Hawkish Moves, Dovish Means

April 1, 1994

The Department of Defense and the CIA are engaging in scare tactics about North Korean nuclear weapons, says the aggrieved Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (That is risible, coming from the bunch who invented the biggest nuclear scare tactic of all time, the doomsday clock set at five minutes to midnight.) Unconvinced that Pyongyang has the bomb, the Atomic Scientists deplore a “worst case” trick by the Pentagon to portray North Korea as a threat.

They should compare signals with their close colleagues at the Council for a Livable World, who have out a new report identifying five “declared,” five “de facto,” and seven “threshold” nuclear states (plus other “countries of potential concern”) and saying that North Korea has enough plutonium for several bombs.

It is strange to behold the Atomic Scientists disparaging a nuclear concern rather dramatizing one. On the other hand, disbelief in military threats is part of the liberal creed. How else could you attack as excessive a defense budge headed down to 2.8 percent of GDP? It is a difficult position to hold, especially when sinkholes develop beneath your feet.

In February, the New York Times objected to the unrealistic requirement that US forces be ready to fight two near-simultaneous regional conflicts. Within the month, the Clinton Administration had put Serbia and North Korea, more or less simultaneously, on what sounded very much like warnings of war.

When presenting the new defense budge, the Administration said the force projections were even lower than prescribed by the radical Bottom-Up Review in 1993. Every month this year, the armed forces will diminish on average by 7,800 active-duty troops, 2,750 Guardsmen and Reservists, 1,165 civil servants, forty-one operational aircraft, and four battle-force ships. Personnel strength will eventually drop to at least 1.3 million below the Cold War level.

These reductions–and the deeper ones demanded by the liberal community–are said to be justified by the disappearance of requirements. Recent experience says otherwise. In the Balkans, in Korea, and from the expanded mission in Somalia to the aborted venture in Haiti, potential uses for the armed forces arose with astonishing regularity during the first year of the Clinton Administration. US military force was used against Iraq nine times in 1993.

In its annual human rights report, the State Department said that armed conflict poses the most significant risk to human rights in the world today. That is no surprise to proponents of a strong defense posture, who have said much the same thing for years. A by-product of the Cold War was that the superpowers exercised a sort of global restraint on lesser powers. Most of those restraints are gone now, and it seems that regional wars will be an inevitable result.

Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate in January that “historic and ethnic hatreds” are likely to bring war to many nations in the next decade. “The human cost will be immense, and it will be on television.” he said. If the past effects of televised atrocities are an indication, there will be enormous pressure for the commitment of US troops.

It is not easy to tell the doves from the hawks. Many of the same people who used to say the United States should not be the world’s policeman now criticize the armed forces for their reluctance to intervene in troubles abroad. Furthermore, the expectations tend to rise. Just as the Somalia relief operation drifted into armed “peacekeeping,” the advocates have escalated their vocabulary to “peacemaking” and “peace enforcement.”

Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, faults the Pentagon for not explaining the new mission to the public. “We still want to put the troops out there, kick butt, and come home,” he says. “The American people haven’t yet internalized peacekeeping into their psyche.”

According to the United Nations, 44 million people worldwide are displaced by violence and persecution. There is not telling where the next crisis will erupt. In March 1992, the liberal community was pitching fits about a draft Pentagon planning paper that outlined seven possible scenarios in which US force might be required, Six months later, the New York Times, candidate Bill Clinton, and many others were calling for air strikes in Serbia–which was not in the scenarios because nobody had imagined what might happen there.

If foreign policy looks more hawkish than before, spending priorities do not. Between 1990 and 1999, mandatory federal spending (mostly entitlement programs) will rise by thirty-eight percent. Domestic discretionary spending will increase twelve percent. Defense outlays will be down thirty-five percent.

Is is very well for President Clinton to promise that we will have “the best-equipped, the best-trained, and best-prepared fighting force on the face of the Earth,” but the words lack a certain credibility.

There is serious doubt that the budget can cover the minimal force described in the Bottom-Up Review, much less than actual requirements. The reality is that US forces, deployed on optimistic assumptions may go to war undermanned, underfunded, and underequipped.