called for in the existing plan. The number of Air Force fighters could fall from 2,600 today to 1,440, instead of the 1,900 now planned. And the Navy would lose up to five of its 14 carriers, instead of two.

Nevertheless, defense leaders continue to fight to maintain as strong a military as possible.

Jeremiah likens the U.S. military's role to that of a gladiator. "Today, that arena floor is empty, but around the perimeter are all those doors we used to see in the movies -- and behind each of those doors is a potential adversary."

But some military experts find such arguments unconvincing.

"How do you design a defense budget without a Soviet threat?" asked Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We haven't done it for decades, and we're rusty at it."

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