Deterrence and war fighting call for a flexible and agile military - but not a massive nuclear arsenal like ours. We have 5,000 deployed H-bombs, many on hair-trigger alert, and another 5,000 in reserve. In addition, 600 to 700 tactical nuclear weapons are ready for battlefield use. A nuclear arsenal of this size has no rational military purpose. By holding at risk critical military targets in a handful of countries, the United States could, and should, reduce its deployment to 600 warheads, plus another 400 in reserve.
Most military missions are geared to national security threats. We accept other missions because we're human. Such is the case with genocide. The slaughter of as many as 800,000 people in Rwanda was not a direct threat to Americans; it was a moral outrage. As a signatory to the Genocide Convention of 1948, the United States is committed "to prevent and to punish" acts intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Yet the United States and other nations looked away when genocide occurred in Rwanda. Today, the United Nations must scrounge for help in halting genocide in Darfur. The inadequate African Union force there must be strengthened, and U.S. military transport and communications could provide needed muscle to a new peacekeeping operation. The Pentagon is at long last working on a doctrine for U.S. participation in peacekeeping. It should have happened years ago.
These missions can be accomplished, at far lower cost than currently, by a larger Army that includes a doubling of Special Forces, a robust Coast Guard, and a somewhat smaller Air Force and Navy - provided we eliminate redundant and irrelevant weapon systems. Therefore we should shrink the nuclear arsenal and cancel missile defense, the F/A-22 fighter jet, Virginia class submarines, and the V-22 Osprey helicopter.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who took his post committed to transforming the armed forces, can't cut these major weapon systems. Like many of his predecessors, he has been stymied by the top brass, pork-hungry members of Congress, and big defense contractors. The Pentagon continues to buy everything in sight, and military spending now tops half-a-trillion dollars a year.
American military power has a job to do. But Pentagon bloat and the Iraq war weaken the public's support for its missions.
This article first appeared as The US needs to build a smarter military, not a bigger arsenal: Cut missile defense and expand resources for the Army and National Guard in the Christian Science Monitor on March 23, 2006.
Lawrence Korb served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information. Sanford Gottlieb worked for 34 years in the peace movement and is the author of Defense Addiction: Can America Kick the Habit?