Our Best Chance of Peace

Nov. 1, 1991

The Air Force Association salutes the performance of US armed forces and their coalition allies in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. We also salute the President of the United States for his leadership, courage, and steadfastness of purpose at a time of world crisis.

The Gulf War provided a convincing confirmation of US forces, weapons, and operational concepts and effectively repudiated the irresponsible criticisms of them heard so often in recent years. It is a matter of particular pride to us that airpower was the dominant factor and, most of the time, the decisive factor.

For the first time in its history, the nation fought a war with a military drawdown in progress. It was a victory achieved with forces, technology, and stock levels built in the 1980s. The Gulf crisis caught the world by surprise and the United States on the verge of a projected reduction of forces and defense budgets by 25 percent or more over the next five years.

We share the belief of the Secretary of Defense, who says he is “absolutely certain” that “there will come another time when a President of the United States will have to send young Americans into combat some place in the world.” When that time comes, our forces must take with them into battle the best preparation the nation can provide.

In their 1991 net assessment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the current US defense posture is one of “moderately high but acceptable risk” but warn that, for reasons ranging from shortfalls in sustainment and mobility to vulnerabilities in industrial preparedness, “we are moving rapidly toward unacceptable risk. How quickly we arrive will depend on how much of the defense program goes underfunded.”

No one can predict exactly when, where, or why it may become necessary to defend our security or interests. The potential dangers have diminished in some respects, but, in others, they are increasing and diversifymg.

The monolithic Soviet empire, which once stretched from the Elbe to the Pacific, is disintegrating. The Communist Party has been abolished. It is too soon to say what new concentrations of power may appear. Even with major reductions and reforms, the Soviet armed forces will almost surely rank as a military superpower, with an awesome, fully modernized strategic nuclear capability and well-equipped conventional forces numbering in the millions. So long as that is the case, unrestrained celebration is premature.

For reasons that include geography, population, natural resources, and the possession of military power, the Eurasian landmass will continue to be an important factor in world affairs. We share the hopes–but not the easy assumptions–of those who can imagine only a benign future arising from the present chaos.

The Air Force Association is concerned that the proliferation of technology, including aircraft, weapons, and electronics, is transforming Third World nations into formidable military threats. Furthermore, at least 15 of those nations will have the ability to build ballistic missiles by the end of the decade. Eight will have or be near to having nuclear capabilities. About 30 nations will have chemical weapons. Ten will be able to deploy biological weapons.

The process of change and redistribution of power that began sweeping the globe in 1989 has not run its full course. A new world order is emerging, but the details of it are not yet clear. The international outlook is for deepening instability followed by great uncertainty.

The new US defense strategy, revealed in the past year, is based on a significantly smaller force structure and fewer forward deployments overseas. It prescribes a high-quality “base force” for response to the more probable forms of crisis but counts on increased warning time and reconstitution of forces in the event of major conflict. In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reconstitution may be the “linchpin of America’s long-term security.”

We find totally implausible the argument that the United States cannot afford a strong defense program. The present burden of the defense budget, 4.7 percent of the Gross National Product, is not unbearable, and defense expenditures will work even less hardship on the economy as they decline toward 3.6 percent of GNP.

Nevertheless, the campaign for ever-deeper cuts to defense goes on, employing claims of unaffordability and other tactics. A common technique in this regard is to single out high-visibility defense programs and attack them one by one.

The Air Force Association wishes to point out to the American public that, in their early stages of development, many of the systems that proved so spectacularly successful in the Gulf War came under similar attack from similar critics making similar assertions. The pattern is a familiar one, and caution is advised about the credibility it deserves.

We repeat our conviction that the nation requires a balanced mix of land, sea, and air forces, prepared for action across the spectrum of conflict. As resources diminish, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain concurrent adequacy in force structure, force modernization, readiness, and sustainability, but it is vital that none of these be neglected.

In a restructuring of the magnitude envisioned, the impact is keenly felt by military members and the civilian employees who in actuality are the force. The Air Force Association’s concern here is twofold: first, that every effort be made to minimize difficulties for both the individuals who will be leaving and those who will remain, and second, that, to the extent possible, the ability, experience, and quality of the force be preserved.

We are also concerned about the defense industrial base, which is in accelerated decline at a time when the emphasis on reconstitution of forces—which inherently requires industrial preparedness—is increasing. It appears to us that this is a weak point in the strategy.

Technological superiority, long the signature of US forces, figures to be even more important in the years ahead. We find it extremely disturbing that the Department of Defense sees an increasing risk that the United States may lose leadership in some key technologies regarded as essential to national security.

Our Association is aware, certainly, that evolution of the world order will bring opportunities for peace as well as dangers of war. We believe, however, that our best chance for peace is to maintain strength to deter war and discourage aggression.

We must temper optimism with reality and prudence and be willing to expend the efforts and resources necessary to keep risk to our security within tolerable bounds. We are a nation with both global interests and global responsibilities.

We cannot protect those interests or meet those responsibilities with wishful thinking and a bargain-basement defense program. It is imperative that the United States preserve the capabilities vital to a strong national defense and ensure that its armed forces are adequate in size, well equipped, properly supported, and second to none.