Rumsfeld Questions Two War Strategy

The Pentagon's "two war" strategy has outlived its usefulness, leaving the United States ill-prepared for emerging threats like ballistic missiles and cyberattack, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress today.

"The current strategy is not working, so we owe it to ourselves to ask: What might be better?" Rumsfeld said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. He made a similar presentation to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It was Rumsfeld's first public testimony to congressional panels since he took office in January. Some Senate panelists had complained that Rumsfeld was keeping them in the dark, although most applauded him today.

We've 'Skimped on Our People'

The U.S. defense strategy, in place for 10 years, is to maintain the capability to win two "major theater wars" — like the 1991 Gulf War — at nearly the same time. The idea is to have enough combat forces to sustain a conflict in the Persian Gulf, with enough in reserve to dissuade North Korea, for example, from starting a conflict with South Korea.

Rumsfeld said this approach worked well during the 1990s but has been undermined by a lack of investment in the advanced military technologies needed to meet emerging threats. He also said the Pentagon had "skimped on our people, doing harm to their trust and confidence."

Rumsfeld said the Defense Department has sketched the general outlines of a new defense strategy and hopes to present it to the White House for President Bush's approval by late summer. It is being closely examined now by a civilian-military team of experts as part of a broad defense review, he said.

More Focus on Future Threats

He used the broadest terms to describe the new strategy, saying it would focus more on future threats, while defending the United States against current threats like terrorism and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

It also would enable the United States to maintain forces abroad capable of defeating any adversary, repelling attacks in "a number of critical areas," and conducting a limited number of smaller-scale military missions.

He said the new strategy could require modifications in war plans, but did not elaborate.

Underlying the Bush administration's push for a new defense strategy is the president's belief — shared by Rumsfeld — that the existing approach has put too much strain on the troops and emphasized near-term threats like war on the Korean peninsula at the expense of emerging threats like cyberwar.

Which Threats Will Be Likely?

Evidence of the difficulties in finding an alternative emerged in today's exchange with members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., told Rumsfeld he thought it was premature to drop the current approach because it serves an important purpose in dissuading potentially hostile nations from thinking that they could catch the United States short if it became involved in a war in the Gulf.

"If we change it we confuse a lot of people — friends and allies," Spence said.

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has fallen into the trap of preparing for threats that are familiar, even if they are not likely.

"The world is changing," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "And unless we change we will find ourselves facing new and daunting threats we did not expect and will be unprepared to meet."

Rumsfeld cited numerous areas in which the Pentagon must put increased emphasis and investment, including:

Intelligence, to provide increased warning of impending attacks and emerging military capabilities.

Space, to provide nearly continuous coverage of critical areas in the world and to protect U.S. space systems.

Missile defense, to defend the United States, its allies and friendly nations, as well as U.S. troops based abroad.

Rapidly deployable forces, stationed abroad in peacetime and capable of performing a wide range of military missions.