The current Administration has requested and gotten approved cuts of 49,000 US Soldiers, in the Active Army alone. In 2009, it began to cut 20,000 from the National Guard, quietly, without publicity. This year, Fiscal Year 2012, which began on October 1, 2011, begins the Active Army's implementation of the 1st cuts implemented by the current Administration. This is not the first time in military history that the military has been reduced in size, but it is the first time that it has occurred during a war. And the Secretary of Defense, along with members of the Joint Chiefs have warned that these cuts may not be over.
This begs the question: How big must the military be in order to succeed in it's mission? Well, the answer depends on the question of what the politicians expect our military to be able to do? And here we need the historical context of how that has changed in the last 3 decades.
In the 1980's, we faced an expanding Empire, that challenged the United States and Our Allies technologically, as well as exceeded our numerical capacity. Our Allies in Europe and Asia understood the threat that Communism posed and helped bridge the numerical disadvantage, while we accelerated our technological edge and developed a Professional edge in Troops that volunteered to stand the wall, and in sufficient numbers dedicated their lives to that pursuit. The mission was defined as the capacity to fight and win TWO prolonged wars/fronts simultaneously.
The nuclear powers we face today cannot be trusted to understand that a nuclear strike against us would assure their own destruction. Both Iran and North Korea are led by individuals that believe that even killing a few million Americans is worth the complete annihilation of their own people. The Chinese are still rational enough to know that a Nuclear War is not in their interests, and count more on their leverage with our insatiable need for new loans than the threat of MAD.
Instead, the Superpowers fought "proxy" wars, where one or the other might be actively engaged, while the other trained and supplied its enemy's enemy. These wars occurred in Viet Nam, El Salvador, Nicarauga, Angola, Cuba, Grenada, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Afghanistan, sometimes with proxy vs. proxy and others with Superpower and proxy vs. proxy. The closest we came to direct conflicts between the two Superpowers were Korea, Cuba, Germany, and Poland. More than once, the Nukes were readied, as were the Conventional Forces, for WWIII, most times, without the public ever knowing.
By the end of the 80's, the anticipated winner of the Cold War battlefields was America and her Allies. After 40 years of creeping gains of Communism, the United States had turned the tide. It had evicted Communism from Grenada, El Salvador, and had the Nicaraguan Dictator against the wall. The Soviets had lost their will to fight in Afghanistan. The United States had amped up the Arms Race with technology and Troops to a point that imploded the Soviet economy.
Not only did we prove that we could beat their proxies, but that our proxies could beat theirs. When the cowboy-President, Ronald Reagan, stood on a stage, in range of East German & Soviet rifles, and uttered the words: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this Wall," it sent shivers through the Soviet Empire's leadership, and strengthened the resolve of the East German people, the Polish people, and all of the oppressed in Eastern Europe. The World knew, President Reagan was just crazy enough to fight the Evil Empire if they attacked their own people, again. The Soviet Empire fell under the weight of its own people and overstretched economy.
Without a perceived threat, and as we watched our potential enemies fall one by one, to their own people, the Allies determined that we should cash in "The Peace Dividend." We could cut back the amounts we spent on defense, as we were "entering a period of peace," where no nation could realistically challenge us on the battlefield.
Initially, we maintained the policy and goal of being able to fight two wars simultaneously, and winning. There were still enemies of sphere of the old Communist Empire, North Korea, Cuba, and to a lesser extent, China, but given the number that had already crumbled, it was expected they would soon follow.
The Bush Administration concluded this meant 12 Army Divisions, with only 100,000, not 250,000 stationed in Germany. It was politically easier to reduce the number of Troops overseas than in the Congressional Districts of politicians, because Troops spend money on the local economy, even where those Troops are not liked. Still, 6 fewer Divisions, meant there would also be fewer stateside bases, so an independent commission was set up to decide which weren't needed anymore.
Even those areas that displayed an open hostility had Congressmen like Leon Panetta fighting to keep some of the Military, like the Naval Post Graduate School and Presidio of Monterey, in their districts, even as they salivated over the prospect of municipal governments taking over vast areas of Federal land, like Ft Ord, handed to them on a silver platter, after expensive government cleanups. The Federal Government didn't just give the land away, it spent billions before doing so.
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