Reagan defense buildup prompts strategy debate

It has been said that military strategy is the art of looking for danger, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it inaccurately, and prescribing the wrong remedy. - Sen. Sam Nunn

Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn was speaking only partly in jest when he made this comment recently. In fact, as one of the Senate's leading defense experts and a respected conservative, he was voicing a concern felt by many these days, hawk as well as dove.

Rarely since the end of World War II has there been so much interest in the relationship between United States military resources and how they're used, in the roles and missions of the armed services. This reflects the changing nature of superpower and alliance relationships; it follows naturally from the Reagan administration's commitment to ''rearming America'' while adopting a more confrontational pose abroad.

Among the recent indicators of concern:

* A group of retired senior military officers, including several former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ex-defense secretaries, are urging changes at the top of the Pentagon organization. This is necessary, they say, to provide the president and other civilian leaders with better advice on defense matters.

* Warnings that the planned defense buildup could cost far more than anticipated. Air Force Gen. David Jones, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has complained of the ''mismatch between strategy and forces to carry it out.'' This mismatch, he said, ''is greater now than it was before because we are trying to do everything.''

* The growing number of conservative lawmakers who are outraged at reports of waste and mismanagement in defense spending and demanding that reforms be enacted. ''If military officials responsible for cost control can't improve on the Pentagon's wasteful, excessive spending patterns,'' said Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa recently, ''we'll seek replacements who can.''

Realizing that he might be inundated by the rising tide of congressional concern over the broader defense policy issues, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Tower (R) of Texas has seized the debate by scheduling a series of hearings that will examine all aspects of national defense organization: the Defense Department's civilian leadership, the Joint Chiefs, the unified military commands, weapons testing and procurement, and relationships between the Pentagon and other agencies dealing with national security.

The first of those hearings will be held today (July 28) with Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger as lead witness.

The issues go beyond budget to global military strategy and interservice rivalries.

''More money for defense is a necessity,'' Senator Nunn said in a Georgetown University speech. ''But spending more money without a clear sense of ultimate purpose or priority will not result in a sound strategy or an adequate security.''

Vincent Davis, director of the Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky, points to quarrels among the armed services as a root cause in failing to formulate clear and rational military strategy.

''The central problem, never yet ultimately remedied, comes back to the old bugaboo about 'roles and missions' - which simply means deciding how big and important each service would be allowed to remain,'' he said at a recent seminar at the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies.

There have been several ''cooperative agreements'' between the services recently - the Air Force agreeing to help defend sea lanes and Navy fleets, for example. But some major conflicts continue. Most experts, for example, agree that the US military still lacks adequate resources to get ground troops to any trouble spot quickly.

''As long as the Air Force and the Navy have to pay to carry the Army around, we won't have very much airlift or sealift,'' said Morton Halperin, director of the Center for National Security Studies and a former Pentagon and National Security Council official.

Such rivalries not only harm strategy, but are costly, says Robert Komer, a former undersecretary of defense for policy. ''Lots of logrolling goes on,'' he told the Roosevelt Center seminar this week. ''The Navy doesn't oppose the B-1 bomber and the Air Force doesn't contend the big carriers.''

The members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are supposed to provide the best military advice possible to the President and other senior officials. But because they also head their own branch of the service, critics say, objectivity in fulfilling their role is difficult to come by. For this reason, the current focus here is on reforming the JCS. Advocates see this as a necessary first step toward better delineating service roles and missions as well as clearly defining military strategy.

The administration plan would place the JCS chairman in the military chain of command. It would also increase the number of JCS staff members and lengthen their tenure to provide a more seasoned group of professional military officers looking at broad issues outside the individual services.

General Jones says the role of the JCS chairman should be strengthened to be principal military adviser to civilian leaders. Others (including former Army Chief of Staff Edward Meyer) say more radical change is needed, such as creating a new body of military officers - separate from the service chiefs - to present strategic planning and defense policy.

The House Armed Services Committee this week is putting final touches on its version of a JCS reform bill. Together with Senator Tower's Senate hearings, this will keep the debate over military strategy and national security organization rolling for months to come.

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