Too Few Troops for Current Needs or Future Crises

This week, Opportunity '08 takes a closer look at the U.S. military, and how the next president can increase military readiness and capacity.

As the nation honors its veterans this week, including those who have served in Iraq, troubling questions loom large: Does the current size of the military meet our needs? Is America ready to face future conflicts?

Experts say no. Military historian Frederick Kagan argues that while U.S. military superiority is unmatched, capacity is at the breaking point, jeopardizing both domestic and international security.

The military needs to grow to ensure the nation is prepared to handle potential crises. "There should be little debate over the proper direction of change: both the Army and Marine Corps must grow, as fast as is practicable, for the foreseeable future," says Kagan.

"Facing the dangerous world of the 21st century, the U.S. military is too small to meet current needs or expected contingencies," says defense expert Michael O'Hanlon. "Stretched almost to the breaking point in Iraq, the U.S. military now is patently unable to contemplate another war with anything less than horror."

"A collapsed Pakistan ranks very high on the list of military scenarios that would threaten U.S. vital interests," says O'Hanlon. "Regime collapse in Pakistan, or regime change in Iran, easily could require an American commitment of 200,000-300,000 soldiers, as could various scenarios for conflict in Korea."

Kagan and O'Hanlon recommend expanding ground forces, cutting waste in the Defense Department and reforming recruitment practices.

"Although the nation's security is the single most important responsibility of the President and Congress, fiscal priorities -- ensuring the nation's prosperity and maintaining good stewardship of the federal budget -- are close behind," notes O'Hanlon. "Defense policymakers have a responsibility not to squander resources."

A full version of this proposal, as well as supporting background material, is available at Opportunity08.

About the Experts and the Project:

Frederick W. Kagan is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. He specializes in defense issues, the American military, defense transformation, the defense budget, and defense strategy and warfare. A military historian who has taught at West Point, Kagan advised the Bush administration on its approach to the Iraq war.

Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and specializes in Iraq, North Korea, homeland security, the use of military force, and other defense issues. O'Hanlon advised members of Congress on military spending as a defense budget analyst. O'Hanlon is the director of Opportunity 08.

Opportunity '08 aims to help 2008 presidential candidates and the public focus on critical issues facing the nation, presenting policy ideas on a wide array of domestic and foreign policy questions. The project is committed to providing both independent policy solutions and background material on issues of concern to voters.