Aspin seeks troop cut of 375,000 over 5 years More reductions in funding set

February 04, 1993|By Melissa Healy | Melissa Healy,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, plotting the Clinton administration's first move on the Pentagon's budget, has directed the military services to prepare a plan that would reduce troop strength by 375,000 in the next five years and withdraw almost half the U.S. troops in Europe by 1996, according to an internal planning document.

The proposed reductions are part of a $256 billion budget request that Mr. Aspin ordered drafted for fiscal year 1994, which will begin in October.

At the same time, Mr. Aspin wrote in his internal planning memo that a "major strategy review," to be completed by summer, may result in further cuts and changes to the 1993 and 1994 defense budgets.

Mr. Aspin's 1994 budget blueprint would cut defense funds by about $10.8 billion beyond the $267 billion Pentagon budget the Bush administration had proposed. It marks the first installment in an estimated $60 billion worth of reductions the Clinton administration plans to make in the Pentagon's budget over the next five years.

Mr. Aspin's "Policy and Programming Guidance" memo sets a target of 1.4 million U.S. troops in 1997 -- including 100,000 troops in Europe -- and orders cuts of $2.5 billion in the Pentagon's "Star Wars" budget.

It also defers the start of production of a new aircraft carrier and establishes a new program under which some idled defense plants would be funded to maintain their readiness for future military production.

Under Mr. Aspin's proposal, the Navy would experience the largest budget cut -- $3 billion from its planned 1994 spending level. The Air Force was directed to reduce its 1994 budget by $2.8 billion and the Army by $2.5 billion.

The figures in Mr. Aspin's memorandum correspond roughly with President Clinton's campaign promises, although Mr. Aspin's overall target for future troop levels is slightly lower than that projected by Mr. Clinton in campaign speeches.

The proposed reductions are much deeper than the Bush administration had planned or than military leaders have sought. The Bush administration and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had argued that U.S. forces should not be reduced below 1,620,000 troops, from a current level of about 1,775,000.

In Europe, President George Bush and U.S. military officials had argued, the U.S. troop level should fall no lower than 150,000 from the current level of about 180,000. A force smaller than that would be unable to fight effectively, they had said.

Last March, General Powell derided an Aspin plan similar to the one laid out in the secretary of defense's memorandum. General Powell called the plan "fundamentally flawed in a number of ways: Its methodology is unsound, its strategy unwise and the forces and capabilities it proposes unbalanced."

But Mr. Aspin's proposed cuts are certain to disappoint many Democratic lawmakers who hope to divert much larger sums of money from the defense budget for programs designed to revive the domestic economy and expand social services. Mr. Aspin and his advisers acknowledge that they will have to settle for more modest cuts than they want.

Moreover, Mr. Aspin's cuts are expected to have a relatively minor impact on the federal deficit. Because the expenditure of budget funds is stretched out over a number of years, a $10.8 billion budget cut would likely result next year in an actual spending reduction of only $6 billion.

"The [fiscal year] '94 budget reductions are the first step toward moving to a smaller but effective force structure that relies on high quality, technologically advanced forces organized to cope with regional threats," Mr. Aspin says in his overview of the budget plan.

"Care must be taken to retain a robust and ready capability for the new force to perform regional operations like [Operation] Desert Storm."

Mr. Aspin did not specify how many troops should be cut in 1994, instead directing the services to propose cuts in troops, training and equipment that would meet his budget structures.

To meet Mr. Clinton's target of a 1.4 million-person force and to achieve his proposed budget cuts, the military services almost certainly would have to cut troops more deeply than the 83,000 slots Mr. Bush had planned to delete.

But even as Mr. Aspin laid out a new, deeper target for military manpower cuts, he wrote: "We must protect the nation's commitment to its servicemen and women in terms of compensation, quality of life and minimization of involuntary separations."

In another development, the White House announced yesterday that it has nominated William J. Perry, an investment banker and former Pentagon acquisition official, to become deputy defense secretary.

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