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Pentagon Releases Future Plan

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post


The Clinton administration Wednesday released its much-anticipated plan for a smaller, leaner military that its authors say would still allow the United States to fight and win two regional wars nearly at the same time.

The plan would make substantial cuts in some military forces while improving other capabilities, such as precision weaponry and air- and sealift capacity. It also would place new emphasis on auch non-traditional missions as participating in peace-keeping,delivering humanitarian aid and curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.

But release of the administration's "bottom-up review" -- a six-month effort to rethink the shape and purpose of the post-Cold War military -- was as noteworthy for what the plan would not change as for what it would.

In many respects, the plan proposes only modest adjustments to the post-Cold War "base force" envisioned by the Bush administration. The Army would still rely heavily on armored infantry divisions, the Navy on carrier battle groups.

The mix of active-duty and reserve forces would not be fundamentally altered. The size of the armed forces would shrink to1.4 million uniformed personnel by 1999, compared with 1.6 million under Bush's plan.

Some aspects of President Clinton's plan would cost more than that of his predecessor. The plan makes clear, for example, that Clinton has embraced a de facto defense "industrial policy" aimed at maintaining the nation's ability to produce key defense technologies, in particular submarines. In other words, the administration is proposing to build some weapons it does not need to keep production lines operating.

The general results of the bottom-up review had been widely reported already, and the release Wednesday -- in the form of briefing charts and excerpts from a longer version to be issued next week -- contained few surprises.

But the unveiling at a news conference led by Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, constituted a critical opening gambit in the selling of the administration's long-term defense strategy.

The bottom-up review essentially forms the intellectual foundation of the administration's defense spending plans for the next five years. Consequently, it will become the focus in Congress of a debate between those who believe the administration is cutting too far and those who say the plan does not take full account of the changed global threat and is unaffordable in the long term.

Conspicuously absent from the plan released Wednesday was any discussion of its costs, although Pentagon officials said they are consistent with administration estimates last spring that their defense strategy would save $127 billion beyond the Bush plan through fiscal 1998.