Pentagon Offers Challenges Fit for Hercules

By Smith, Daniel M. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 2, 1994 | Go to article overview

Pentagon Offers Challenges Fit for Hercules


Smith, Daniel M., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In agreeing to become secretary of defense, William Perry accepted seven challenges President Bill Clinton laid out in announcing his nomination. The magnitude of the challenges might daunt even the fabled Hercules.

The president's first task for Perry is to "reshape forces for the new era." Just one year ago, the Pentagon produced its triennial in-house review of roles and missions for the four services. Although the Soviet threat had largely disappeared, internal Pentagon turf battles had not. As a result, very little changed outside of combining some flight-training and logistics functions. Given the turf and budget struggles, this Gordian knot will probably require a sharp sword to undo.

The next challenge is "to implement the recommendations of the Bottom-up Review." On the face of it, this should be easy, for Perry was a prime mover in this exercise. But the hidden snag is the fiscal mismatch - some $30 billion to $50 billion over five years - between the strategy set forth, as well as the forces needed to carry it out, and the money available.

Rather than sail full steam ahead to implement the review, Perry ought to re-examine the thinking behind preparing to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously. His own Defense Intelligence Agency has said that, over the next few years, North Korea "will be the critical threat." Considering the severe limits of North Korea's economic base and logistic support for its forces, as well as the strength of the South Korean military, that assessment suggests the United States could make significant adjustments to strategy and force levels.

"Dealing with new threats of weapons proliferation" is the next mission impossible. The United States has made some efforts in this arena, but we haven't been consistent. While seeking to control the spread of missile technology, for example, we sell very sophisticated weapons (including high technology aircraft) to the neighbors of rogue or unstable countries that have or might develop weapons of mass destruction. Our sales simply spur others to arm or to transfer technology to the very countries we oppose, which makes our allies more nervous and more demanding for even better U.S. technology.

Closely related to weapons proliferation is "dealing with new threats of terrorism." The World Trade Center bombing highlighted how hard it is to stop every potential act of terrorism against U.S. citizens and property and the need to focus better our intelligence efforts on identifying groups and states that engage in terrorism. This challenge is a direct subset of re-examining the Bottom-up Review to identify the real threats to U.S. security and redirecting military efforts as needed. …

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