uPHOLDING MILITARY READINESS in a time of relative peace and prosperity presents enormous challenges to politicians and policy makers. Despite public apathy and occasional resistance, they must make tough decisions that will affect our national sedcurity for years to come. It is a difficult task that many of us in Congress and the executive branch are grappling with at the current time.
Popular conventional wisdom holds that we are now reaping the fruits of a remarkable postwar era--in the aftermath of both Gulf War and Cold War. America now stands as the world's lone superpower. We are told it is a time when the threats we have lived with for a generation have receeded to the ash heap of history. As such, there are strong tendencies to relax, draw down our forces, let down our guard and put off the costly expenses of military upkeep, refurbishment and modernization.
Yet a more realistic view of the world would suggest that we are just as likely to be in the calm prewar era, a time before the next serious challenge to America's vital interests requiring a major military response. History teaches that we are often surprised by hostile international developments, such as Pearl Harbor, the invasion of South Korea, the Cuban Missle Crises, the Iran hostage crises or the invasion of Kuwait. These remind us of the need to say prepared. It is a lesson we may think we have learned until we are surprised once again and caught with our military ill prepared to meet the unforseen crisis of the moment.
Many fear this is where we are today. While the public is complacent, the US military is suffering readiness, modernization and budget shortfalls which are seriously degrading its ability to meet the national military strategy--to be prepared to fight and win two major theater wars nearly simultaneously. At the same time, our smaller forces are being stretched thin by an unprecedented proliferation of noncombat contingency operations and missions.
The administration boasts how the US military is "doing more with less." But if a real war should break out unexpectedly, or if current trends are not reversed soon, we may be unpleasantly surprised to find out that our military can only "do less with less."
As the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness & Management Support chairman, I am determined to provide our military with more of what it needs to meet any challenge to the nation's security and well being. In approaching this responsibility, I am also mindful of the reality that it will take years to restore and modernize the US Armed Forces in the ways necessary to be fully prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. It took years to build the military that was ready and able to win the Gulf War. Similarly, the decisions we make today about investing in our defense needs will directly affect what future commanders will have at their disposal when facing some unforeseen future crisis.
For the past six years, we have been leaving the wrong kind of legacy. We have cut budgetary spending power, depleted our supplies of ammunition and spare parts and allowed training, equipment and property to degrade and personnel to leave the services in droves. We have put off tough decisions about replacing key weapon systems, equipment and infrastructure. We have dangerously presumed we have the luxury of adequate time to reverse course if we would ever see real storm clouds on the horizon.
I am convinced we do not have such a luxury. The storm clouds are already there, if we will only see them. New and dangerous threats are emerging throughout the world. At the same time, our ability to meet them has been diminished by complacency, shortsightedness and neglect. The time to begin to reverse course is now.
Overseas contingency operations, such as our unlimited peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and our unending build-up/build-down containment of Iraq, are having a much more significant impact on military readiness than is generally realized. …