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Bush's Defense Policy
With Cindy Williams
MIT, Security Studies Program

Thursday, Feb. 15, 2001; 3 p.m. EST

President Bush has ordered a month-long review of the military's mission and make-up -- and has hinted that higher defense spending and cuts in certain entrenched programs are on the way.

How will Bush allocate defense spending? Will he make significant changes? Where does Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield stand?

Cindy Williams is a Senior Research Fellow of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Holding the Line: U.S. Defense Alternatives for the Early 21st Century. She was previously Assistant Director for National Security at the Congressional Budget Office. She has served as a director and in other capacities at the MITRE Corporation; as a member of the Senior Executive Service in the Pentagon's Directorate of Program Analysis and Evaluation; and as a mathematician at Rand. Williams will be live online, Thursday, Feb. 15.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Minneapolis, Minn.: What is going to happen to U.S. relations with Russia if President Bush's missile defense plan is put into action?

Cindy Williams: Good question. The Russians have made clear that they view U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense system as a violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and that they are deeply concerned at the prospect. Going forward with implementation will certainly cause diplomatic problems for the United States with Russia.

Somerville, Mass.: How does President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut plan (as well as the commitment not to spend surpluses generated by the Social Security and Medicare trust funds) affect our ability to allocate any additional resources to the military?

Cindy Williams: If the federal surpluses roll in as currently anticipated by the Congressional Budget Office, I believe that the President and Congress will be able to allocate more money to defense if they set that as a national priority. On the other hand, I think the surpluses will not be as great as projected--because spending them early or using them for tax breaks is so tempting. The real question in my opinion is whether we SHOULD make added military spending a priority, when national defense already costs taxpayers $310 billion a year.

Chevy Chase, Md.: Good afternoon, Ms. Wiliams. Any good rumors about who Secretary Rumsfeld will be getting as some of his key assistant secretaries or when they will be announced?

Cindy Williams: I have heard lots of rumors, but no facts.

Riverdale Park, Md.: Hello Cindy,

Bush wants to reduce the U.S. military presence in Kosovo, thereby shifting more of the peace-keeping burden onto the Europeans. But the same time, he doesn't want the Europeans to form its own independent force.

Aren't these two policies contradictory? Either Bush wants the Europeans to be more responsible for European security or he doesn't. Which is it?

Cindy Williams: This is obviously a sticky question for the President. The United States has been the clear leader in NATO since its inception. The Europeans have been happy to have us lead as long as we have also done most of the heavy lifting--militarily and financially. But wanting to have things our way at the same time that we pull back from shared military activities sets up a contradiction for us and the Europeans.

Washington, D.C.: We are spending as much money on "defense" today, in terms of real dollars adjusted for inflation, as we were during the 1970s -- in the middle of the Cold War.

Add up the combined defense budgets for ALL of our supposed "rivals" -- Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, & Cuba -- and it still doesn't equal HALF of what we spend on war. Am I the only person that finds this whole situation ridiculous?

Cindy Williams: No, in fact it is a question that we address in some detail in the book that I edited and that MIT Press just released: "Holding the Line: U.S. Defense Alternatives for the Early 21st Century." In one chapter of the book, Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations addresses ten "myths" about the defense budget--including the myth that our defense spending dropped too precipitously after the Cold War and is now dangerously low.

Alexandria, Va.: In recent years, there has been a "civilization" of some traditional military roles like ROTC recruiting and some advisory positions effected by contract companies like MPRI. Is this a trend which will continue or do you see the Bush administration changing that course?

Cindy Williams: I expect that the emphasis on privatizing positions once held by military employees or government civilians will continue during the Bush administration. History shows that turning work over to the private sector--thereby opening it up to competitive market forces--can save 20 to 40 percent of the cost. The Bush administration will want to allocate as much of the defense budget as possible to the "pointy end of the spear." As a result, it will probably seek to save money by privatizing as many infrastructure-related jobs as reasonably possible.

washingtonpost.com: Ms. Williams, please tell us a little bit about your book, "Holding the Line: U.S. Defense Alternatives for the Early 21st Century." Why did you take on the project and what did you learn?

Cindy Williams: We took on the project because we felt that America's military faced two serious problems. First, keeping it at its current size and equipping it as planned will cost much more in the future than the $310 billion the nation spends for it today. Second, although substantially reduced in size from Cold War levels, today's military is still structured and equipped very much on the Cold War model. What we discovered in writing the book is that there are at least three sound military strategies that the nation could adopt that would allow us to hold the line against further increases in defense spending. All three would result in a somewhat smaller and much reshaped military compared with today's. All three offer substantial military advantages over current plans, because they make better use of new technologies and are designed with the present and the future in mind, rather than the Cold War.

Orlando, Fla.: Are there any real policy differences between Clinton and Bush on defense issues? I say because I have yet to hear any concrete proposals for a change in defense policy.

Cindy Williams: One thing you should understand is that I am not a member of the President's team. I am writing here about Bush the Bush administration, not for it. I do believe that President Bush and President Clinton differ on questions of military intervention in foreign conflicts, national missile defense, and the best way to achieve American aims in the international arena. You raise an important point, though. Even though their instincts are different, the people they bring in to staff their administration hold a wide range of views. Moreover, things do not always turn out as anticipated in the world. Only time will tell, for example, whether President Bush will be able to make good on his campaign promise to reduce deployments of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Washington, D.C.: How much of military/defense spending is wasted? Is this really a matter of money or a matter of needing to reorganize our military?

Cindy Williams: I do not know that anybody can answer that question. Is it waste when the cooks on a Navy ship never see the light of day, because the work in the galley is so demanding, while the sailors in the print shop are never busy because technology has taken over much of their former work? This is an example that former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig pointed out. To me that sounds like a matter of needing to reorganize. What about keeping bases or depots open, when their capacity exceeds the military's needs? That example is more complex: in many such cases, the armed services would like to close the base or the depot, but political pressure from districts that would lose jobs keep them open. If the goal is a strong military, substantial sums are being spent on activities that do not meet the goal. But sometimes complex political factors--not just "waste, fraud, and abuse" are at work.

Williamsburg, Va.: During the campaign, Bush made a lot of noise about how the military was over extended, and that under his presidency a lot of Clinton's overseas missions would be curtailed. Do you see this happening, or because of the nature of the current world (dis)order, do you see a similar overseas deployment under the Bush administration?

Cindy Williams: I, like you, look forward with eager anticipation to the answer to this question. Even a President with the best intentions for reducing deployments may find that his decisions are constrained--by pressure from allies or from Congress, or by media coverage of events that are just too gruesome to turn away from.

Washington, D.C.: The president has moved to boost the pay of the military. His critics call this a way of buying votes for the Republican Party. Others say that all government workers higher pay to keep pace with the private sector. What's your view?

Cindy Williams: One thing that surprises most people about military pay is that, when you include some military tax advantages and the fair value of on-base housing or the housing allowance that people living off base receive, most of already earn more money than 75 percent of Americans with similar levels of education and experience. That said, in a time of economic expansion, it can make good sense to increase military pay somewhat faster than pay in the private sector is going up. Although President Bush made military pay a big issue, the raise that he plans for our troops on January 1, 2002, is precisely the one that current law demands.

Accokeek, Md.: What would prevent the U.S. from reducing military overseas deployments in the next four years? For example, of the new deployments in the last 20 years, including Kosovo, of course, how many were initiated by Congress and how many by the administration?

Cindy Williams: Good question. Of the forces deployed since the Cold War ended, most are in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, or Kosovo. While we do have troops deployed to other places, they are either in quite small numbers or--like the ones we kept on in Europe, Japan, and South Korea after the Cold War--more permanently stationed rather than on deployment. The lion's share of our deployed troops are in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Gulf region, where they patrol no-flight zones, assure the security of our allies, etc. The ones the President talks about--in Kosovo and Bosnia--account for at most 15,000 of our deployed troops.

Cindy Williams: Thank you all for the lively discussion. It has been a pleasure working with you.

washingtonpost.com: That was our last question for Cindy Williams. Thank you to Ms. Williams and to all who participated.
For more live online, please join the discussion with Loren Thompson, Lexington Inst., on Bush's defense policy, Friday, Feb. 16; 10 a.m. EST
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