Campaign Issue: Cutting Defense

September 12, 1992|By Richard H. P. Sia

Each Saturday from now until the Nov. 3 electin, The Sun i examining the stands of the presidential nominees on major issues.

WHAT IS AT STAKE

Both George Bush and Bill Clinton are advocating large cuts in the armed forces and future defense budgets, but the deeper defense issue that has divided their campaigns is the wisdom of launching a dramatic restructuring of the post-Cold War world's preeminent military force.

Bush administration officials, who say they are taking a "glide path" toward a leaner, meaner U.S. military, sized for the new world order, have warned that sudden, drastic changes could deprive the United States of needed defense capabilities. This would create "hollow" forces unable to perform effectively, they say.

The president has called his current five-year defense plan a prudent response to world developments that, inevitably, will cut short tens of thousands of military careers and cost the defense industry at least a million jobs by 1995.

Mr. Bush has tried to shift attention to the cost of deeper cuts proposed by Mr. Clinton, claiming the governor's plan "will throw one million more defense-related employees out of work and onto unemployment rolls." He says Mr. Clinton will be "gutting our national defense."

The Bush defense plan draws much of its $50.4 billion savings from cuts in new weapons programs rather than reductions in personnel, current procurement or operating expenses, yet still gives the Pentagon as much buying power in 1997, in real terms, as it had in 1980 when the Cold War was raging.

This plan has been touted by the Pentagon as the best blueprint for fielding a well-equipped, forward-deployed military that can deter aggression against U.S. interests anywhere in the world and, if necessary, fight two major wars simultaneously. "I want everyone to be scared to death of us," says Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But Pentagon officials also have come to realize that the massive federal deficit, nagging trade imbalance and weak economy may require more than a gradual drawing down of the military to a base force of 1.6 million men and women. Even Republican members of Congress have questioned whether the country can afford a military of that size, replete with overlapping activities, 11 when voters are demanding stronger action on the nation's economic troubles.

Mr. Clinton also sees U.S. military strength as an asset that cannot be weakened, calling it a "force for stability and justice." He refers to military power as "the basis for successful diplomacy."

His defense plan would more than double the amount of planned budget cuts, mainly to help promote economic growth and create high-paying, high-technology jobs in the private sector, but would leave military strength at 1.4 million troops. Mr. Clinton wants to shift federal research money from Cold War defense programs such as the "star wars" space-based missile defense system to the space station, superconducting super collider and other big-ticket civilian projects.

The Clinton budget cut is more moderate than the additional reductions of $77 billion or more proposed by several independent analysts and liberal Democrats. One reason may be that key elements of Mr. Clinton's defense plan closely resemble the ideas of his closest defense advisers: Rep. Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; and Sen. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and his running mate, Sen. Al Gore.

Central to Mr. Clinton's plan is his call for a massive undertaking that analysts believe could take years to complete: a thorough reassessment of threats to U.S. interests that might require the use of force and a restructuring of the military to counter those threats. Mr. Cliton says he wants to go beyond the "narrow" debate over the size of the defense budget.

A reexamination of the roles and missions of each military service will eliminate costly redundancies, says Mr. Clinton, who has complained to audiences that "we have four separate air forces [and] both the Army and Marines have light infantry divisions." The Bush approach, he claims, "simply shrinks the existing Cold War force structure."

WHAT THEY HAVE SAID

George Bush:

"I've sent forward a prudent defense budget. Because of what we've accomplished around the world, because the world is more peaceful, we are able to reduce spending. . . ."

"In the Seventies, they [Democrats] wanted a hollow Army. We )) wanted a strong fighting force. In the Eighties, they wanted a nuclear freeze and we insisted on peace through strength. . . . I will not let our economy be wrecked and our security threatened by the politically appealing idea of gutting our national defense."

Bill Clinton:

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