WASHINGTON -- In its first detailed military planning for the post-Cold War era, the Pentagon envisions seven scenarios for potential foreign conflicts that could draw U.S. forces into combat over the next 10 years, according to internal Pentagon documents.
Maintaining forces capable of fighting and winning one or more of the seven scenarios outlined in the documents would require a robust level of defense spending into the next century.
The classified documents indicate that the leadership of the Defense Department has instructed the military chiefs to request forces and weapons sufficient to fight large regional wars -- in two scenarios, against Iraq and North Korea, and in a third scenario, against both countries at the same time.
A fourth scenario envisions a major military campaign in Europe to prevent a resurgent Russia from pursuing expansionist aims.
In the fifth and sixth scenarios, the document also says the United States should be prepared to respond to contingencies like a military coup in the Philippines or a "narco-terrorist" plot against the government of Panama that would threaten access to the Panama Canal.
In a seventh scenario, the documents call for a strategy to deter the re-emergence of a global "adversarial rival." To do this, the United States would have to maintain a "technological" and "doctrinal" edge "and a credible capability to expand military forces."
The planning described in the documents does not mean that any of the conflicts described are inevitable or imminent, and the Pentagon itself calls the scenarios "illustrative" and "not predictive."
Given current circumstances, many seem improbable.
Iraq, for example, seems years away from rebuilding its military forces to the point where it could seriously threaten its neighbors with an invasion, although its remaining nuclear ability remains a source of concern.
But unlike the dozens of contingency plans the Pentagon develops for the use of U.S. military forces abroad, the seven scenarios will serve as the foundation for long-ange budget planning and determining the number and kind of troops and weapons the country should maintain.
In recent history, such fundamental force and budget planning has usually occurred with each successive administration.
Congress, which ultimately sets the Pentagon budget, can challenge the Pentagon's planning assumptions and force changes by modifying military spending plans. Both could happen soon, since the scenarios are immediately relevant to the budget for next fiscal year that Defense Secretary Dick Cheney sent to Congress in January.
The 70 pages of planning documents were made available to The New York Times by an official who wished to call attention to what he considered vigorous attempts within the military establishment to invent a menu of alarming war scenarios that can be used by the Pentagon to prevent further reductions in forces or cancellations of new weapon systems from defense contractors.
For decades, U.S. defense planning, centered on the Soviet threat, called for military forces capable of simultaneously fighting a major land war in Europe and a second, smaller war elsewhere, most likely in the Middle East or Asia.
That plan was the driving force behind the continual growth in the Pentagon budget and the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars on new weapons.
As that plan has grown obsolete, the United States has moved to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Europe from 325,000 to 150,000, and the Pentagon plans to cut the overall size of the active-duty military by establishing a "base force" of 1.6 million men and women by 1995, down from the Cold War level of 2.1 million.
Some cutbacks are also planned in the most expensive new weapons systems.
In budget terms, the Pentagon last month proposed cuts of $50 billion over the next five years.
The new documents, which could well shape military forces for years to come, suggest levels of manpower and weapons that would appear to stall, if not reverse, the downward trend in defense spending by mid-decade.
They indicate that while the Pentagon has abandoned planning for a superpower military confrontation after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, it is not prepared to consider drastically reduced force levels.
Under the conflict scenarios, for example, the United States would need to keep aircraft carriers and their escort warships dispersed around the world to deal with potential trouble from the Baltic Sea to the South China Sea, a requirement that would support the Navy's assertion that it needs 12 carrier battle groups.
The scenarios were drafted over the last six months by a special group of military officers working under Adm. David E. Jeremiah, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.