A Hollow Debate on Military Readiness

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The 2000 election campaign has seenthe presidential candidates sparring overthe unlikely and arcane topic of militaryreadiness--the ability of military forces todeploy quickly and perform initially theirwartime mission. The candidates arealready in a bidding war to see who canthrow the most money at the Pentagon.However, the alleged shortage of fundsavailable to be spent on readiness is largelyillusory. Gaps in readiness could beplugged without increasing the budget fornational defense. Vast amounts are alreadybeing spent to give the United States bone-crushingdominance over any other militaryin the world.

"Pockets of unreadiness" in the U.S. militaryhave three causes: profligate commitmentof U.S. forces overseas, misallocationof funds by the Pentagon and Congress,and excessive readiness requirements. Therecord pace of humanitarian interventionsand peacekeeping operations during theClinton administration has worn outequipment and people, taken time andmoney that could have been used to traintroops to fight a major war, and incurredsignificant costs.

Also, money that could be spent ontraining, spare parts, and other items toremedy readiness gaps is wasted throughmisallocation to less worthy objectives.Excess military bases are retained, procurementof defense items is inefficient, unnecessaryweapons are purchased, and toomuch money is spent on military pay andbenefits. Finally, in the benign threat environmentof a post-Cold War world, U.S.armed forces do not need to be kept in thehigh states of readiness they were duringthe Cold War.

If U.S. commitments overseas werereduced, inefficient and wasteful defensespending were eliminated, and post-ColdWar readiness goals were more realistic,gaps between those goals and the state ofthe forces could be eliminated withoutincreasing the defense budget.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.