Politics & Policy


How do we restore the call to the military?

It is now official. There will be a substantial redeployment of our standing military forces. There are several reasons for this, the most intriguing, that we are deploying not only soldiers and sailors, but also political clout. It made much sense over the cold war years to administer NATO out of Brussels, and to house our major European force in Germany. But the centers of friction have moved eastward and southward, and changes are in order. The two divisions we have supported in Germany will be moving back to the United States, we are told; naval headquarters now located in Britain will move to Italy, and an air force wing might move to Turkey. Such redeployments have side effects which aren’t fully predictable. But Donald Rumsfeld’s continuing transformation of our military defense is sensible, and accommodates myriad pressures.

It was, throughout the cold war, assumed that stationary, resolute, and firmly committed military strength was required credibly to deter the especially aggressive legions in Moscow. Since the cold war’s end, we have learned that rapid deployment alternatives serve most foreseeable military challenges. And of course we learned last year that putative allies can be overcome by pressures very different from armies of invading Russians. In leaving Germany, we operate implicitly on the assumption that if the emergency actually arose, France and Germany could hustle together an army sufficient to deter an invasion from revanchist Luxembourg. France, 20 years ago, denied the U.S. military overflight rights when President Reagan struck out at Libya. Spain most recently disaffiliated, by withdrawing its force from Iraq. Germany has been cooperative, but without contributing any manpower.

The call for smaller forces strategically placed and readily transported is fueled by a real manpower problem brought on, oddly enough, by the success of our military campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003. We accomplished our objectives using a trimmed-down military. We were facing, a dozen years ago, an oversubscription of volunteers. We moved to lessen the call of the military by trimming pay and benefits and entitlements. But we have gone so far in this as to choke down sharply the call to military careers, and right now we face a deficit of 10,000 in the army, 20,000 in the navy, and an unspecified number in the air force.

There are several approaches to the problem, the first being the restoration of pay and perks. But the cost of doing this would be huge, perhaps as high as $200 billion. A second is a dramatic reduction in our commitments: Is the $80+ billion committed to Iraq a genuine military expense? And of course the third way is the restoration of the draft, which would be a terrible forfeit in any general design to limit the role of government in human affairs.

A redistribution of responsibilities is of course primarily appealing. Why did Kosovo — and Somalia — and indeed Iraq — emerge as U.S. burdens? The principal reason is that we are the superpower, and our resources are huge. But this of course plays into the thesis that the resources of others can’t be counted upon proportionately. The future of the Mideast is at least as much a concern of Spain as it is of the United States. But this does not add up to coordinated political responsibility.

The 18-year-old Americans whose attention was caught by the military in the 1980s are the fathers now of 18-year-olds who feel that their families were betrayed. Back then we had the GI Bill of Rights, veterans got one hundred percent college education aid, and they and their families received lifelong health care. Salaries, in the service, were competitive. Retirement pay came in at competitive age levels.

That is gone. Not even PX privileges are secure. Combine that with the absence of a sense of mission, which was the contribution of the Soviet Union’s war against democracy, and we arrive at the present dilemma: How do we simultaneously reduce our overhead, and continue to attract volunteers to serve those needs we are left undertaking?

Senator Kerry appears to feel the need every day to say something different from what President Bush is saying and doing. His trouble is that what he has been saying is not very different from what you and I would come up with up, reaching into a grab bag. So Mr. Kerry says we must adapt our forces to new missions. Uh huh. A feverish amount of attention needs to be given by Democratic and Republican political strategists in the weeks before they present their programs to the voters.


The Latest