ANNOUNCER: From the nation's capital, the McLaughlin Group, an unrehearsed program presenting inside opinions and forecasts on major issues of the day. GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group: "From medical systems to broadcasting, GE, we bring good things to life."

Here's the host, John McLaughlin.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The nation today is immersed in finding a short-term solution in Kosovo, but ought we not also be directing our attention and our energies towards a long-term solution to U.S. military adequacy and role? We'll address that critical larger subject in this theme program with four esteemed military analysts.

Issue one: The U.S. military, is it a hollow force?

MR. : (From videotape.) This nation cannot continue to turn a blind eye to underfunding of our Armed Forces while asking our military men and women at the same time to keep doing more and doing more with less and less.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As cases in point, of doing more with less U.S. military, President Clinton has committed U.S. forces to a bombing campaign under way against Kosovo, an ongoing bombing campaign against Iraq, and troops spread across the planet from Bosnia to South Korea to Japan to Haiti.

Despite Clinton's proposed defense budget increases this year, earlier budget cuts and numerous operations have taken a toll on the military. Look at the numbers:

One, personnel cuts. Since 1985, barely 15 years ago, active-duty military personnel levels have fallen from 2.1 million to just under 1.4 million, a drop of nearly 40 percent. These cuts are leading to high-profile embarrassments, such as the Navy's inability to find enough sailors to staff their newest aircraft carrier, the Harry S. Truman.

Two, budget cuts. Again, since 1985, the total defense budget has shrunk from $425 billion to under $270 billion in constant dollars, a cut of almost 40 percent. Clinton has proposed increasing the defense budget, but congressional Republicans say the administration proposal is far from enough. Trying to increase military involvement, while at the same time cutting budgets and cutting manpower, has taken a huge toll on morale because it makes more work for fewer people and causes more absences, prolonged absences, from home. That's why many career military personnel are, quote-unquote, "voting with their feet," as one admiral put it -- leaving the armed forces and taking their training and experience elsewhere.

Question: Are the weaknesses in our force structure so great as to justify describing the American military today as hollow, Eliot?

MR. COHEN: Not yet, but they're certainly stretched and they're headed in that direction. The secretary of the Army said that he was willing to consider lowering the profile on new recruits. You are having these tremendous retention problems, not just in the Army, but in the Air Force, you're seeing proficiency go down in a lot of units. We are in serious difficulties.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where are the principal weaknesses in our force structure, Andrew?

MR. KREPINEVICH: Right now, it's recruiting, it's retention, it's getting good people, keeping good people, it's increasing maintenance backlogs. I agree with Eliot. These are red flags, and that's what the Joint Chiefs have been highlighting -- these red flags that indicate that we're moving from a ready force to a force that's on the ragged edge, and that's where you want to begin to address these sorts of issues before you create a hollow force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the nomenclature? Is it a hollow force, would you say, Bill?

COL. TAYLOR: It's headed that way; I agree with both Andy and Eliot. The reason is the budget cuts that you showed on the screen before we started talking are taking their impact. We're down about 40 percent from the Reagan days in defense spending. We've been at about 3.1 percent; we're heading for 2.5 percent.

And let me tell you something; we're going to be short about $100 billion a year between now and 2015. We can't pull off our strategy. We are approaching a hollow force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does the Clinton increase in the Defense budget fill out the hollowness of the force, I ask you, Joe?

MR. CIRINCIONE: More than enough. And of course we're down 40 percent. The rest of the world is spending 40 percent less on defense. Of course we have fewer troops; the Cold War is over. We're not worried about a Soviet blitzkrieg attack through the Fulda Gap. We can do what we have to do if we manage the forces correctly. There's more than enough money in the existing budget if we allocate it properly to correct these readiness problems.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What impact is this having on Reservists?

COL. TAYLOR: A lot of impact on Reservists. They're getting deployed increasingly overseas. We're overstretched. Joe, the force is overstretched. We've come down now to about 1.4 million people deployed all over the world; 42 named operations. The force is 62 percent married. There are 42 named operations worldwide. We're overstretched. Married people are saying to their spouses, "We got a hot economy. Let's get out of here."

MR. KREPINEVICH: Well, that's more of a quality of life problem, Bill. If you look at the amount of money that we're spending per soldier, it's roughly equal to what we spent around the same time in the Gulf War.

You hit on the key point, which is quality of life. It's not "do I get an extra 1 percent boost in my paycheck between this year and last?" The issue is: "How often am I away from my family?"

COL. TAYLOR: Exactly.

MR. KREPINEVICH: We're talking about a volunteer --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that's a function of paucity of people, correct?

MR. KREPINEVICH: Paucity of -- the military calls it high op tempo.

COL. TAYLOR: And overcommitment.

MR. COHEN: That's the other point. It's we have a force that's 40 percent smaller than it was during the Cold War, but if you look at the kinds of deployments that we're doing, we're just sending many more people away from home for short periods of time, and after a while that begins to wear really thin.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To what extent is the U.S. military today demoralized? I ask you, Joe.

MR. CIRINCIONE: I don't think they're demoralized at all. I think they have a great deal of confidence in the military leadership that we have and in the political leadership.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that, Bill?

COL. TAYLOR: Okay, look, I'm not using anecdotal evidence. At CSIS we already --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that? What's that?

COL. TAYLOR: Center for Strategic and International Studies. We've done 9,000 surveys over the last five months of our ground troops all over the world. You'd be surprised. What comes out of this 99-question survey are such statements as "I am proud to serve my country, I will put my life on the line for my country," and things like that, credit to the leaders in the military -- ground forces.

But then you come to pay, benefits, operations tempo, being away from the spouse and their children and a hot economy -- "I'm out of here." That's what it says.

MR. KREPINEVICH: So where are they looking at putting the pay increases, Bill? They're looking at an across-the-board pay increase, when in fact where the shortages are, are in key critical skill areas, like pilots, for example.

COL. TAYLOR: I won't argue with you on that.

MR. KREPINEVICH: And again, they should stop taking a meat ax approach to where you really need to apply a scalpel, where you can.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do they tell you, Eliot, when they're off the record -- American military people today?

MR. COHEN: Well, first, I do believe in anecdotal evidence. In fact, I just came out of the field in California with the Marines. And I'll tell you that there -- first, there's actually a lack of confidence not just in the senior political leadership; there is, to some extent, a lack of confidence in the senior military leadership, because there's a sense -- and I've gotten it from people in all of the services -- that the starkness of the problem has not really been presented in public to Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has this reached the level of the commander in chief?

MR. COHEN: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the -- does it move down from there? Is that a big precipitant of the problem?

MR. COHEN: That's a large part of the problem, but it's not the only part of the problem. There is a certain level of discontent also, I would argue, with some of the senior military leadership.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How big is the factor of leakage from the armed forces today?

MR. CIRINCIONE: Well, of course it's going to be a significant problem. It's hard to keep pilots when they can make twice as much flying for Boeing as they can for the Air Force.

MR. : Right.

MR. COHEN: But it's not the -- the pay is not why they're leaving --

COL. TAYLOR: You're wrong!


COL. TAYLOR: The evidence of the surveys -- not anecdotal, Eliot -- says you're wrong.

MR. COHEN: Look, pilot --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If they were better compensated, they would stay? Is that what you're saying?


MR. COHEN: Military pilots could always make a lot more money by going out. That's the issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they would put up with the travail of long hours and long absences from home and shortness of personnel -- they would put up with that if they were compensated at a higher rate? What do you think of that?

MR. (COHEN ?): No. No. The problem here -- the basic problem, again, is not the 3 or 4 percent pay increase, it's a volunteer force that has many more married people than during the draft era. It's people being subjected to what they view as capricious deployments, short-notice deployments. There's no predictability in their lives, there's no predictability in their families' lives. They're fed up, their wives are fed up, they're leaving.

(COL. TAYLOR ?): It's both. It's those factors and it's pay and retirement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, one thing we haven't talked about is where the recruits are coming from. When was the last time you have heard of someone at your socio-economic level who will tell you, a mother or a father, that their son, say a graduate of Yale or Princeton or Harvard or Holy Cross, is going to spend some time in the armed services of the United States?

MR. (CIRINCIONE ?): No, this is a very real problem. We are creating a caste system in this country where the military is mainly from the lower and working classes of the country, and the elite are not participating.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's another program, and that's a full-length program.

Exit: Will a hollow force be a campaign issue in the year 2000 presidential race? A quick answer.


COL. TAYLOR: You'd better believe it will be, and the Republicans are going to be on the cutting edge of it.


MR. CIRINCIONE: That's mostly what it is, a political issue, and Clinton will be able to neutralize it. This will not stick.


MR. COHEN: It will be one of a whole bunch of military-related issues.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Helping the Republicans more than the Democrats?

MR. COHEN: Absolutely.


MR. KREPINEVICH: This administration will move whatever funding it takes into those readiness accounts to ensure that it won't be a political issue in 2000.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president will neutralize the issue?

MR. KREPINEVICH: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the issue will survive and it will be big.

When we come back: Will a rogue state ever be able to launch a nuclear missile against a mainland U.S. city? And if so, when?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Star Wars -- the sequel.

MR. : (From videotape.) We're not going to sit back and let the development of new missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction technologies put at risk the citizens of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four years ago, in 1995, the CIA downplayed any new ballistic missile threat against the U.S. homeland. It would take, said the CIA, 15 years, until 2010, for a rogue state to develop weapons that could threaten fortress America. Congress did not believe it. In 1997, it established a nine-member, bipartisan commission of experts, chaired by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to reevaluate the threat.

Last summer, one year later, the commission issued a frightening report: A nuclear strike from abroad could come with little or no warning within five years. Last month Congress finally reacted to the Rumsfeld report. The House and Senate, by overwhelming margins, voted to deploy an umbrella national missile defense system as soon as possible. But a dependable missile shield will not be feasible until at least 2006, seven years from now and three years after the Rumsfeld estimate of a possible nuclear strike against the U.S.

Question: Does it make sense to deploy a countrywide nuclear defense shield similar to the one proposed by Ronald Reagan?

Joseph Cirincione.

MR. CIRINCIONE: It's politics, not threat or technology, that's driving this issue. We simply don't have a technology capable of defending this country. If a terrorist group wanted to strike the United States with a nuclear device, they could do so now, by ship, by truck, by plane. It's not ballistic missiles we have to worry about, it's those systems themselves, and there are lots of ways to deliver them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eliot, do you think if FDR felt the way towards the Manhattan Project as Joe feels towards a missile shield, there would be no nuclear bomb today?

MR. COHEN: Well, of course, missile defenses are a lot further along than the Manhattan Project was when Roosevelt --

MR. : Thank you.

MR. COHEN: -- really began throwing resources into it. The truth of the matter is, there are lots of potential threats, including sabotage and that kind of thing. But missile defense makes sense against the kind of threat that's posed by a country like North Korea. Whether you need something as extensive as what Ronald Reagan was talking about, that's a different matter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is a rogue state missile strike realistic? Andrew.

MR. KREPINEVICH: I think the Rumsfeld Commission got it right. It's going to happen probably a lot sooner than the intelligence community had anticipated, and we'll probably be surprised when it does happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Colonel Taylor, you have spent time in North Vietnam. Could that rogue state be North Vietnam?

COL. TAYLOR: If you're talking about North Korea, I've spent a lot --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. North Korea.

COL. TAYLOR: I've spent a lot of time there. It certainly could be. As you said, we won't have missile defenses for another six or seven years, maybe. North Korea can hit anywhere in Asia-Pacific right now. We have 80,000 Americans in South Korea and no missile defense of Seoul. We have 50,000 Americans, more or less, in Japan. They are naked. They're vulnerable to North Korean missiles.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, what should our policy be? What do you favor?

COL. TAYLOR (?): Move as fast as we can get a technologically feasible system and deploy it. And only last week, the Washington Times got hold of a memo signed by Madeleine Albright apologizing to our Chinese and Russian friends and saying why they need not worry, because the White House really is not going to support the congressional mandate for missile defense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Notwithstanding what the secretary of Defense said two days after the State of the Union?

MR. : Exactly right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where he came out in defense, and proposing monies, in fact, for the shield.

I want to ask you this before we move out. North Korea. You've spent months in North Korea, correct?

COL. TAYLOR (?): A month total over four trips.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Over four trips. What do you think the U.S. policy ought to be towards North Korea today?

COL. TAYLOR (?): Because we are naked to their missiles, have no missile defense, we are in a period of maximum danger, I hate to say it, it has got to be constructive engagement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: If a nuclear missile strikes an American city before there is a defense shield, which political party will get the burden of the blame? Bill Taylor.

COL. TAYLOR: The Democrats will, although I know some of my colleagues have a different view.


MR. CIRINCIONE: Meaning the Republicans' wasting $120 billion -- (laughter) -- on the failed systems in the past 10, 15 years, they won't get part of the blame? There won't be any blame.


MR. CIRINCIONE: There will be an immediate reaction and a retaliatory strike back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it will be distributed, equally blamed.

What do you say, Eliot?

MR. COHEN: I wouldn't worry about the blame; I would worry about nuclear deterrence, which is the game we'll be back in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you are bowing out of the question.

What do you say, Andrew?

MR. KREPINEVICH: I'd agree with Eliot. And I'd say, if people are pointing fingers after a nuclear attack on an American city -- (laughter) -- shame on them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) Okay. The answer is the Democrats will get the more blame.

Issue three: New era in warfare.

Television images of high-tech weapons used in Kosovo and in the Persian Gulf, seem closer to science-fiction than to past wars. But that science-fiction look is more than imagery; it is the future of warfare, at least as some see it.

Many military experts believe that the microchip that brought personal computers and the Internet into our homes, has created a new era in warfare; specifically, rapid extremely precise stand-off strikes; that is where a plane or ship fires missiles from a safe distance; sensational enhancements in command and control using "advancements" in satellite and computer technology; information warfare in which an adversary can be defeated by crashing his computers, instead of killing his troops.

This so-called revoluation in military affairs, say its advocates, offers immense opportunities for the U.S. because of our advantage in information technology; to wit, rapid victories, minimal casualties, smaller Armed Forces, greater military leverage in global affairs to enhance information technology.

But there are skeptics, many of them veteran warriors who warn that the so-called revolution in military affairs has become a slogan to justify cuts in manpower. The new era in warfare, they assert, will never come. Wars will still be fought by land forces under traditional conditions, systems and strategies.

Question: Is the military use of smart weapons properly described as a "revolution," Andrew?

MR. KREPINEVICH: It is the beginning of a revolution, John. What we are seeing is precision weapons, stealth, changing warfare in the Gulf War; changing in a sense, war in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia through the precision bombing. But we're also seeing is -- that this is not the end of military competition. There are other dimensions of warfare; it's not just technology, it's also strategic, it's tactics, and it's people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What has Serbia taught us about "smart" weapons airpower?


MR. COHEN: Well, people like the Serbs know what our advantages are, so what they'll do is they'll find counters that don't encounter those advantages. In their particular case it's going to be by massacring civilians, and there's not much you can do to stop that with smart bombs.


MR. COHEN: Well, because with smart bombs it's pretty easy to take out fixed targets, some of the really large mobile targets. To take out individuals with assault rifles, who are the ones who are doing the killing, that's a lot tougher.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How else have they snookered us over there in Serbia?

MR. : Well, one of things they've done is hold back some of their key assets, like SAM missiles.


MR. : Well, they want to reserve those as long as possible, as Bill Taylor points out, to prevent us from doing anti-tank, anti- --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't hear Bill Taylor point that out. What is he talking about? Quickly. Quickly. Quickly.

MR. : That was earlier. That was earlier. But, very quickly. Some people say even with airpower, we take out all the heavy conventional weapons the Yugoslavs have, the Yugoslav national army will go with rifles and bayonets and continue ethnic cleansing. Oh yeah? Against the KLA? People better learn what the KLA is. It's 30,000 strong, enlisting 1,000 a month. They're insurgents, they can take care of themselves.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Missions impossible. "As a global power with worldwide interests, it is imperative that the United States, now and for the foreseeable future, be able to deter and defeat large-scale, cross-border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames." So reads the Department of Defense 1997 analysis, still official and controlling.

The ability to fight and win two near simultaneous major regional wars -- for example, one in the Persian Gulf region and one in North Korea -- has dominated U.S. defense planning since the end of the Cold War. Is it possible for current U.S. forces to meet this two-war standard? Is it the right standard? There are serious doubts that the depleted U.S. armed forces today are ready for two regional wars.

Question: Is the concept of a two-theater war obsolete in the nuclear age?

Eliot Cohen.

MR. COHEN: It's not obsolete, it was never good to begin with. It's really a case of trying to fight the last war, in this case the Persian Gulf War, and to use that as a way of sizing and shaping the armed forces. It's really the wrong concept.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The third point of the question is this: If, as we all know, a power, a nuclear power, is forced into a corner in a major and serious conflict, it will use, willy-nilly, the nasty -- the big bomb, to protect itself. Therefore, we can handle as many wars and as many -- at the same time as there are. Isn't that true?

MR. : Not quite so, John. If you look at, for example, the Cold War, we fought a non-nuclear war in Korea, another one in Vietnam and another one in the Persian Gulf.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But we had the conventional forces to do it. If we did not have the conventional forces to do it, would we not use nuclear power to contain that front?

MR. : No. We --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Churchill was willing to use anthrax in Germany.

MR. : First of all, John, we don't have to use nuclear weapons. We are the world's sole superpower. Eliot got the issue right. What we've been doing is not to prepare to fight two future major regional wars; we're preparing to fight the last war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The exit question is as follows. Could the United States today, the U.S. military as it is constituted, win a two-front war today? I ask you, Bill.

COL. TAYLOR: On the Korean peninsula and the Middle East? No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I ask you, Joe.

MR. CIRINCIONE: It's very unlikely we're going to face that contingency. If we were forced to do it, yes, of course we could win it.


MR. COHEN: As defined in the planning documents, no.

MR. : We plan to win fast, cheap and antiseptically. We can win, but it will be long, dirty, and casualty-ridden.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think as defined in the documents, the answer is no. I agree with Eliot. We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Bill.

COL. TAYLOR: For the next two months, Senator John Warner and Congressman Jack Murtha are going to start their Coalition for 21st Century Defense, with CSIS. And it's aimed at increasing defense spending because people don't know how bad off our forces are.


MR. CIRINCIONE: The anti-China hysteria in this country will die down after Premier Zhu's tense, but successful, summit with President Clinton. And military and scientific exchanges will continue with the Chinese, as they should.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We all feel better now. Eliot?

MR. COHEN: The chaos surrounding the Indonesian elections in June is finally going to draw some attention to that part of the world, which has been sorely neglected.


MR. KREPINEVICH: Growing concerns over the potential for terrorist chemical or biological attack will lead us within two years to establish a Homeland Defense Command, with a four-star general at its head.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: North Korea by the end of this year will possess a weapon that will be able to hit the continental United States.

Next week, the visit of Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.

Happy Easter. Bye-bye.





MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue five: women in the military.

SEC. WILLIAM COHEN (Secretary of Defense): (From videotape.) One thing is clear: We cannot run the military today without women, and our goal is to find ways to make men and women train and work better together.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: During the Clinton years, the status and treatment of women in the military has attracted more attention than any other aspect of national defense. Stories of adultery, as in the case of Air Force Lieutenant Kelly Flinn and sexual harassment as in the case of drill instructors at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, capture headlines.

Critics of the expanding role of women in the military like Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness argue that this focus on sexual exploits and exploitation distracts attention from the real problem -- namely, women in combat positions has reduced military readiness and lowered standards of performance.

MS. ELAINE DONNELLY: (From videotape.) You can't run the military like a college campus or a pickup bar. You can't allow that and have a strong military.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Notwithstanding critics of the full integration of women into the armed forces, current coed training should continue, including in military boot camp. That was the majority recommendation from the congressionally-appointed Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues in its report issued last month.

Question: Are the advocates of full integration of women in the armed services motivated by considerations of combat effectiveness or is the real battle that they're fighting one of feminist ideology, I ask you, Joe?

MR. CIRINCIONE: Well, I think we should have the Army and the Air Force and the Navy look like the rest of the country. It's been an overwhelming success story, our ability to integrate women into key and, yes, combat missions.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the real danger of women in combat?

MR. COHEN (?): The real danger is that you're going to take a lot more casualties than you need to, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And unit cohesion, too, right?

(Cross talk.)

MR. COHEN (?): The military does not look --

MR. CIRINCIONE (?): There's no evidence for that.

(Cross talk.)

MR. COHEN (?): The military does not look like the rest of society, and you don't want it to. You don't want many 70-year-olds in the military. And there's a real problem with the extent to which we've integrated women as well. I'll tell you, this is the most corrosive issue that is out there, because officers and sergeants know that if they are candid about some of the problems that are out there, and they're candid about it in public, their careers are finished.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean that women cannot meet the physical demands of extended operations? Is that what you mean?

MR. COHEN (?): That's one of the problems. Pregnancy rates and fraternization. You put young men and women together and guess what? They have sex.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying that men will have to pay with their lives if women are in combat positions because women, whether we like to hear it or not, simply cannot physically stand up, keep pace with the men?

MR. COHEN (?): Men and women will pay with their lives, and that's not the only issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Most corrosive issue. Do you agree with that?

MR. KREPINEVICH (?): I think we've got to find a way to square the circle. We've got to be concerned about what's militarily effective in combat, but you also have what Secretary Cohen mentioned, we have a force that's one-third smaller than our Cold War force and we still can't recruit replacements, we still can't retain people. To write off 50 percent of the U.S. society in terms of tapping into that labor pool is foolish.