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Review Fractures Pentagon

Officials Predict Major Military Changes Far Off

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 14, 2001; Page A01

The Pentagon is deadlocked over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's ambitious efforts to overhaul the U.S. military, and several top Defense Department officials predicted yesterday there would be little immediate change in the size and structure of the armed forces.

Civilian Pentagon officials and military brass have clashed so seriously in recent days that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Henry H. Shelton expressed concern Wednesday to Rumsfeld about the defense secretary's review of the military. Shelton said in an interview last night that he told Rumsfeld there was not enough information to justify some of the decisions being contemplated.

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But Shelton also said he is generally satisfied with the Pentagon review. "I think there's a lot of anxiety associated with the process," he said. But, he concluded: "The process is working. It's not always pretty."

Still, the tension does not bode well for the future of Rumsfeld's controversial drive to change the military to address new threats from Asia, terrorists and adversaries waging computer warfare. Rumsfeld's effort has moved in recent weeks from strategic theorizing to concrete, and politically volatile, decisions on "force structure" -- that is, the number of people in each service, the way they are organized, and the weapons they are given.

President Bush came into office vowing that his new defense secretary would "review America's armed forces and prepare to transform them to meet emerging threats." To carry out that promise, Rumsfeld assembled panels to study overarching military strategy, personnel policy, nuclear weapons and many other topics. The review process drew criticism from Congress and many uniformed officers as overly secretive, especially as it became clear that Rumsfeld was contemplating major change.

As the review progressed, Rumsfeld decided to discard the "two major war" yardstick that for almost a decade has been used to determine the size and needed capabilities of the military. Using that requirement, the Pentagon has maintained an active-duty military of 1.4 million people equipped with the weaponry to simultaneously fight two medium-sized wars.

Rumsfeld and his allies have worried that this focus has distracted the military from paying attention to new and different threats. As an alternative, Rumsfeld has focused on developing a fast-deploying, agile military that relies on radar-evading "stealth" technologies and unmanned vehicles. The future military, his planners envision, would wield more precision and long-range weaponry, mount layers of missile defenses and focus more on new threats such as computer warfare.

But many senior generals and admirals began to balk when the Pentagon discussions turned to how to translate those recommendations into decisions about the future shape and size of the military, several officials said. The key point of contention is how much change is prudent in the military right now, and how rapid that change should be, they added.

The services are deeply worried that to come up with funds for new initiatives, Rumsfeld might cut existing troops, ships and planes. The Army, for instance, fears losing two of its 10 active divisions, while the Navy fears the loss of aircraft carriers. But one of the civilians involved in the review said that Rumsfeld has not proposed any cuts at this point.

"The [services'] proposals are for no change, and the system is just deadlocked," this source said. This person, an advocate of radical reform, said that the armed services are stiff-arming the Pentagon's civilian leadership. "They are just not responsive. They just don't want to play. What's [angering] them is the basic threat of big change."

But another defense official said the military leadership has a very different perspective from Rumsfeld and his allies. The civilians around Rumsfeld, he said, "are saying, 'Take on a ton of risk so we can get where we want to be 20 years from now.' " But, he continued, "Everybody on the uniformed side is saying, 'No, you've got enough risk right now.' " To deal with current threats, he said, the Joint Chiefs of Staff essentially have told Rumsfeld that they don't believe any major changes should be made in the size and shape of the military.

Meetings of top civilian and military officials at the Pentagon have grown tense in recent days, this person added. He said, for example, that at a session earlier this week, Steven Cambone, the Rumsfeld aide coordinating staff meetings on how to change the military, angrily asked the generals present, "Can't you come up with anything new?"

After Monday's meeting, the Joint Staff's representative, Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, went to his superior, Shelton, and told him that the review process was deeply troubled, officials said. Shelton then raised some of those concerns at his meeting with Rumsfeld.

Victoria Clarke, the top Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on what was said at that meeting. Overall, she said: "I'm sure there is some grumbling. This is very hard stuff. When people care deeply, they express opinions."

One general involved in the review said: "We are beyond being upset. We are into giggle factor." He added that of several post-Cold War defense reviews, "This is by far the most disorganized effort I've ever seen."

"The problem is that there is an element of trust that is missing," said another general working on the review. He attributed that largely to the brusque manner Rumsfeld used when he first came to the Pentagon six months ago. "I think that goes back to Rumsfeld coming in and acting like he was conducting a hostile takeover. He didn't ask for input up front."

The only way out, this general added, would be for Rumsfeld to simply terminate discussions and unilaterally impose changes. But he and several other officials predicted that Rumsfeld won't do that, in part because the administration already has a fight on its hands with Congress over its ambitious missile defense plans, and doesn't need to wage a two-front political war.


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