Bush Administration Tries to Juggle Military Policy, Economic Recovery

Article excerpt

In struggling to redesign its post-Cold War, post-Per- sian Gulf war military policy, the United States is caught in a time warp between the short run and the long run.

In the short run, the main problem is the current recession and the likelihood that the recovery will be sluggish, with unemployment persisting in both military- related and non-military industries. If the Bush administration cuts military spending too much, it will aggravate the recession.

In the long run, the main problem is the budget deficit, which gobbles up national& savings and& drags down& rates of invest- ment and eco- nomic growth. If the adminis- tration cuts military spending too little, the budget deficit will worsen. The government's effort to deal simultaneously with both the short- and long-run problems is reflected in this week's agreement by the North Atlantic Treaty Organiza- tion to reduce United States forces in Europe by 50 percent by the end of the decade, as well as in President Bush's plan for controlling arms shipments to the Middle East. The administration has yet to produce its overall plan for a military policy in the new era, but, as John Steinbruner, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institutions, observed Thursday, both the NATO cut in American forces and Bush's arms control plan for the Middle East may be regarded as parts of a "larger whole." By the Pentagon's own calculations, the United States commitment to NATO accounts for roughly half the total American military budget, which is estimated at $289.9 billion in the current fiscal year. The long-run savings at NATO could go a long way toward ending the budget deficit. That will awaken worries in some quarters that the economy will be squeezed. But in the next few years, such a squeeze is highly improbable. The NATO cuts are not schduled to start until the end of 1994 or be completed until 2000. Indeed, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has said the immediate effect of bringing troops home from Europe would be to increase costs, rather than reduce them. To realize large savings, it would be necessary to demobilize troops and cut outlays on maintaining them and their equipment. That is not about to happen. The NATO agreement calls for building "an augmentation force," probably exclu- sively American, to reinforce existing NATO forces in the event of a threat of war. Such an augmentation force also means higher spending on airlifts and sealifts. In the aggregate, the United States military budget is still on a gradual declining course of 3 percent a year in real terms, that is, adjusted for inflation. …