Mikulski vs.the Pentagon

April 10, 1992

Because Maryland's Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski thinks the top Pentagon command is "dead wrong" in its structuring of the active and reserve forces, and we think it is "dead right," her judgment call on this military issue requires further examination.

In a letter to The Sun published April 3, Ms. Mikulski, a Democrat, said she opposes "slashing cuts" in the National Guard and reserves announced by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

"In the 'new world order,' we need a smaller force that can respond quickly to emergencies and maintain our flexible response capability," the senator wrote. "The guard and reserves are ideally suited to this new force structure and, in my opinion, should comprise a larger percentage of the total force than the Pentagon is proposing. They can perform the support functions that were so critical in our Desert Storm success. . ."

That statement contains an internal contradiction. Ms. Mikulski first talks about a small rapid-response force that would have to rely on active forces already on duty and ready for combat. Then she makes a quantum jump, holding that the reserves should be larger because they can perform "the support functions" that were critical in Desert Storm. The point needs to be made that there is a vast difference between rapid-response combat capability by the active forces and and support functions by the reserves. Does the senator disagree?

Desert Storm demonstrated that it takes considerble time for reserves to be readied for combat. Under the "total force" concept endorsed by Congress, the active forces must be sufficient to meet foreseeable challenges instantly while the reserve forces provide vital support early and combat duty only later. Does the senator disagree?

In percentage terms, the drawdown of reserve forces proposed by Mr. Cheney is no greater than the reductions that have already begun in the active forces. Instead, they seem to have been carefully planned to eliminate reserve units earmarked to support active-duty contingents (especially Army units in Europe) that are being disbanded. The current ratio of active and reserve forces is 64-34. It will remain that way after reserve forces are reduced along with active active forces by 1997. At that time, the size of the reserves will still be larger than they were in 1980. Does the senator disagree? Rather than save $20 billion over six years by cutting the reserve forces, Ms. Mikulski came up with a laundry list that, unfortunately, doesn't offer comparable savings over the long run. Nor will her laundry list pass Congress. So the smaller defense budget she wants requires cuts in both active and reserve personnel. Does the senator disagree?

These reductions should be made in light of the profoundly different military threats U.S. forces will be confronting in the future. The drawdown in reserves proposed by Secretary Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, seems to be based more on military than political considerations. Can Ms. Mikulski say the same?

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