Washington, D. C.—Those attempting to predict the course of Frank C. Carlucci’s term as Defense Secretary in 1988 should ponder some preliminary events. Consider, for example, a scene from a confirmation hearing. It is in an atmosphere of grave concern about defense spending that members of the Senate Armed Services Committee meet the man newly chosen to be Pentagon chief. Hawks and doves alike quickly get to the point. The point is money.
The conservative chairman worries aloud that the nominee’s selection signals some change in the defense policy” of Ronald Reagan. Another hawkish Senator expresses doubt that the new man really wants “substantial increases” in spending for arms. A leading dove, saying the Pentagon “throws money at problems,” takes heart knowing that the new Secretary will be “very tightfisted” when it comes to funding the armed services.
This scene did not take place at Mr. Carlucci’s confirmation. The day, rather, was January 6, 1981. The nominee was Caspar Weinberger—he of the $2 trillion arms buildup. The rest, as they say, is history.
It is instructive history. Today, as the Reagan Pentagon enters its final lap, Washington again rings with facile predictions about the new leader at the Defense Department. Mr. Carlucci will be “more flexible,” it is said, than Mr. Weinberger was. He will not be as “hard-line.” He is willing to “consult” with lawmakers.
Just as Mr. Weinberger’s questioners (they were Sens. John Tower, Henry Jackson, and Alan Cranston, in that order) misjudged the godfather of the Reagan rearmament, experts may now be taking the wrong measure of Mr. Carlucci.
True, he is unlikely to bombard Congress, as did his predecessor, with unrealistic demands for ever-higher budgets. When Mr. Weinberger left office, the gap between the arms he sought and the money he was to get, over five years, came to $300 billion. Under Mr. Carlucci, such wishful thinking is certain to recede.
But on most issues, Mr. Carlucci is steering a course consistent with that set by Mr. Weinberger. What’s more, in the few areas where Mr. Carlucci parts company with his predecessor, his avowed willingness to “consult” seems unlikely to offer the lawmakers much comfort.
Why? Where, in fact, does Mr. Carlucci differ from Mr. Weinberger in his stance on national defense? Mr. Carlucci’s own November 12 confirmation hearing in the Senate suggests three principal areas.
• Force Structure. Mr. Carlucci says continuing reductions in military spending are likely to lead to a smaller force. “As I look at the budget figures that are being debated, it is becoming very clear to me that we may well be talking about a different kind of military force.
“We may well be talking about a smaller force. I would rather have a smaller force that is effective and that has necessary equipment, the necessary ammunition, the necessary personnel, than to have a larger structure that is not effective.” Mr. Weinberger thought size itself was at least as important as the other factors.
• Weapons Programs. Whereas Mr. Weinberger preferred to keep production lines open by stretching out purchases, Mr. Carlucci shows every inclination to bite the bullet and scrap programs altogether.
The present budget crunch, he says, “does mean terminating some programs in order to fund others more fully. It does mean delaying some new starts. I think we have to look at everything. I don’t think anything can be sacrosanct.”
• Use of Military Power. In a departure from the Weinberger philosophy, Mr. Carlucci suggests that Washington may sometimes have to commit US forces to combat even though a domestic political consensus supporting the move is absent.
Mr. Weinberger’s reluctance to use force in such ambiguous circumstances was a key feature of his stewardship—enshrined in the public dictum that there should be a political consensus in advance. The Carlucci view: “I don’t know that it’s always feasible to have full consensus.
There are times when the President needs to move forces in advance of total agreement of the body politic.”
Even as lawmakers were endorsing Mr. Carlucci, praising him as a man who would consult them, a big question became obvious.
Does Congress, in an election year, really desire to take a leading role in (1) dismantling the US military, (2) canceling a number of billion-dollar programs (and the jobs they create), and (3) acquiescing in a possible military operation that may be necessary but unpopular
In pledging to “consult,” what Mr. Carlucci is holding out to Congress looks less like an olive branch than it does a noose. An often-overlooked fact about Mr. Carlucci is that he is a tough operator—in bureaucratic combat, far tougher than Mr. Weinberger. For many in Congress, “consultation” is a euphemism for political cover for unwise decisions. In this, Mr. Carlucci could prove to be most unhelpful.
In 1960, as a foreign service officer posted to what was then known as the Congo (now Zaire), Mr. Carlucci was involved in a traffic accident. An angry mob surrounded him. One thing led to another. It was only afterward, when informed by a horrified colleague, that Mr. Carlucci learned that someone had driven a knife between his shoulder blades.
The incident led a wit at the Sunday Times of London to observe that
“Frank Carlucci must be the only American to have been stabbed in the back before exposure to high office.” Now that knives are out again in Washington for defense spending, the fact that the Pentagon is being led by a man who knows a little bit about knife fights may be no bad thing at all.
The Cloud Over the Army
If, as Mr. Carlucci suggests, reductions in force structure do indeed become the order of the day for the American military, there is one service that may view it with something like relief. It is the United States Army.
The Army is finding it difficult in the extreme to live with a Weinberger decree that there be no shrinkage of the 780,000-strong, eighteen-division American land force. Only by scaling back can the Army hope to maintain combat readiness with modern arms at a time of austerity.
That, at least, is the message from Army Under Secretary James Ambrose, the man with day-to-day responsibility for managing the force. The Ambrose view of the Army’s situation, delivered recently to a few military writers, comes across as remarkably bleak.
“Inevitably, we’ll reraise the question about [maintaining] the force structure itself, even though decisions have been made or [are] thought to [have been] made,” says Mr. Ambrose. “The arithmetic may not be there to support them.”
The Under Secretary volunteered no specifics about cuts contemplated by the service. Nor, he notes, is the Army “racing after force structure with an axe.” It’s just that “simple logic” leads one to the conclusion that force structure is vulnerable.
The reason stems from a number of interrelated factors.
• First is the fact that the Army is the most labor-intensive of the services. Personnel costs—pay, training, and the like—consume sixty percent of the Army budget, far more than in the Air Force or Navy.
That means the Army has less money, as a percentage of budget, for weapons to begin with.
• Second, with the personnel accounts deemed to be off-limits, there is no way to spread the budget cuts broadly. Thus 100 percent of the reductions are imposed on only forty percent of the Army budget.
That is the forty percent that funds weapons procurement, research and development, and all the other items the Army needs to equip and sustain its forces.
• Finally, because such budget-cutting mechanisms as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act focus on reducing current outlays, it takes relatively big reductions in long-term procurement accounts to achieve small savings in the year immediately at hand.
It may already be too late for the Army to head off severe retrenchment in its modernization program. That is because reductions of force, even if they were implemented today, would not produce large savings rapidly.
In this circumstance, what is the prospect that the Army will suffer cancellations of planned arms programs? “Oh, it’s very high,” asserts Mr. Ambrose. “The easiest thing in the world to do at the moment is to start nothing new. There may be regrets about that decision later. But it’s much easier to keep on producing what’s running rather than move ahead with new starts.”
It is not only its own programs that the Army worries about. There is conviction—from the controversial Army Under Secretary, at least—that the crunch will erode future Air Force willingness to pursue a program of critical importance to the land forces—specifically, development of a new close air support aircraft to assist the Army in European battles.
While the solution will not come for years, if then, the problem is critical today. As Mr. Ambrose tells it, there’s been an obvious need for years to replace the Air Force’s A-l0 close air support plane.
The A-10 is aging, and even when it was new, it did not possess enough combat power. This, he says, is particularly true in the realm of night fighting. There is near universal doubt, too, that the slow-flying A-10 could survive the current Soviet weaponry it would face in battle.
The earliest that the Air Force could deliver a new, improved version of such an airplane, assuming ideal conditions, would be the mid-1990s, and even that looks like a bad bet to the Army. ‘So, from my perspective,” the Under Secretary states, “which is the parochial one of the Army, we are not getting the fixed-wing close air support that we need.”
The current Air Force position is that the service believes the close air support mission is important and must get a significant degree of future support. USAF is considering several options along these lines (see “Making Warplanes Lean and Mean,” p. 38). The Air Force is in the throes of a major study—its second in recent years—aimed at determining the best way to proceed. It is due in March of this year.
Mr. Ambrose, who has no difficulty telling the difference between studies and funded programs, is skeptical.
“I don’t know what the next Air Force study will show,” he says, “but I think I’m correct in saying that there is not, in the present or future [USAF] funding lines, enough money to get either an old, reworked airplane or a new one. That’s an expensive proposition. It’s just not there.”
The Army official makes plain that the responsibility for this situation lies not so much with the Air Force as it does with officials at the highest reaches of the Pentagon. The question, in his view, should be dealt with by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense.
Does the failure of either office to promote the project indicate a lack of concern about providing air support for the Army
Says Mr. Ambrose: “I don’t think there’s any other conclusion that you can draw.”
Close Air Support: Round II
One does not have to strain very hard to hear the gnashing of teeth around Washington in the wake of the Army Under Secretary’s words about the close air support situation. Few issues are more sensitive.
The Pentagon, the JCS, the Air Force, and even the uniformed Army are not only irritated but mystified by his remarks.
The mystification part comes through loud and clear in the statements of Gen. Bernard Randolph, new Commander of Air Force Systems Command. At a private breakfast with a group of defense writers, the General made plain that he was at a loss for an explanation.
“I just can’t comment on the Army Under Secretary’s statement to you,” says the General. “I can only tell you the part that I know. The part that I see is a good solid working [Army-Air Force] relationship” on this and other matters.
As evidence, General Randolph points to a public hearing, held the day following the Ambrose remarks, in which Army and Air Force generals assured Congress that the two services were on track with respect to close air support issues.
General Randolph’s words: “The testimony of the Army representative was that the United States Air Force was dedicated to supporting the Army, was dedicated to working the problem of close air support. That was official testimony to the United States Congress by a general officer of the United States Army.
“Believe me, we don’t go over and say things to Congress without approval of the leadership.”
What, actually, is happening with respect to this aircraft
Defense Department officials have approved the Air Force’s broad mission requirements package. Added was a caveat that the service will look at a broader range of candidate airplanes than has been studied to date. Approval of that package makes it possible to award study contracts to aerospace companies.
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the General seemed to leave open the possibility that the Air Force might eventually develop a brand-new, next-generation airplane for the mission rather than modify one or more existing aircraft for support of the infantry. “We’re talking about a whole range of candidates,” says he. “If the requirement is more stressing than we could handle by modifying an existing design, then we’ll have to go to something new.”
This appears to contradict an earlier statement by James McGovern, the Air Force Under Secretary. Mr. McGovern had indicated that the service is not interested in developing a new airplane “in this budget environment.” His view is that the proper course is to modify an existing plane for the task.
Hovering over all the debate, of course, is the contraction of defense funding, which is forcing harsh tradeoffs of weapons programs. It is a reality that is certain to persist for the next few years at least. A large number of good intentions—the desire to build a new CAS plane among them—may go glimmering as a result.
The issue was put squarely in this fashion by General Randolph:
“We buy, within the dollars that are available, the things that we think are important. Some things you have to give up. If the belief is that [the CAS aircraft] is an important thing, we’ll have to give something up in order to fund it. We’re not going to get any more money [above current budget levels]. I think that message is loud and clear. That means something else has to go.”
The critical question of the next several years will be what, if anything, is that “something else” going to be
The German Question, 1988
Now that the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (IN F) treaty has been signed and delivered into the hands of Senate ratifiers, one might have hope that Washington can take a breather from NATO nuclear cares for a spell. Yes? No.
When it comes to nuclear weapons in Europe, US officials were appearing to grow increasingly edgy about West Germany on two scores.
The first worry is whether or not Bonn will fully discharge its commitment to help modernize aging short-range NATO nuclear weapons on its soil.
The second, perhaps more important, issue is the question of whether or not the political system of the West Germans will be able to resist a Soviet call for further nuclear talks in the wake of the INF accord.
These were the two major issues on the minds of NATO defense ministers and other Western officials who gathered not long ago in Monterey, Calif., at the most recent Nuclear Planning Group session. They are certain to emerge again in months ahead, because they go to the heart of NATO’s strategy of deterrence.
One of the participants in the Monterey session was Alton G. Keel, Jr., the US ambassador to NATO based in Brussels. Mr. Keel, an astute observer of Alliance politics, stopped off in Washington to visit with Pentagon correspondents, where he was asked about the new German question.
Mr. Keel drew attention to the need for the Alliance to follow through with NATO agreements, concluded in October1983 at Montebello, Canada, for modernization of nuclear systems on the Continent.
His view is that this requirement is made more important now that the longer-range systems will be withdrawn. His point is that the remnant must be sound and modern.
Mr. Keel is frank in noting that there could be trouble on this score. “Obviously, it’s a concern that there might be some tendency to backslide on Montebello,” says he, though it would be most unwarranted.
Most of the nuclear modernization would take place on West German soil, but Mr. Keel says he “wouldn’t try to single out the Germans” as recalcitrant parties. Then, however, he came close to doing so: “Clearly, in Germany, some have indicated that they’re not going to be enthusiastic about modernizing the remaining forces.”
The problem stems from the fact that the INF accord, while eliminating much of the nuclear threat for most West European nations, leaves West
Germany as the prime target and repository of the remaining short-range weapons, of which there are about 4,600 in NATO. The Germans refer to this as “singularization.”
The reality, says Mr. Keel, does not support the charge of singularization. Thousands of nuclear weapons exist in European sites outside West Germany. Not to be overlooked are the thousands of nuclear weapons based on American soil.
“I’m not trying to underestimate that concern,” he explains. “It is a particularly real concern in Germany. It’s one we have to be sensitive to. It’s a product of geography. What has to be done is to continue to have European political leaders voice support for moving ahead with decisions that were endorsed and are no less necessary.”
The sense of singularization has also increased divisions between West Germany and the rest of the allies on the question of arms talks.
As Mr. Keel puts it, there is near unanimity among the allies that there should now be a “pause” in Soviet-American talks on nuclear weapons. That is necessary to blunt Gorbachev’s plan to negotiate US nuclear weapons completely out of Europe.
The Bonn government, itself, agrees that the elimination of the remaining US weapons would be bad, says Mr. Keel. But it still wants to have negotiations, mostly for domestic political reasons.
“The Germans,” Mr. Keel notes, “are not of the same view as the rest of the allies on this question. The dilemma, one even the Germans recognize, is how do you get back to the negotiating table and yet say ‘no’ to Gorbachev’s trump card?”
That trump card, says the NATO ambassador, is a call for removal of the remaining, battlefield-range nuclear weapons in Europe and with them the vigor of NATO’s deterrent.
Are there official concerns about the danger? “I would say, yes, there are concerns,” Mr. Keel states. “I would characterize the European mood in very simple terms. They are seeing it as a cause for celebration and a cause for a pause. They see it as being in our security interests. They are not concerned about where INF leaves us. They are concerned about where Gorbachev’s [next] initiatives may lead us.
“It’s not so much denuclearizing Europe, but forcing US nuclear weapons from Europe. They are concerned about where we go from here. We are, too.”