Shift urged on U.S. forces

Commission backs new strategy for national security

A broad reassessment

Anti-terrorism, nuclear arms spread, peacekeeping eyed

April 19, 2000|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The United States should rewrite its national security strategy, placing more emphasis on defending the country against terrorists, training a portion of the military to handle peacekeeping missions and devising new ways to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, a high-level commission will propose today.

The 14-member panel of military and civilian leaders, headed by two former senators, Republican Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and Democrat Gary Hart of Colorado, says the decade-old military doctrine of preparing to fight two major wars at once is not the proper yardstick for determining the size of U.S. forces -- now about 2.4 million active duty and reserve troops -- and fails to address the skills needed for new kinds of operations overseas.

Since the end of the Cold War, American troops have usually found themselves keeping the peace in Bosnia or Haiti or helping allies in small-scale deployments like East Timor. These kinds of missions will increase in coming years, the report says.

"What they're saying diplomatically is, you've got the wrong plan for the future," said a military affairs specialist familiar with the report. The specialist, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, provided some details of the report, which is to be made public at a news conference today.

The executive director of the panel, retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, who agreed to discuss portions of the report, said that besides peacekeeping missions, the Pentagon must develop forces that can deploy more quickly than existing units on "lethal operations."

Moreover, the commission says, national leaders should not simply dwell on the post-Cold War threats posed by Russia's nuclear force or China's saber rattling toward Taiwan but find "opportunities" on the economic and political fronts to engage both countries.

The primary goal

America's primary foreign policy goal must be to improve relations with Russia, China and India, commission members concluded.

The 16-page report by the U.S. Commission on National Security/ 21st Century, as the panel is known, also broadens the term "national security." After defending America, a top priority should be improving the quality of primary and secondary education, particularly in the areas of math and science, the report says.

"Strength and strategy begins at home," said one committee source, who said the recommendation echoes similar calls by President Eisenhower after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957.

This is the second of three reports by the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998 and is staffed by the Pentagon. Panel members include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and retired Army Gen. John R. Galvin, who commanded all U.S. forces in Europe.

It has been more than 50 years since the United States attempted such a sweeping assessment of its national security needs and structure. The last such evaluation preceded passage of the National Security Act in 1947, which created the Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, which advises the president.

Different challenges

But the United States faces far different challenges than it did in the post-World War II era, the panel said last fall in its initial report on emerging threats, pointing to problems posed by computer hackers and terrorists armed with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Nonmilitary threats, such as those affecting the economy, environment or health, might be as insidious as a military attack, the panel said in its first report.

`Homeland security'

To deal with such threats, the panel says in the new report, the United States must place a greater emphasis on "homeland security," bringing in nonmilitary players -- such as local police and hospital and public health staffs -- as part of a national plan. The commission recommends "adequate funding and organization," with the National Guard playing a significant role.

A terrorist attack on U.S. soil "is a risk we're not well prepared to meet," said Boyd, the panel's director.

The Clinton administration already has tapped members of the National Guard to serve on 22-member teams that would work with state and local officials in the event of a chemical or biological attack. The Pentagon has created 27 of these teams around the country.

The commission reinforced a concern raised by some public health experts: There has been little coordination between official Washington and local medical communities concerning how to respond to a terrorist attack. And not enough has been spent to create a national stockpile of medicines and antidotes for use in a chemical or biological attack.

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