While disagreeing intensely over the Iraq war, there seems to be one thing on which conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are in accord: Iraq demonstrates the need to increase the size of the Army (and, many will add, the Marine Corps). Last fall, in a rare show of bipartisanship, the Congress voted what may be a temporary increase of 30,000 for the Army. During the Presidential campaign, Senator Kerry called for an increase in Army personnel by 40,000. More recently, a number of defense conservatives and so-called neo-cons have demanded increases of up to 100,000. Many of them argue that this increase is needed not for Iraq, but for interventions that are likely to occur in years to come.
It seems that the only ones opposed to the idea are Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior leadership of the U.S. Army. Rumsfeld argues that the Department of Defense has not done enough to make efficient use of existing manpower and adding more manpower would reduce the Services’ incentives to become more efficient. Moreover, the Secretary argues, in the all-Volunteer Army recruiting more soldiers will place a financial burden on the Army for decades to come. The Army’s Chief of Staff, General Schoomaker, makes a similar argument. Both of them would rather spend the money on transforming the Army, creating a better-equipped, more modular force that they believe could do more, even in Iraq, than could a larger Army that was not transformed.
Those who argue for a larger Army and Marine Corps do so for the best of motives. However, their logic is faulty. Those concerned about the situation in Iraq must recognize that additional Army and Marine Corps units would not be ready for service there for years to come. The money and effort it would cost to increase the size of the Army would be better spent on building up Iraqi forces or finishing the Army’s transformation.
Those who want more troops for future interventions first have to explain not merely where this might occur, but why the United States would choose to replicate the Iraq experience and conduct a large-scale, long-term occupation of a hostile country. But even if we accept the purposes for the increase, they cannot provide an adequate rationale for its size. Given the realities of rotation practices, 100,000 extra soldiers would mean no more than 30,000 more actually in theater. To be really sure that the United States can carry out any future large-scale stability operation it would seem prudent to plan for between 250-300,000 U.S. forces deployed in theater. This translates into a desirable end-strength for the Army/Marine Corps of between 750-900,000. The cost of such a force would be staggering.
The United States needs a strong military. This does not mean it requires a larger Army even if one were affordable. The Army of the future must be able to acquire and exploit intelligence rapidly and effectively. It must move rapidly and fight decisively. To do these things, the Army must invest in new technologies. This is more important than adding additional soldiers.
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