Clinton's Military Blueprint Follows in Path Set by Bush

Five-year plan stresses mobility, modernizing weapons

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DESPITE facing new dangers abroad and less money at home, the Pentagon doesn't plan radical changes in the way it polices the world in the post-cold-war era.

The Clinton administration's new five-year blueprint for the military, unveiled this week, envisions a leaner and more nimble fighting force capable of responding quickly to regional conflicts and new missions around the globe.

But it doesn't call for the major overhaul that some expected when the administration launched its highly touted ``bottom up'' review of defense strategy and long-range military spending six months ago.

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Though there are notable exceptions, it moves the Department of Defense in a similar direction to the policy, manpower, and force structure enunciated by the administration of President Bush.

This doesn't mean, however, that there isn't plenty in the plan for liberals and conservatives in Congress to scrap about - including a likely hefty new round of base closings.

``What it means is that, 20 years after Vietnam, Democrats and Republicans more and more see national-security requirements in the same way,'' says Loran Thompson, a national-security expert at Georgetown University.

``It is pretty much Bush-lite,'' says Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Pentagon official.

In the plan detailed Wednesday by Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, substantial cuts would be made in some military forces while relatively high military levels would be maintained in other areas. The plan places new emphasis on mobility and modernizing weapons.

Overall armed-forces strength would shrink to 1.4 million uniformed personnel by 1999, down from the 1.6 million suggested by Mr. Bush. The Clinton plan would cut the number of active Army divisions from 14 to 10 - two fewer than his predecessor - and would reduce the number of active and reserve Air Force wings from 28 to 20.

The plan proposes reducing the number of Navy warships from a current level of 450 to about 340 by the turn of the century. It would, however, keep 11 active aircraft carriers and one training carrier - more than the administration originally suggested.

The Marine Corps, moreover, would fare better under President Clinton, who wants to maintain troop strength at 174,000, versus the Bush plan of 159,000.

``The Navy and the Marine Corps are the big winners, and the Army and Air Force are the surprising losers,'' Mr. Thompson says.

The plan was intended to rethink the shape and purpose of the post-cold-war military. It turns the focus away from countering the one-time Soviet superpower to fighting regional conflicts. It places new emphasis on such nontraditional missions as delivering humanitarian aid, acting as peacekeepers, and curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.

As its strategic underpinning, the plan suggests that the United States be able to fight two regional conflicts going on ``almost simultaneously.'' This would mean, for instance, being able to handle an attack by Iraq on Kuwait and by North Korea on South Korea.

Some military analysts, though, think that this rationale is flawed. They doubt that the US will be called on to fight two wars at once, and even it if were, the administration hasn't outlined a big enough force to do so.

``You are going to be very fortunate to handle one MRC [major regional conflict],'' says Bob Gaskin, a retired Air Force colonel who is now vice president of Business Executives for National Security, a nonprofit group.

Others, such as Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Defense Budget Project, argue that the plan focuses too much on fighting a Saddam Hussein-type enemy. He says it doesn't take into account potential regional aggressors who might possess cruise missiles and other high-tech weaponry.

The Clinton plan will mean more layoffs in defense industries, but it tries to cushion the impact. It endorses a sort of unofficial defense-industrial policy in which some weapons systems, such as submarines, will be built in order to keep production lines at companies operating for strategic and economic reasons.

These and other decisions, though, will be gone over by Congress with a fine-toothed comb. Some conservatives believe that the administration is already cutting too much, while others argue that the savings don't extend far enough.

``There is certainly a lot more room to cut,'' says Charles Knight, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives in Cambridge, Mass.

The discussions will get particularly spirited when it comes to military-base closings. A substantial new round of government-owned depots and arsenals is likely to be targeted.

``It is going to be a rocky couple of years,'' says Harlan Ullman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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