(CNSNews.com) - A combination of personnel cutbacks since the end of the Cold War and a 10-year "procurement holiday" has left the U.S. armed forces critically short of the resources they need to meet the Pentagon's own standards of combat readiness, defense analysts warned.
In addition, China's aggressive programs to modernize its conventional forces and enlarge its nuclear forces eventually will oblige the United States to resume nuclear testing to ensure the safety, reliability and effectiveness of its own nuclear stockpile, they said.
Based on these analyses, the Republican ticket of Governor George W. Bush and Dick Cheney showed in recent debates that they had a better approach to fixing the nation's military than that offered by Democratic presidential contender Vice President Al Gore and running mate Senator Joe Lieberman, experts said.
"Bush did a better job primarily because he recognizes that ... the problems we are facing with regard to our overall military readiness have to do with two factors. One is over-use of the force or over-demand, particularly in regard to non-combat operations. The second is that the advanced technology edge has been lost because of the 'procurement holiday' the military has undergone for the last decade or so," said Baker Spring, senior defense policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
Pentagon critics argue that the United States - with an annual defense budget of $300 billion - spends more on its armed forces than the combined military spending of the next half-dozen industrialized countries, most of whom are close allies.
But the economic argument, viewed on its own terms, can be misleading, experts say. The question facing the United States today is whether its military can meet the strategy requirement the government has imposed on it in a variety of policy reviews in recent years.
Those requirements include a nuclear deterrence role, and the ability to fight and win two near-simultaneous major regional conflicts.
"And if you look at recent statements from the military leadership, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they generally acknowledge that we can't meet those requirements," Spring said.
As the readiness argument relates to dollars, analysts point out that the U.S. military, almost unlike any other military in the world, needs to be prepared to fight across large geographical distances, which impose economic burdens on the United States that other militaries do not face.
For example, the amount of money Iraq spent to purchase, build and train the force it used to invade and occupy Kuwait in 1990 was only one-seventh of the amount the United States had to spend to build, train and develop just the U.S. portion of the forces that threw the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.
Having to wage Desert Storm thousands of miles from the U.S. homeland involved the costly deployment of space-based intelligence assets, sealift and strategic airlift, and a blue water Navy - none of which Iraq needed to simply cross a land border and invade its neighbor.
"When you add all these things up, you find it is clearly not even close to a one-to-one or soldier-per-soldier ratio for the United States to fulfill its military obligations, if we want to do them in the fashion that we did during Desert Storm," Spring said.
In addition, the United States maintains an all-volunteer force of 1.37 million active-duty, 1.35 million ready and stand-by reserves, and 703,000 civilian employees. Most countries, including many of the United States' allies, maintain less costly conscript militaries.
Allies Could Do More Peacekeeping
U.S. forces could increase their combat readiness if the administration put more pressure on its allies to assume a greater burden of peacekeeping missions that is legitimately theirs, said Anita Blair, director of the Independent Women's Forum and former chairwoman of the congressional Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues.
"We should not have to send highly-trained infantrymen from Texas over to the former Yugoslavia to act as school crossing guards," she said.
Whether or not an increased commitment by allies would result in the United States spending less on defense is not the point, she added.
Most senior military commanders Blair has met report some form of "unreadiness," such as the lack of spare parts, a flight of essential lower-grade officers and an epidemic of short-handed units. "And I heard from a lot of people that the Army plays games with the numbers in order to appear to be ready," she said.
"I have no doubt that two divisions, and probably more, are not ready under the Pentagon's own definition of readiness," she said.
Blair reserved her strongest criticism for the Clinton-Gore administration's failure to assess what kind of military strategy the United States should be pursuing in the next couple of decades and what size forces it needs to carry out the mission. The Marine Corps already is predicting that future wars will erupt in lots of little hot spots around the world that will require different kinds of strategies and different kinds of training and equipment than the Pentagon currently pursues, Blair said.
The shortage of spare parts would prevent the armed forces from fulfilling their mission, other analysts predict.
"The number of divisions we're short is of less importance than the fact that the divisions we have are woefully under-prepared for the future conflicts we're likely to face," said Frank Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy and a defense commentator.
"Before you can worry about whether you have adequate numbers, you've got to worry about whether the guys you've got in uniform are equipped to fight tomorrow's conflicts, and I think that problem is the most serious one and the one that hasn't gotten nearly enough attention," he said.
Gaffney said the United States defense standard of being able to deal with two major contingencies simultaneously is realistic: "It greatly reduces the likelihood you would have to fight any wars if you were prepared to deal with two enemies at the same time," he said.
Chinese Espionage, Purchase of Super-Computers Hurt United States
Defense experts also say the United States will have to prepare for a military threat from China, which is steadily modernizing its conventional forces, possibly within 10 years. The Communists also are expanding their nuclear forces, moving from liquid-fuel to solid-fuel missiles, from stationary to mobile missiles, and from single warhead to multiple, independently targeted warheads.
Beijing soon will be in a position to threaten the United States with nuclear attack largely with the aid of technology it bought or stole from the United States, according to defense analysts and congressional reports.
"The sale of supercomputers to the Communist Chinese military industrial complex ranks in my book with treason for what it has done to increase the military threat to this country and done in a way that, if not wholly avoidable, then certainly ... could have been postponed for years. I think the next administration needs to address that immediately," Gaffney said.
Said Spring, "There are two things we can do to counter the nuclear threat from China: one is maintain the capabilities of our own nuclear deterrent force, and that means in my judgment ultimately resuming nuclear testing to maintain the safety, reliability and effectiveness of those weapons. On the other side of the equation, I think the United States needs to move forward with a near-term limited missile defense and ultimately in the long-term a more robust layered defense."
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