Stevens on Defense

Sept. 1, 1999

Sen. Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, chairs the full Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee–the panel which actually funds for Pentagon activities. Stevens, who came to the Senate in 1968, met with the Defense Writers Group July 1 in Washington, D.C. Following are excerpts from the answers to questions asked by reporters.

Birth of a Commitment

“Clearly I expect an expanded Bosnia­Kosovo type of command structure that is going to be our basis for our consolidation of that peacekeeping effort and it is going to go on and on. I don’t think anybody believes we can leave Bosnia now without that conflict erupting again. I think we are going to be in Kosovo for a substantial period of time. It remains to be seen whether we really get the commitment from the European Allies to be there and to gradually replace us and let us get out.”

The B-2s: Great Job, But …

“It [the B-2] did a wonderful job [in Operation Allied Force], no question about that. It did the job it was built for and it did it well. The largest percentage of the smart bombs that were dropped were from that platform, … but I don’t see reopening a B-2 line right now because there are so many other things that have the higher priority than that right now.

“I disagreed with the decision to limit the production line, there is no question about that. … I would feel better for the future if we had more, but I don’t put that as the No. 1 priority. …

“We need something to replace [the Navy EA-6B Prowler standoff jammer]. We now know that [the Prowler fleet] is not totally sufficient, what they gave us. We need more than that for the future and that is what we are off on now. … The Air Force is going to get a lot of procurement, but they are not going to get so much as to open up the B-2 line. The Army needs some and the Navy needs some and by God the Marines certainly need their new systems, too. …

“I don’t think we can afford to go back and open up the line and build more B-2s. We should be looking at the follow-on to the B-2 and I think we are.”

The Decisiveness of Airpower

“I am a pilot. I have always thought it would not be possible to end an engagement [with airpower alone]. But you’ve got to remember: We never had an engagement. They [Serbian forces] never came to war with us. We just bombed the hell out of them until they signed an agreement. We had 780 million people [the combined population of the 19 NATO nations] attacking 20 million [in Yugoslavia] and they finally came to their knees after we bombed for four months. What is the precedent out of that? There is no precedent out of that. …

“I guess if you can find another country that is located like Serbia, where it was completely surrounded by people who were friendly to us, where we would have free access to it all the time, I guess you could bomb almost anyone into submission.”

Guard and Reserve Stopgaps

“The only thing I think that might reduce those costs [of Balkan duty] is if we are able to get to the point where we can roll in the National Guard and have them have their annual duty there. …

“I don’t think we’d reach that way for some period of time because those [Guard and Reserve] people, while they are good, they are not trained and ready to take over in a place that is liable to erupt overnight. … There is still potential for substantial eruption there, and, if it happens, our people are going to be right in the middle of it. I would say they would keep their top line forces there for some period of time. I don’t think we have the cost yet, the total cost of what we’ve been involved in so far in Kosovo.”

Reversing the Defense Decline

“I think a lot of people forget that defense gave at the office and gave at home already. If there is to be any further reallocation of money [within the federal budget] it has got to come to defense now.

“I’ve got some figures … just to remind you. The [Fiscal] 2000 appropriation, in constant dollars, is 37 percent below the 1985 bill. We had a peak of procurement in 1985, and this year we are down to the point where we are 40 percent below on procurement. We have put $2.1 billion in the defense request for research and development; we now have $36.4 billion there. But that, too, is 25 percent less than the highest one, which was 1987. O&M [Operations and Maintenance] now is 21 percent below that high year, which was 1985.

“If you look at that, that is just the surface of it. If you look at the buying power now of defense dollars, it has eroded. There is not as much competition out there. As a matter of fact, there is not enough production effort out there, on an industrial basis. It has shrunk. And we have all of these new costs that we didn’t have in those days, everything from health care [to] environmental compliance requirements. The total overhead of the defense budget has increased.”

Guns vs. Butter Debate

“Currently [in the US public] there is not the balancing of priorities now between defense and all of the new things that our voters want to see us do. I think when we get the public at large, there are not as many women who support a national defense budget now as men. I really think there is a gender gap in the support for the large expenditures that are necessary to modernize our force. I personally get more questions from women saying, ‘What do you spend all that money for? We have enough. We don’t need any more military.’ That is not true, if we are to prepare for the threats that we see over the horizon in this new millennium.”

“Starving” the US Military

“Defense goes into the period of a balanced-budget era starved. If we are going to have a modernization take place, we are going to have to have an increasing budget. …

“We’ve come through an Administration that came into office hating the military and suddenly going out and trying to look like it was the military hero. As a practical matter, it [the military] has been starved during the Clinton Administration. I don’t think anyone can say that Bush and Reagan left the Defense Department on its knees, but it is crawling along now, that is for sure. People don’t realize that.”

Need for Modernization

“[Was] somebody around when we fought the fight to keep the C-17? Three times in three conference committees, [members of Congress] … said they were going to kill the C-17. And three times Dan [Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and ranking minority member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee] and I said, no, it is not going to happen. When we get to a period about midpoint 2006-right around there-that is our only transport.

“The problem is we have not made the long-range decisions we need to make to assure that there is continuity of a military capability.”

Military Geriatrics

“[USAF F-16s] were built a long time ago and there is no visible replacement available. … My point is, you can say that about almost every weapon system we’ve got. Go back to the main battle tank. Whatever you want. The Navy fighters. The same thing. We are in the situation now where almost every system we have is subject to the attrition of age. We can’t replace them that fast. … I don’t think anyone has really given us a total study of that, but I think there is an attrition rate here that almost exceeds our replacement rate today and across the board. I am not going to single out fighters and say that is the Achilles’ heel. Our Achilles’ heel is age, period, of our military systems.”

Troops Being Run Ragged

“We still have people in Haiti. We have still got them in Iraq and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. My God, the largest air base we have got in the world is Sultan [Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia]. They are still guarding the Saudis and the Kuwaitis, and we’ve still got people in Somalia. We’ve still got a semialert in South Korea, and we’ve got forces afloat now.

“I was talking to the Navy; they have had a higher level of sea duty in this period we’ve just been through than in any period of their history. You can’t just look at the front page costs; look at the routine drudgery deployments that we’ve got.”

National Missile Defense

“I am glad to see they [Clinton Administration officials] are spending the money Congress insisted that they have [for National Missile Defense]. They didn’t request that money. We are spending more money on National Missile Defense and we’ve had a success, which was welcomed. Beyond that, we are clearly far behind the curve on National Missile Defense.

“I am going to Alaska now with two of the National Guard Bureau people. They will run the National Missile Defense system, as you know, and in all probability, that system will be in Alaska and North Dakota or one or the other. We don’t know that yet. That has yet to be decided. But we are clearly on a course now to achieve the goal, provided the Administration doesn’t get us so painted in a corner that we can only deploy a National Missile Defense with the Russians’ consent. That is the big holdup there. I don’t think the [1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty ought to bar our proceeding with defense against the new threats against the United States, which are not of Soviet or Russian origin.”

NMD Deployment Decision

“He [President Clinton] is required to make that decision [the decision next June on whether or not to proceed with deployment of an NMD system]. … I don’t think it is going to be a blip on the screen in the [2000] election because I don’t think it has reached a point where … it will become political [unless] the Administration puts so many caveats on it pertaining to Russia’s agreement that they make it into a political issue. …

“He could say no, [but] I don’t see anyone today who is involved in the national scene that would say we do not need a national defense system.”

Specialized Army Peacekeepers

“I think it is probably time that we put a portion of the Army into peacekeeping training, if this is going to be our national function. And if we are going to do that, [we] have to have more people. I think [Gen. Eric K.] Shinseki [the new US Army chief of staff] is right about the end strength; it is too low.”

Warriors, Not Peacekeepers

“We continue to train people … for combat. … They are warriors, and we end up putting them at intersections in Haiti, the Balkans, Kuwait, and now Kosovo. We don’t need those kind of people trained for peacekeeping forces. We ought to stand back and say, ‘If the Army is going to do it, whoever is going to do it, let’s train some people to be peacekeepers in the sense of being able to carry light arms and be able to defend themselves and be on the streets of Kosovo and Bosnia and Haiti and wherever the hell they want to put peacekeepers.’ “

Military Morale Problems

“I think the morale is going down now [among] people who believe that their job is warfighting. They have trained as warfighters and they end up by being peacekeepers, whether it is on the Sinai desert or wherever they are. The major emphasis now is on peacekeeping concepts. I am not saying that is all bad. I think if you prevent wars-ultimately, big wars-the policy is a success. … Should we try to develop another entity which will be the peacekeeping people that we deploy, instead of military people? Obviously that is not going to happen, and so I think we ought to really start thinking about training peacekeepers within our system. …

“We really don’t need the guys who are Rambos walking around the streets of Bosnia and Kosovo. And they are not just guys anymore. Some of the women are just as great warriors as the men. But it is a warrior force, and I don’t think they trained for this, but it is obvious now that in my opinion they should start training people for that duty. … Everyone will tell you when you bring them back, you’ve got to put them into retraining. They are not ready for what they are on duty for.”

Revisions to the ABM Treaty

“The ABM Treaty was written at … the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was not written keeping in mind what do you do about cruise missiles and smart bombs that can carry chemical warfare [weapons], biological warfare [weapons], as well as nuclear weapons. I think the threats in the world are much different, now that the Soviets are gone, and we ought to have a new look at what we really need in terms of a worldwide agreement. … I really don’t see that this now ancient treaty ought to be a stumbling block for our being prepared for the next millennium. It is an interesting piece of paper, but that is what it is to me right now, a piece of paper. It has no real meaning except vis-à-vis the Russians. And that is not the threat that I see. On my screen it is not a threat.”

Needed: Conventional Forces–and More

“We may be going into a new era [in which] the real threat against the United States is cyberwarfare, chemical warfare, biological warfare, and we are not really geared up for that yet. …

“We are getting more costly fighters, more costly bombers, more costly submarines, more costly aircraft carriers. Those traditional means of defense-we are going to need them. There is no question about that, but I am not sure that is the total that we need. I really think these new areas of threat are going to require some substantial expenditures, particularly chemical and biological, and I don’t know if anyone has decided where the cyberwarfare defense systems should rest. I am not sure if it would be a DoD cost.”

Wars of the Future

“If you examine the wars of the past, the costs of the aggressor were normally greater than the defender and the damage was really proportionate almost to the force. If you look at the future, the cost to the aggressor is infinitesimal, [compared] to the costs of the defenders because of the specter of weapons of mass destruction. …

“I do think we are going to have detractors out there and that they are going to be capable, at very little cost, of causing sizable damage within our own country. We used to talk about the probability of an attack against our shores again. This is not something anyone has nightmares about now. The nightmares are about the people who come into the country with substances or systems that can cause severe harm to large areas, and we have to find ways to defend against that if we are really preparing to have the defense our people will need when that materializes. I don’t think it is that far away. I really don’t.”