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Memorandum to the President

FROM: “The National Security Adviser”
SUBJECT: U.S. Military Responses to the New Lineup of
Threats; Alternative Defense Policy Speeches


As you submit your first five-year defense program to Congress and the country, it is essential that you develop a defense policy that conforms to the new and changing threats to U.S. national security and prepare a realistic and affordable strategy for dealing with them. The events of September 11 make this is an incredibly important undertaking.

You have wisely launched a serious debate about reformulating U.S. defense policy in the wake of September 11, in particular with the defense spending increases you proposed. Noticeably absent from this debate, however, has been an overarching discussion of the principles behind your budgets and the implementation of your plans.

To contribute to a well-reasoned analysis and an in-depth discussion of all the possibilities available to you at this critical juncture, we present the following memorandum. It is designed to make the best cases for four plausible defense policies, providing background information and a comparative analysis of each one. The memo is followed by four speeches that each present a clear strategic thrust.

Here are the four specific options:

Enhanced Defense: The United States is the sole superpower in the world and must substantially increase spending on both existing and future capabilities in order to ensure we have the wherewithal to match our expansive interests. As the events of September 11 demonstrated, those who predicted that the end of the Cold War meant the end of threats to our security interests at home and abroad were wrong.

America’s unique superpower status brings with it a unique burden for the U.S. armed forces. They must be ready to meet a full range of threats — from conventional war among major powers to attacks by terrorists with global reach — and also be prepared to participate in peacekeeping operations. The problem is that the military’s capability and readiness have diminished over the last decade, as defense spending has declined in real terms to less than 3 percent of GDP. We must therefore upgrade our military superiority almost across the board, with resources more or less evenly divided among the services. In addition to making some technological advances, we will also need to rely more on allies for peacekeeping duties. Over the course of the next few years, we will increase the share of GDP spent on defense to 4 percent, adding roughly $100 billion a year to military spending—enough to fund existing force levels, raise the quality of life for the men and women in the armed services to acceptable standards, pay for a higher level of procurement, and invest in vital new technologies.

Mr. President, this course is favored by the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many conservatives in both parties, and it is closest to what you have advocated since the events of September 11.

Revolutionary Transformation: The most serious challenges to American military power lie in the future. As the war in Afghanistan demonstrated, the United States currently enjoys overwhelming military power sufficient to defeat any adversary on the traditional battlefield. Since it takes so long to bring weapons into the field, however, we must immediately begin making heavy investments in revolutionary technologies to ensure that we can defeat potential future adversaries; in the meantime, the military capability we have is sufficient to defend against the few military threats we need worry about at present.

If we take advantage of the opportunities presented by remarkable advances in both information technology and long-range warfighting capabilities — which together have been called a “revolution in military affairs” — no enemy will be able to challenge us in this century. In embracing this revolutionary transformation, we will shift our focus from Europe to Asia, move beyond the strategy of preparing for two “major regional conflicts” (MRCs), and concentrate our efforts on developing next-generation weapons systems. We will provide our forces with information superiority, safety through stealth, superior striking speed, agility and mobility, and the capability to operate in a truly joint fashion. We will also break free from an offense-dominated strategic posture by deploying missile defenses and making significant cuts in our nuclear arsenal. Finally, we will alter the proportions of the defense budget allocated to each service, which have remained fixed for the past 20 years, by boosting the share of the Air Force relative to that of the Army and Navy.

Mr. President, this option is closest to the program you outlined in your campaign and were pursuing until the events of September 11. It is supported by many defense experts in Congress as well as defense intellectuals.

Evolutionary Transformation: As the events of September 11 demonstrated, the United States faces serious threats to its security here and now. We must rebuild the existing capability to combat them; meanwhile, and secondarily, we can continue to invest in future technology as we have for the past decade.

The war in Afghanistan demonstrated that radical overhauls at the Pentagon are neither necessary nor truly possible. Although investing in new technology is always important, the United States cannot afford to completely ignore current security threats from terrorists with global reach or in places like Iraq, the Korean Peninsula, and the Taiwan Straits. A decade of underfunding has left many of the military’s weapons, vehicles, aircraft, and support systems near to — or already at — block obsolescence. The United States must rectify that situation so it can be prepared to address numerous near-term challenges, even as it innovates and modernizes. Some change at the Pentagon would be useful: for instance, the services’ shares of the defense budget need to be altered somewhat, and the military can probably make do with a slightly smaller force structure and fewer legacy (or traditional) weapons systems, like the Crusader, than are currently planned. And although we should continue to pursue vigorous research and development in the area of missile defense, funding unproven technology should not come before putting our military back on its feet.

Mr. President, this course is favored by a majority of the Democrats in Congress and by most of our allies. Cooperative Defense: The war against terrorism clearly shows that the United States cannot and should not attempt to meet the array of existing threats by itself. Instead, we should cooperate with our allies and help build international institutions to share the necessary security responsibilities. If we do not work with our allies on military matters, we cannot expect them to cooperate with us in other areas important to our security such as getting better intelligence about possible terrorist activities, drying up financial flows to terrorist groups, and bringing terrorists to justice.

By keeping military spending at or near Cold War levels and continuing to assume unilateral responsibility and leadership during most cases of international turmoil, we are going to overload domestic circuits and, as you saw in your trips to the NATO summit in May 2001 and to Europe in May 2002, may alienate European allies by widening the technology gap between our military and theirs. We may also aggravate the grievances that serve as rallying points for those who fan the flames of anti-Americanism and thus potentially worsen the terrorist problem. Moreover, we will not be able to solve the gravest threats to our security — global problems such as terrorism, drugs, disease, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

True security will not come from simply maintaining U.S. military capabilities: now is the time when we must also support international agreements on security-related matters and help build international institutions and ad hoc collective security coalitions. The United States and our friends and allies need these new arrangements to focus on a new threat: failed states that can serve as breeding grounds for terrorists. Building these new layers of cooperation will take time, so we should begin now; every step should be carefully coordinated with our allies, particularly those in the Muslim world.

An additional benefit of this approach is that we can eventually reduce military spending by 15 to 20 percent by ridding ourselves of a wasteful and cumbersome military that is still shaped too much by Cold War thinking. We can use those funds where they are most needed — in the war against terrorism — and in particular to support agencies such as the Coast Guard, FBI, CIA, and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Mr. President, this option is supported by traditional internationalists in Congress and the arms-control community.

Mr. President, we give you speeches that each lay out one of the above options, so you can get a feel for making the case to the public= Although the speeches are not written for experts, they are written by experts, so you and your speechwriters would certainly need to polish the presentation. Each speech is also purely focused on one particular direction. The aim of the purity is to clarify your choices. Obviously, in an actual speech you could mix, match, and blend the choices somewhat. The speeches address what a defense policy must consider: namely, what kinds of forces we should develop to meet likely military threats and support U.S. engagement and leadership in the international system.

Finally, it is important to note that these speeches do not directly discuss plans to bolster homeland security. They are focused primarily on what shape our military must take in order to best respond to the threats they will face. The homeland security mission will involve the military but not in a central role. We therefore have not focused directly on that issue in these speeches.

After a decade of ad hoc policymaking, the United States after September 11 has an extraordinary opportunity — and responsibility — to undertake a fundamental review of its national security strategy and defense policy. An entire new category of threats became terrifyingly real last fall, and although our armed forces performed admirably in Afghanistan, we still need to work out the organizing principles on which the military should be structured and funded. Now is an opportune moment to do so, because in 2002, America faces no readily apparent major conventional military threats or likely strategic nuclear threats (although the rusting Russian nuclear arsenal is a concern).

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Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow