AS the Clinton administration casts about for spending cuts to balance its proposed tax increases, the Pentagon's purse presents an especially attractive target. The Clinton plan would reduce defense spending by 20 percent in real terms over the next five years by slimming the force structure, restraining Star Wars funding, and freezing pay for a year.
At first glance these are impressive reductions, reflecting a political consensus inconceivable a few years ago. Yet they remain far short of what is possible and prudent given diminished threats from abroad and growing difficulties at home. Current defense spending has more to do with employment anxieties, political pressures, and bureaucratic inertia than with strategic realities. Only bold rethinking of the requirements for national and global security will address the very different dangers emerging from the cold war's end.
William Kaufmann, defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, has examined the Pentagon's justification for the size of its present base force ("the minimum capability required for the future security of the United States") and has concluded that $600 billion could be eliminated from the projected defense budget over the next decade. He proposes to reduce military spending by 40 percent in 10 years by eliminating two legs of the nuclear triad and leaving the 1,752 warheads that remain solely on Trident
submarines; scaling SDI back to modest research on theater-based defenses; slashing Army ground forces by more than half and air forces by a third.
Dr. Kaufmann believes such dramatic reductions can safely be made even under present circumstances. But they can be made safer, he notes, if "instead of standing by until the fires had been set, we would take measures to remove the tinder leading to the conflagration." This means constructing a framework of arms reduction agreements that curtail the war-making capabilities of every nation and diminish their capacity to threaten one another. Strategic nuclear weapons should be negotiated down to the low h undreds each for the US and former Soviet republics and tactical weapons altogether eliminated. Simultaneously, nonproliferation measures should be greatly strengthened to prevent the spread of such weapons to would-be nuclear powers.
But in an era most afflicted by brutal nonnuclear wars, greater savings and stability could be achieved by concluding conventional arms agreements that strip away those weapons and forces most suitable for attack while strengthening measures that provide mutual protection. These "common defenses" include permanent peacekeeping forces belonging to each regional security organization, coordinated with United Nations headquarters and made available for rapid deployment to trouble spots; rigorous verificatio n procedures to monitor compliance with arms agreements and means of enforcement if violations are found; and facilities for crisis management and mediation to head off conflicts before they come to blows.
Constraints must be placed on the unregulated arms trade that causes bloodshed in local wars, including a "sin tax" on arms sales to pay for peacekeeping operations. Had even a few of these measures been in place in Europe two years ago, the Balkans might not be ablaze today.
Though laudable, American humanitarian efforts in Bosnia and Somalia are neither appropriate nor affordable in the long term for any single nation to undertake, however rich and powerful. The risks, responsibilities, and costs of peacekeeping operations should properly be borne by the entire world community. Burden-sharing takes on a new and different meaning in this context. Those nations that have long depended on the US to intervene on their behalf must accept their own roles in the "common defense" o f peace. Likewise, those Americans who have advocated unilateral intervention to protect narrowly defined national interests must learn to share leadership and responsibility for keeping the peace with the rest of the world community through the UN and regional security organizations.
In return for the world's reduced dependence on American military power, the US will be able to realize substantial budgetary savings. However, since for the time being only the US possesses the massive logistical capabilities required to transport large numbers of peacekeepers and vast quantities of supplies over long distances, the costs of those services should be borne by all UN member states.
Pentagon budgets are not normally calculated with such strategies in mind. It is easier to plan by precedent based on traditional notions of national power. But now the past bears so little resemblance to the present and future that it provides a poor basis for planning. The best way to achieve savings and security in the emerging era is to use nonmilitary means whenever possible to reduce the need for military action, applying force only as a last resort and then only through appropriate international a gencies.
Shifts of such a fundamental nature will take time to accomplish, not just because they require redesigning major national and global institutions with their own territorial imperatives but because the beliefs underlying the present system are anchored in deeply-held traditions and identities.
But economic necessity is a powerful persuader and the beleaguered US taxpayer would welcome relief from the burden of paying a disproportionate share for policing the peace.
White House and Pentagon planners would do well to stretch their thinking beyond the next spreadsheet to devise a long-term strategy based on a global security system less dependent on American military power, with its burdens more evenly balanced on the broad shoulders of the entire world community.