By Caspar Weinberger and Peter Schweizer
Regnery 470pp $27.50

Sometime next year, Washington will launch a debate over the U.S. military's future. A major report by the Pentagon and another by an independent blue-ribbon panel will prod policymakers to come to grips with the post-cold-war, balanced-budget world. What should the Pentagon do, what should its overall budget and allocation of dollars look like, and how many soldiers are enough? Budget plans don't provide the money to modernize all of the current force of 1.5 million troops. And the growing number of Pentagon peacekeeping operations takes money from training, preparedness, and procurement. With finite funding, something has got to give.

Unless you're Caspar Weinberger. In The Next War, written with Hoover Institution scholar Peter Schweizer, the onetime Defense Secretary and current chairman of Forbes magazine offers a series of parables masquerading as war scenarios that diagnose the military's ills and prescribe the remedy Weinberger invariably favored when he was at the Pentagon: more money. Whether the enemy is a North Korea-China axis, Iran, Mexico, Russia, or Japan, underfunding is the culprit producing inadequacies in training, airlift capability, intelligence, and troop levels.

You can read The Next War as a military novel, and you may find it riveting--if you like rivets. It offers nuts-and-bolts accounts of military campaigns, inundating the reader with such Pentagon acronyms as AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems). Weak character development, however, flattens such fictional figures as U.S. President Michael St. John (who has a ''telegenic face'' and ''good breeding'') and Taiwanese Air Force Major Li Fei-Kan (''a small man with a cherub face''). Still, as the book goes on, readers can be swept up by the action.

And literary merit is hardly vital, since The Next War is intended to score as a political tract. If you give any credence to the authors' nightmares, you can understand why conservatives still call for increased defense spending despite such promising signs as a Russian military that couldn't defeat Chechnya and inept ballistic-missile efforts by the one rogue state--Iraq--that has tried them.

The projections, which Weinberger says are based on government intelligence simulations, spin out logically from dubious initial premises. Take the first one, which has North Korea forging an alliance with China. North Korea uses biological weapons on U.S. troops in South Korea, quickly takes over Seoul, then lobs a nuclear warhead at resisting GIs. Pyongyang's allies in Beijing, meanwhile, try to take Taiwan, send 300,000 troops across the Yalu River to help the North, and launch their own nuclear attack on U.S. forces. Washington exchanges nuclear strikes with both. But in the end, the U.S. signs a peace accord allowing the North to occupy Seoul because America lacks the military might to best China and North Korea in a land war.

In another section, Washington is surprised by Moscow's development of a sophisticated, multiple-layer ballistic-missile defense and is forced to withdraw from Europe. In a third, the U.S. pulls back troops from the Persian Gulf when Iran threatens to loft a nuclear weapon toward Europe, which it later does anyway. And Washington is reluctant to respond for fear Iran will look like a victim.

Trouble is, these situations don't ring true. China, for instance, has given up on North Korea, and one U.S. expert on China and its military forces, former U.S. Ambassador to Korea and China James R. Lilley, calls the notion that Pyongyang would ever attack Seoul ''insane.'' It's also unlikely that Russia would be able to develop and deploy a huge, airtight antiballistic-missile system without U.S. knowledge. Finally, it's improbable that the U.S. would fail to respond forcefully to an Iranian nuclear attack. No public-relations campaign could turn a nation that launches a first strike against innocent civilians into a victim.

Because nuclear weapons are involved, the outcome would be different from the Persian Gulf War, a conflict that raises a critical point the authors ignore. If overwhelming military might were the only thing that mattered, Saddam Hussein wouldn't be in power. But strategic and diplomatic considerations also play critical roles, whether in preserving a regional counterweight to another rogue nation or in holding together a global coalition. So while the conclusions of the conflicts in the book clearly are unsatisfactory to the authors, more Pentagon spending wouldn't inevitably change these outcomes. And the fact remains that the U.S. spends as much on defense as the next six big spenders combined.

But there is one point in the authors' favor. Weinberger conceded at a recent press briefing that the possibilities he poses would require foreign governments far different from those in power now. So he and Schweizer are raising questions about long-term, not short-term, threats. Will a nationalistic leader try to expand Moscow's empire to the English Channel? Will a maniacal Mexican leader destroy the economy, driving millions of immigrants north? Will a trade war with the U.S. and high unemployment spur Japan to start a war? Interesting questions, all. Even if the answer to each is ''unlikely,'' policymakers must ask what threats we do need to prepare for. It's a question Washington has ducked for too long.



Updated June 13, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1996, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use