The 21st Century Military

The 21st Century Military

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
July 8 1998 3:30 AM

The 21st Century Military

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Larry:

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       Given my great respect for the breadth of your experience and the maturity of your judgment in national security matters, the author of The Minuteman could not be more pleased to have you for an interlocutor.
       The central argument of The Minuteman is not against the cost of our current military establishment or even that it is a slightly smaller Cold War force. The central argument is based upon this 2,500-year-old political principle: It is dangerous in a peacetime republic to maintain a large, permanent standing military force. In a strong democratic republic such as ours, the danger is not from a coup or military takeover. The danger is to the already eroding notion of the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship in such a republic.
       From the earliest Greek city-state, through the Roman republic, to renaissance Italy, to 17th century England and revolutionary America, the principle has remained the same: It is the responsibility of all able-bodied citizens, not just a military elite, to defend the nation.
       Obviously, we need a standing "911" rapid response force--possibly half our present size--to counter immediate threats to our security. Given the present and projected limits on "strategic lift" (ships and planes to transport troops and materiel), follow-on expeditionary forces can be well-trained, well-equipped reserves and National Guard maintained at high readiness levels by the standing forces.
       I agree with you completely, and so argue in The Minuteman, that our leadership has not had the wisdom or courage to spell out how and whether U.S. military forces should be used, unilaterally (Somalia) or collectively (Bosnia), in response to the threat of the future--low-intensity urban conflict between ethnic factions and tribes. But that failure rests at the doorstep of both political parties and both administrations since 1991.
       The Minuteman argues that reliance for sustained missions on the Guard and Reserve would have the therapeutic effect of forcing our political leadership to explain and justify a commitment of U. S. forces and to convince the American people of the wisdom of that effort. That is how the 2,500-year-old principle should work in a modern republic and that is the system (universal military service) we used in World Wars I and II.
       Since I am advocating a return to a philosophy of national security that characterized U.S. policy and belief from 1787 to 1948, the burden is not on me or anyone agreeing with me to justify restoration of a predominately citizen military structure. The burden is on those in both parties who advocate continuation of the status quo to justify maintenance of a Cold War military establishment a decade after the end of the Cold War. So far, the leaders of both political parties have failed this test. Our bipartisan national security policy seems to be this: "There are always troubles in the world."

Best regards.
Gary Hart