Demoralization, stress rend today's military

September 23, 1997|By Jeffrey Record

THE CASCADE of sex scandals that has flooded the armed services since the notorious Tailhook convention in Las Vegas six years ago has obscured far more formidable challenges to military morale and effectiveness.

To be sure, women are indispensable to an effective all-volunteer force, and sexual harassment should not be tolerated anywhere in American society. But gender stress is the least of the Pentagon's problems these days.

More troubling has been a decade-long diet of steady budget and manpower cuts and of significant internal reorganization, which have had predictably unpleasant effects on service morale.

Though the Cold War's demise both mandated and permitted substantial U.S. military demobilization, the demands on American military power since the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991 have not declined proportionately.

On the contrary, new demands have arisen in the form of what the Pentagon terms "military operations other than war," or MOOTW. Such operations range from humanitarian relief missions (Somalia, Rwanda), to overthrowing decrepit dictatorships (Haiti), to denying adversaries military use of their own air space (Iraq), to enforcing fragile armistices in foreign civil wars (Bosnia).


The armed services have conducted MOOTW for the most part with considerable effectiveness, but they properly regard them with great suspicion.

Such operations are non-heroic, command little public or congressional support, threaten dissipation of ever scarcer American military resources over a host of strategically peripheral commitments, and compromise professional preparation for real war.

As such, MOOTW are inherently demoralizing and could have highly adverse long-term effects on service ability to recruit and retain manpower of preferred quality and in preferred quantity.

The proliferation of non-traditional demands on shrinking U.S. military power is already driving pilots out of the Air Force into the commercial aviation sector, where the stress is lower and pay higher.

The Soviet Union's disappearance continues to disorient U.S. military planners, who for the preceding six decades properly focused on U.S. involvement in wars against other great powers.

The absence of a clear and present great power danger to the United States has not only permitted post-Cold War presidents to dabble in "feel-good," albeit strategically inconsequential, MOOTW at the military's professional expense.

It has also undermined strong public and congressional support for robust investment in preparation for large-scale conventional warfare. Desert Storm's bloom proved short-lived because of Saddam Hussein's survival and Somalia's exposure of U.S. conventional military irrelevance.

The very future of large-scale conventional warfare, which is the Pentagon's fundamental stock-in-trade, may be in doubt. The evaporation of both the Cold War's massive conventional military confrontations (Korea being the last one) as well as war itself among advanced industrial states (the sole source of big conventional wars before 1945) are but two factors at work.

Also at work is the repeatedly demonstrated decisive Western superiority in conventional combat, which has driven Third World enemies of the United States into a search for such unconventional alternatives as terrorism and the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and their efficient means of delivery.

The era of large-scale conventional warfare between states, which was spawned by the French Revolution, may be drawing to a close, to be replaced by a new age of smaller unconventional warfare conducted largely within states.

But the tough challenge of dealing with profound strategic uncertainty may in the end prove less daunting for the Pentagon than that of dealing with a new national political leadership that is by and large not only militarily illiterate but also indifferent to the military as an institution.

The military illiteracy of the baby boom generation now assuming leadership positions was inevitable for two reasons.

The first was reliance on a highly inequitable draft system during the Vietnam War that permitted both the rich and educationally privileged -- e.g., Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Phil Gramm, Dan Quayle, Steve Forbes -- to avoid military service altogether or at least service in Vietnam. The second reason was the end of the draft in 1973.

Today, a growing majority of members of Congress, for example, have never performed military service and came to office after the end of the Cold War, which itself encouraged a long-overdue congressional refocus on resolving pressing domestic fiscal and social problems at the inevitable expense of interest in and attention to foreign and military policies.

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