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Is US fighting force big enough?

America needs a bigger military to stabilize weak or potentially threatening nations, some analysts argue.

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"We may not want these missions, but they might be thrust upon us; and they certainly might appear to a future president as the least-bad outcome," Kagan writes.

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Despite warnings against allowing the military to become the face of US foreign policy, more analysts are arguing that the resource- and manpower-rich armed forces are in the best position to fulfill any US policy pertaining to strengthening and stabilizing troubled nations.

Meanwhile, the State Department has pledged to hire 600 new foreign-service officers by next year to join the military in countries where stability operations are the main focus.

"The military is definitely out front. They are faster than [civilians] are, they are alert, and they have a lot of resources," says Daniel Serwer, a vice president at the United States Institute of Peace, which supports the Army's new manual.

The cost of all this gives some analysts pause.

Frank Hoffman, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, says the new manual may represent a shift for the Army, but he has yet to see major changes in the overall Army approach. "The Army is not fundamentally investing in new capabilities or creating any unique skill sets, or reducing training requirements or workload from conventional fighting," he says. It has yet to reevaluate its expensive future combat system, a cornerstone of Army modernization, he notes.

In Congress, which a few years ago was bipartisan in its support for a larger military, some are adjusting their view. Rep. Jack Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania recently argued that the cost of a bigger force is too much and could prevent the military from buying equipment.

Whatever happens, Pentagon officials know they may be charged with expanding the military beyond current growth goals.

David Chu, the Pentagon's undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, says meeting higher recruiting goals would require a basic shift in the way the nation views the military. He says he bristles when discussions in Washington about encouraging Americans to participate in national service programs omit the military.

"Few of those attempts, and fewer of those legislative proposals, ever mention the military," he says. If the country were to reverse that stand, "there won't be serious recruiting issues."

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