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COLUMN RIGHT/ JOHN R. KASICH : Clinton Should Heed Aspin's Defense Logic : With numbers driving policy, cuts in spending will be nigh impossible to achieve.

April 04, 1993|JOHN R. KASICH | Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee.

When President Clinton put together the national defense portion of his economic plan, he apparently chose not to listen to a basic tenet of his defense secretary, Les Aspin. When Aspin was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he preached that we must first identify the threats to our national security, develop the strategy to meet those threats and, finally, base our spending on those factors. In the defense budget now before Congress, the President did just the opposite. Instead of the policy driving the numbers, the numbers drive the policy. The result is a defense spending-reduction goal that will be all but impossible to meet.

Briefly, the Clinton Administration proposes to cut $129 billion from defense over the next five years. These reductions come on top of $50 billion in cuts already carried out after the 1990 budget agreement. In fiscal 1994, the Clinton reductions will require the separation of almost 200,000 troops, the elimination of two army divisions, four Air Force fighter wings and 30 combat ships.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that the fiscal 1994 reduction of almost $12 billion equals just 10% of the dollar cuts called for in the President's five-year defense plan. When the dollar cuts accelerate in later years, the effect on the military will be devastating. For instance, in 1998, the Pentagon will be required to make almost $40 billion in cuts. There simply is no way for the five-year defense plan to be fulfilled without either massive cuts in personnel, a steep drop in the procurement of the high-tech weapons that give our troops the edge in battle or some combination of the two. And if he should restore any of his proposed defense cuts, the President then must develop spending reductions in non-defense programs or further increase taxes in order to meet his five-year deficit-reduction target.

It has become evident that there are really two Clinton defense budgets: The Clinton campaign budget (or Clinton No. 1) called for about $60 billion in cuts and was largely based on then-Armed Services Committee Chairman Aspin's so-called "Option C." The second Clinton defense budget (Clinton No. 2) is a far more radical proposal that is before us now. A year ago, then-Rep. Aspin vigorously defended his Option C against military critics who said the forces allotted under it would turn a future Desert Storm operation into a "Desert Drizzle." With that in mind, how could U.S. military forces be expected to conduct a future Desert Storm after suffering the cuts of Clinton No. 2, which effectively doubles the cuts of Clinton No. 1?

What's more, candidate Clinton in April, 1992, held out the possibility of further cuts above his campaign budget "if current favorable trends in the international climate continue." But since then, we've deployed troops to Somalia and participated in relief efforts in Bosnia. Turmoil continues in the Mideast and Russia. North Korea has become worrisome at best. Terrorism, best exemplified by the World Trade Center bombing, continues largely unabated. By any standard you choose, "favorable trends in the international climate" have long since disappeared.

There is a far more fundamental criticism of the Clinton defense budget than simply arguing over the numbers: Much more important is the national-security policy on which the budget is based. And that is where the fault lies. If the Clinton Administration is content to let regional conflicts alone, to be far less active in supporting peacekeeping efforts and in general to adopt a "Fortress America" policy that leaves the rest of the world to its own devices, then the budget before us is defensible. And, in fact, the advisability of a Fortress America policy is something this country ought to openly debate.

But the Clinton Administration's own announced policy is internationalist. That policy is predicated on the support of democracy abroad and a positive response to the growing number of requests from the United Nations for peacekeeping forces. It seeks to deter, and if necessary, to intervene in regional conflicts. However, President Clinton's own defense numbers don't support such a policy. It does not take clairvoyance to see that an internationalist foreign policy backed up by an isolationist military budget is a recipe for disaster.

Aspin came before his former colleagues on the Armed Services Committee last week to reassure us about the five-year Clinton program, noting that the entire Pentagon budget was getting a "bottom-up" review. While I have grave reservations about the long-term Clinton plan, I know that if anyone can make it work, it will be Aspin. But the more I look at the numbers, the less I envy him the task.

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