It is now widely noted that President George W. Bush has put forward a demanding new security doctrine. It ventures well beyond deterrence, embracing pre-emption of emerging threats and the deployment of anti-missile defenses. It envisions fighting multiple theater wars and striking at terrorists the world over. The upshot is a need for expanded US military power.
This view is presented with special clarity by John T. Correll, the former Editor in Chief of this magazine, in an in-depth Air Force Association report on the development and interrelationship of strategy, requirements, and forces. (This month, we publish some of the results, “The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” starting on p. 30.)
The issue is not doctrine in the abstract. The issue, rather, is military sufficiency—building a force to back up the doctrine.
It is hard to see how the Bush Doctrine can be executed without more military power. According to defense officials and analysts, the new requirements include advanced remote sensing, long-range precision strike, transformed maneuver forces, missile defenses, and cyber-war systems. These are expensive capabilities.
“Bush’s doctrine and strategy hold together conceptually,” writes Correll, but “the ultimate test may be whether he can fund them.”
More and more, that looks doubtful. To their credit, the Bush Administration and Congress have arrested the long, post–Cold War slide in defense spending and put it on an upward path. Still, the increases have fallen short of what is required to modernize and transform the force and finance current operations.
The Administration has faced three key budgeting decision points. The first concerned the 2002 Pentagon budget, inherited from President Clinton.
When Bush took office in January 2001, the armed forces were in the backwash of a decade of neglect. Defense outlays had been slashed time and again. The armed forces were a third smaller but far busier. Equipment was aging. Modernization was slack. By some estimates, the military needed an additional $100 billion per year just to prevent further deterioration.
On top of that, Bush had proposed building a new, multibillion-dollar missile defense system.
The White House confounded many by deferring any increase until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had completed a defense review. Rumsfeld eventually concluded DOD needed to boost Clinton’s 2002 spending plan by $35 billion, but White House budgeteers thought more like $15 billion, which is close to what DOD got.
The second phase, in late 2001, was shaped by two factors. First was the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush declared that any nation sponsoring terrorists would be viewed as hostile and subject to attack. Also, DOD completed its Quadrennial Defense Review, which dumped the old “two-war” force-sizing standard for a more-expansive “4-2-1” standard. It called for forces powerful enough to deter aggression in four theaters, swiftly defeat foes in two theaters, and occupy one nation, if necessary.
Given these new demands, the next budget—for 2003—was eagerly awaited. Rumsfeld proposed a one-year $41 billion boost, but 60 percent went to the war on terrorism, air patrols over US cities, health care costs, and so on, leaving little for modernization and transformation.
The third phase played out last year. In spring 2002, the Administration began seriously planning to topple Saddam Hussein and end Iraq’s quest for mass-destruction weapons. Bush folded this into a doctrine of pre-emption, outlined at West Point in June. “We must … confront the worst threats before they emerge,” said Bush. In December, he elaborated a specific strategy of active intervention against mass-destruction weapons.
With the US on the brink of a pre-emptive war with Iraq, defense officials leaked part of the 2004 budget, set for February release. It was to raise spending by $14 billion—less than had been planned and far less than needed for the tasks at hand.
Evidence of insufficiency could be seen in specific problems:
- Though USAF’s 40-year-old KC-135 refuelers are wearing out, DOD had not yet firmly committed any money to buy or lease replacements.
- DOD has waived off calls for early end strength increases to ease the strain of high operations tempo.
The Office of Management and Budget proposed to impose caps on military pay raises, but Bush intervened to save them.
- A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office reported that the cost of carrying out Bush’s existing defense plans would average at least $426 billion a year in the outyears, more than planned.
The time is not ideal for major defense boosts. There is rising political pressure to increase spending on education and other domestic programs. The economy has weakened. Also, big federal budget deficits have returned.
Still, today’s $364 billion defense program consumes only 3.3 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, which is not high, by historical standards. The US during the Cold War devoted a far higher share to national security. AFA’s official view is that the nation can and should provide at least four percent of GDP to the support of national defense. Four percent of today’s $11 trillion economy works out to about $440 billion, not an exorbitant amount, given the needs.
The defense budget shortfall cannot be wished away. Clearly, the Administration’s actions have reduced it; they haven’t eliminated it. Without more American strength, the doctrine itself will lose credibility.