Greater Intervention and Military Cutbacks are a Deadly Combination, by Jason Morrow

What if they threw a war and nobody came?

As a result of current defense policies, such a scenario is not far out of the realm of possibility.

In a classic case of trying to have his cake and eat it too, President Clinton has consistently pushed for base closings and reductions in military personnel while simultaneously deploying more troops abroad to regional conflicts, including the current conflict in Kosovo. The combination of these actions is eroding the ability of our military to fulfill its mission.

Since the 1992 presidential election, the number of people serving in the U.S. military has been cut by over 700,000.1 The brunt of this cutback has fallen on the Army and Air Force, both of which have experienced personnel cuts of 45% since 1989. The Navy, through the elimination of vessels and undermanned ships, has been reduced by 36%. Over the same period, however, operational commitments (such as deployments to Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq) have increased by 300%.2

What’s wrong with this equation? We now expect our servicemen to do more with less, deploying tanks designed for a crew of four with only three men and guided-missile cruisers with only 86% of their assigned crew. 3

Not only are units undermanned, but there are fewer of them to deploy to whatever global hot spot the White House feels threatened by. As a result, our military personnel now spend more time overseas on operations, and then must work longer hours stateside to make up for other, deployed, troops.

The net result is devastating to the morale of our country’s men and women in uniform. For example, sailors such as those on the U.S.S. Anzio spend 77% of their nights away from their families.4 While it is not a soldier’s place to complain, many of them choose to vote with their feet when it becomes time to reenlist.

General Richard Hawley, the commander of Air Combat Command, recently noted that pilots cite the increased rate of operations as “their top reason for leaving the Air Force.”5 General Thomas Schwartz, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, has voiced similar sentiments. “Our soldiers… repeatedly tell us that they choose to leave the Army because they cannot raise their family and be constantly deployed,” reported Schwartz.6

Retention rates in all service branches are well below their target projections. The obvious solution – replacing these seasoned troops with new recruits – is unacceptable. This would diminish the quality and experience of our fighting forces. Shortfalls in recruiting have already prompted the Army and Navy to consider allowing more high school dropouts to enlist. Despite recent media blitzes, the Army still could fall short of its recruitment goal this year by 10,000.7

The shortage of military personnel has led some to talk of reinstating the draft, a difficult sell in peacetime.8 While unlikely, the fact that it is even being considered illustrates the difficult challenge the military faces.

This shortage hamstrings the United States’ ability to project force and protect its interests. Brigadier General Rust Casey notes that, “without sufficient infantrymen or engineers or aviators to perform their roles, even the most daunting armored force loses some of its potency.”9

Even more disturbing, however, is the possibility that we may have entered a vicious circle. As the military struggles to fill its vacancies, existing personnel will be stressed to the breaking point, causing further declines in retention rates.

It is time for the Clinton Administration to realize that we cannot be the world’s policeman without increasing our current force level. Either we must redefine our foreign policy away from intervention, or we must fund our national defense at higher levels. Simple fixes, such as the proposed military pay raise, are not enough. A meager 4.8% wage hike will not change the minds of individuals who find themselves deployed for most of the year.

Our servicemen deserve better. Perhaps more important, they realize that they deserve better, and many are leaving the military for the private sector. The hypocrisy of the President sending more troops to Kosovo after spending his term of office downsizing the military is not lost on our men in uniform. Such an error is not only shortsighted, but dangerous.


Jason Morrow is a Research Associate of The National Center for Public Policy Research’s National Defense Center. Comments may be sent to [email protected].


1 “Name That Country…” The DeWeese Report, June 1999.

2 “Kosovo and the National Military Strategy: The Costs of Doing More with Less,” Military Readiness Review, April 1999.

3 Command Sergeant Major Edward Foerstel, Statement before the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services, March 22, 1999; Command Master Chief William B. Robbins, Statement before the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services, March 22, 1999.

4 Robbins.

5 General Richard E. Hawley, Statement before the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services, March 22, 1999.

6 General Thomas A. Schwartz, Statement before the Military Readiness Subcommittee of the House Committee on Armed Services, March 22, 1999.

7 Bradley Graham, “The Bugle Sounds, but Fewer Answer: Services Rethink Recruiting as Ranks Thin,” Washington Post, March 13, 1999.

8 Graham.

9 “Military Readiness: The Strain is Showing,” Defense Quotables, May 1999.

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