Is the U.S. military properly prepared to provide for the national defense? Gore defense adviser Gordon Adams, retired US Army Col. David Hackworth, former Defense Dept. official Lawrence Korb and Bush defense adviser Stephen Hadley take your questions.
Kahler of Auburn, CA asks:
As the world's one remaining superpower, should our military readiness continue to be restricted by a narrow definition of our own self-interest? Does lone superpower status mean we have to act even when neither the military nor the economic security of the US is at stake? Is that change factoring in to our worries about readiness?
The Gore position on being the "lone superpower" is that it is important for us to meet problems early, near the source, in order to keep them from becoming major crises. We should not, and will not, be alone in doing so, however, as the coalition in the Balkans (85 percent of the forces there are European today), or the intervention in East Timor (Australians lead; we have provided some transport and communications) show. What is critical, is that as the only country with global interests, global diplomacy, global intelligence and a global military capability, we will always be looked to for leadership, even if our eventual participation is relatively small. The alternative, which seems to be favored by the other side, is not to respond, when called upon to lead, to create a military that is ready, but not sent, that waits for the "big one." In that reactive position, the risk is we will face a bigger crisis, rather than work or contain it at far less cost up front.
Your question is a good one. Even before it was the "lone superpower," America stood for more than narrow self interest. America has always sought to foster the spread of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. These principles need to continue to be at the center of American foreign policy. A world based on these principles will be a better place to live for all the world's citizens including Americans.
The question is when should America use its military forces to foster these principles in the absence of a direct threat to American territory, to the territory of US allies and friends, to American citizens overseas, or to important national interests. When the United States sends its military forces overseas, it is exposing its sons and daughters who serve in the armed forces to potential injury or death. The question is when do the circumstances justify this risk, and requires wrestling with a variety of questions: Is an important national purpose or fundamental principle involved? Can the use of military force contribute to a positive outcome? Do our men and women in uniform have adequate equipment, training, and support to accomplish the mission? Will friends and allies in the region provide support?
In addition, there is the question you raised. Will too much use of our military forces in situations where the cause is just but fundamental national purposes are not at stake undermine the ability of the US military to fight and win the nation's wars - to win the wars that the nation cannot afford to lose? At what point does the use of military forces for humanitarian and other activities begin to undermine the ability of the US military to perform this fundamental mission? For the first responsibility of the US military has to be to be fully prepared to fight and win the nation's wars. Hopefully, of course, if potential adversaries see that we are ready, the wars may never need to be fought.
David Hackworth responds:
I think what is desperately needed is to reassess what America's strategy for the future is. And that is not being done. What is being done is we're looking at the future through the lenses of the past, and we're configuring our military accordingly. So, as a result, we're building a military that's kind of designed for Desert Storm II, rather than what we're going to face in 2020, 2030, 2040 and on to the end of the century. So, as a result, it does impinge terribly on readiness in that we're taking the few defense dollars that are available and putting it into duplication, redundancy and it's a wasteful expenditure of defense dollars.
We're trying to maintain an army, a marine corps who duplicate one another. A navy, an air force, an army that all duplicate one another -- meaning the army has an air capability, the marine corps, navy and the air force also have an air capability. And it's not only in air power that you have this redundancy, but you have it across the board -- like the marine corps and the army. What's desperately needed to make sure that we have a lean, effective force is to streamline our military. Thus, the defense dollars will go into where they're needed -- where we are now is maintaining this very big, bloated, redundant organization.
Unfortunately, we are still using the same readiness standards as
we did in the Cold War. Therefore, we are measuring how well the military
can fight a large-scale conflict against a powerful enemy like the Soviet
Union. Compared to the opponents that the US military might have to