A growing number of current and former military officers are expressing strong concern over the strain being placed on our armed forces, and for good reason: Our armed forces are too small, and the demands on them are too great.
“What keeps me awake at night,” Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff of the United States Army, testified in a recent hearing “is what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?” Cody’s
concerns are professional and personal; he is a father of two sons who are captains in the Army. Right now those sons are deployed on their second and third tours of combat since Sept. 11, 2001.
The general’s question should keep us all awake. Throughout the country, men and women in the guard and reserve are being called up repeatedly to serve in a force stretched thin. Indeed, the line between those in the guard and reserve and those on active duty is being blurred beyond recognition. We can no longer ask a small group of men and women to bear such a disproportionate and growing share of the burden. We must expand the standing Army and Marine Corps to provide adequate resources for our long-term national security.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, American policymakers downsized the military in hopes of reaping a “peace dividend.” Regrettably, that dividend has proved far smaller than expected. Our mistake at the end of the Cold War was to consider the vastly diminished threat of nuclear annihilation as signaling what one commentator called “the end of history.” Even as the Soviet Union broke apart, new threats — failed states, radical Islamic terrorism and ethnic and religious strife — quickly advanced and has already resulted in thousands of casualties. The need for the forward deployment of large numbers of American troops in Western Europe may have largely disappeared, but the end of the bipolar international system has led to much greater instability elsewhere.
Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the conflicts in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo had already demonstrated some of the challenges we confront in the post-Cold War era. Throughout the 1990s, even as the U.S. military maintained a significant presence in Europe, South Korea and in the Gulf region, U.S. forces engaged in these large-scale deployments. American troops are still operating in some of these areas and participating in other smaller peacekeeping operations. Despite the high tempo of activity, the strength of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps went from 929,000 in 1990 to 655,000 in 2000.
While we are fighting the war on terrorism and the Iraq war, and trying to meet our other commitments, the strength of our active duty Army and Marine Corps has increased only slightly in the past five years. At the end of 2004, 671,000 Americans were serving on active duty in the Army and Marines and virtually all of the modest increase in troop strength has come as a result of “stop-loss” and other measures that have kept soldiers in the force beyond the period of their enlistments.
To meet its needs, the military has mobilized hundreds of thousands of reserve and National Guard personnel to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many called to service multiple times and others activated from the Individual Ready Reserve. Because the gulf between the expectations of those joining the guard and reserve and the reality of today’s service has been so great, morale has suffered and recruitment is down. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) observed at the hearing with Cody, “It is called the National Guard for a reason, General.”
President Bush warned the American people that the war on terror will not be easy or quick. He asked our country to make a “generational commitment” to promote democracy around the world. But as this applies to adequate troop strength, the administration’s rhetoric has not yet been matched with action.
The fiscal 2005 National Defense Authorization Act directed an increase in end strength of 20,000 for the Army and 3,000 for the Marine Corps. The bill also authorized an additional 10,000 Army and 6,000 additional Marines to be added to the force in the next five years. This expansion is a beginning, but our nation’s security requires that the administration and Congress take steps to increase the size of our armed forces by a far more substantial amount. Recently, a bipartisan group of national security experts recommended increasing the active duty Army and Marine Corps by a combined 25,000 per year for several years. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark has called for an additional 90,000 to be added to the Army’s ranks.
Our armed forces are the best in the world, but even the best can be asked to do too much with too few. As we continue our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and confront the need to address potential challenges in North Korea and Iran, not to mention along the Taiwan Straits, we must conclude that our current force level does not meet our security needs. Beefing up our recruiting efforts to meet the needs of a larger armed force will not be easy, but we have little choice. The magnitude of the threat and the size of our current force present too great a risk to the nation’s security. We all hope and pray that we never need to make use of these additional troops, but knowing we have a larger armed force if the urgency arises should help us all sleep a little better at night — including the general and his sons.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is a member of the International Relations Committee and a co-founder of the Democratic Study Group on National Security.