Experts: U.S. defense lacking at home

By Robert Burns Associated Press Published:

Using the phrase "defense of the homeland" to capture its idea, the National Defense Panel will recommend to Defense Secretary William Cohen and Congress that a military geared toward planning for wars abroad look to what can be done about the risk of smaller assaults on America itself.

That mission is going to become more important as more nations hostile to U.S. interests acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, a panel member said Friday, speaking on condition he not be identified.

The panel's report, which has been in the works since Cohen appointed the members last February, will be made public on Monday. Cohen already has seen a final draft of the report, officials said.

Among the report's other conclusions:

The Defense Department needs a "transformation strategy" for the 21st century _ a blueprint for further adapting U.S. forces from the Cold War era to the security threats that are likely to face America and its allies 20 years from now.

It should devote $5 billion to $10 billion a year to developing that strategy through experimentation with new weapons and warfighting concepts. This would provide the nation with a "hedge" against unforeseen changes in global security.

The Army National Guard's role should be refocused. One possibility would be to develop an expertise in responding to domestic crises such as limited attacks with chemical or biological weapons. This implies reducing the size of the Guard, a move favored by the Pentagon but strongly opposed by many in Congress.

Cohen was right in calling earlier this month for two additional rounds of military base closings. But instead of making those closure decisions in 2001 and 2005, as recommended by Cohen, they should be accelerated. Also, the military services should find ways to share the use of bases.

For the moment the Pentagon is right to structure its forces for the possibility of having to fight two major regional wars at the same time _ most likely in the Persian Gulf and on the Korean peninsula. But the panel describes this as a "low-probability scenario" which soon will be outdated. Scrapping the two-war scenario would imply reducing the overall size of the U.S. military, although the panel does not recommend any specific troop-cut number.

The National Defense Panel was created by Congress last year at the same time it instructed the Pentagon to make a top-to-bottom review of defense programs through 2005. The panel was designed to provide an alternative view of the Pentagon's internal study _ and to take a longer-range look at defense needs.

Four of the panel's nine members are retired generals and admirals; the five others are civilian defense experts. The chairman is Philip A. Odeen, president and chief executive officer of the defense consulting firm BDM International.

As part of its emphasis on "homeland defense," the panel said the Clinton administration was right to put off for now a decision on when and whether to deploy a national missile defense system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

The panel concluded that the Pentagon should put itself in position to deploy an anti-missile defense over the United States "once we get a better idea what the threats are," a panel member said Friday.

The panel did not predict any specific attacks on the United States but stressed that limited attacks by smaller nations or transnational groups are likely to be a growing threat in the 21st century. This is an example of what the panel calls "asymmetric warfare" _ attacks using unconventional means by foes who target U.S. vulnerabilities rather than try to match up against its strengths.

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