Pentagon Rethinks Global Strategy in Era of Austerity, Quick Response

Article excerpt

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the Pentagon's worst land war scenario was a Red Army thrust into the heart of Western Europe. Since then, the US military has seen its toughest potential conventional challenge as the outbreak of two wars at almost the same time - one on the Korean Peninsula, the other in the oil-rich Gulf.

Thus during the Clinton years Pentagon planners have made the ability to fight and win two "nearly simultaneous" conflicts in different areas of the globe the yardstick by which it has configured the size, structure, and budgets of post-cold-war US forces.

But could the Pentagon really handle this load if it had to? Right now, the so-called two major regional conflict (MRC) strategy is being hotly debated as part of a big Pentagon study. The congressionally mandated review, the third of its kind since 1992, is to be completed by May and is intended to serve as the military's blueprint for protecting the nation's interests well into the next century. At issue is whether the two-MRC strategy should remain the central tenet of military planning. By retaining it, the quadrennial defense review (QDR) is not likely to call for major changes in defense policies. But a new standard could mandate sweeping alterations in the size, shape, and tactics of the US armed forces. Some experts argue that with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea expected to pose the gravest threats to US geopolitical interests for the foreseeable future, there should be no change in basic strategy. Others believe the QDR should take a revolutionary approach combining cost-saving cutbacks with innovative uses of advanced technologies to ensure the US remains the world's top military power. "It takes a long time to transform a military organization. It takes a long time to research, test and develop new systems, the doctrine of how to use them, and to restructure the forces," says Andrew Krepinevich of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, a think tank. But such an approach runs counter to the politically safe status quo the Pentagon has embraced. "The tendency is to kick the can down the road," he says. Pentagon officials reject such assertions. They also dispute concerns that the QDR will be used to insulate the Pentagon's $267 billion budget from the effort to balance the federal budget. They say that changes could be proposed should they be needed to preserve an adequately funded military. "The QDR is not about protecting today's force. It is rather about shaping tomorrow's force," says Deputy Defense Secretary John White. …