Behind Current Headlines: The Military's Real Problem

Recent allegations concerning sexual activity in the military have sent shock waves through the armed forces. The accusations require investigation and the proven abuses serious punishment. These events represent profound abuse and could undermine unit morale and confidence. But the morale problem in the armed forces runs deeper than the headlines and demands immediate attention from Washington.

Declining budgets and less regard by the administration for our men in uniform have created a startling situation. Today more than 17,000 of our soldiers are on welfare. Training budgets have been cut to finance overseas "peacekeeping operations." At Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marines had to trek 17 miles to training ranges to conserve costly truck fuel, tires, and maintenance. Tank crews in the 2nd Armored Division's 1st Battalion, 67th Armor were reduced to parking their tanks and conducting their platoon training dismounted, with soldiers walking the ranges pretending to be tanks.

US Air Force personnel are regularly deployed overseas for as many as 150 to 180 days a year, well beyond the recommended 120-day maximum. Officials report a dramatic rise in alcoholism and child abuse because of the strain.

The big problem is the slashing of the defense budget. Today the Pentagon is spending less on new weapons and equipment than at any time in the past 40 years. Since 1985, military budgets have declined 25 percent. Spending on research and development has been slashed 57 percent; procurement a whopping 71 percent. By 1999, the Navy will have only 346 ships, the lowest number since 1938.

How funds are spent is as important as how much. In recent years the Pentagon budget has been padded with pet projects that have nothing to do with the military. Over the next several years, for example, some $28 billion is going to be spent on environmental cleanup. Other Pentagon funds are to be used for a jobs program that, among other things, would upgrade the Bay Area Rapid Transit System in San Francisco.

The Pentagon also is sacrificing operations and maintenance programs to pay for a variety of nondefense programs. Pentagon funds have been used to fund United Nations peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Somalia.

This lack of commitment to real defense spending tells members of our armed forces that their safety, success, and security is not a priority. Little wonder many of our men and women in uniform no longer see much of a future in their noble profession. In 1994, the Marine Corps failed to meet its recruitment goals for the first time in 15 years.

Morale is not simply about making sure our soldiers feel good. It is a key determinant of the effectiveness of our forces. It takes just as long to develop a lieutenant-colonel as it does to design and build a new weapon system; keeping our forces modern and ready is a critical component of preserving a core of talented leaders.

America's warriors know that fewer dollars for defense will eventually mean more American blood shed in the next conflict. In 1941, when the United States was thrust into war, our ill-equipped, ill-prepared forces suffered heavy losses at Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Corrigidor, and Kasserine. Five years after World War II, when the first ground units were committed to action in Korea, the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Division was routed by a better-equipped North Korean Army. American tanks could not match the North Korean T-34s.

The current sexual scandal, which involves only a small percentage of the military, needs to be resolved full speed. But larger morale problems linger. They can only be addressed by committing more resources to our armed forces.

*Caspar Weinberger served as secretary of defense from 1981-87. Peter Schweizer is a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution. They are co-authors of "The Next War" (Regnery).

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