Rumsfeld says big increase in military spending needed to prepare for future wars

Tuesday, February 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday the biggest military spending increase in two decades is needed to prepare U.S. troops for future wars even as they fight today's battle against terrorism.

Those tasks are made harder because the Pentagon also needs to rebuild after a ``decade of overuse and underfunding,'' he said in promoting the administration's $379 billion budget plan to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

``When the Cold War ended, a defense drawdown took place that went too far ... overshot the mark,'' Rumsfeld said. ``Now, through the prism of Sept. 11, we can see that our challenge is not simply to fix the underfunding of the past.''

Instead, Rumsfeld said, the Defense Department has three difficult missions at once _ win the worldwide war on terrorism, restore forces with what he called long-delayed investments in weapons, personnel and facility improvements and transform the military for 21st century warfare.

``Our adversaries are watching what we do, they're studying how we have been successfully attacked, how we are responding and how we may be vulnerable in the future,'' he said of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America.

``And we stand still at our peril,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that President Bush will decide soon whether the Geneva Conventions apply to al-Qaida and Taliban fighters detained at the Navy base at Guantanamo, Cuba.

But, Powell said, whatever the decision, ``They will be treated humanely according to the precepts of the convention because that's the kind of people we are.''

He also said there is a consensus within the administration that they are not prisoners of war, but other provisions of the conventions might apply to their situation.

Rumsfeld was appearing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, to woo support for the budget plan Bush submitted to Congress on Monday.

For the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the plan would add $48 billion in budget authority to the Pentagon's spending. Bush would add more each succeeding year, reaching $451 billion in spending authority for 2007.

When past years' budgets are adjusted for inflation, that would be second only to former President Reagan's 1985 budget of $451.8 billion. In 1981, Reagan's first year in office, the Pentagon budget grew by nearly 25 percent.

The committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., opened the hearing by praising the job America's military has done in the first stage of what officials say will be a yearslong war on terrorism _ the campaign to root al-Qaida terrorist and Taliban supporters from power in Afghanistan.

But Levin also sounded some years-old concern about Pentagon spending.

He said that although the war is rightly Rumsfeld's No. 1 priority, lawmakers also want to see a detailed strategy for transforming the armed forces and progress in improving financial management at the department infamous for decades of bad accounting and waste

Speaking ahead of Rumsfeld, Levin also noted that America's military successes weren't built in months but were rather the result of efforts over previous administrations as well.

``The success in Afghanistan is a tribute to recruitment, training and investment over many, many years,'' Levin said.

The budget proposed by Bush includes billions for high-tech weapons and the war against terrorism with old-style pay boosts for the troops.

It includes a 4.1 percent increase in basic pay for the military.

Seven cents of every dollar in the proposed spending plan is devoted to the war on terrorism, including more than $1 billion to continue flying fighter aircraft over parts of the United States as a precaution against a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The budget puts money into buying a new generation of stealthy fighter jets and more precision munitions. It accelerates development of pilotless planes, converts four nuclear submarines to vessels that can fire cruise missiles and insert Special Forces into battle, and invests in new combat communications systems.

The budget does not allow for expanding the active-duty force beyond the 1.4 million now in uniform, but is supposed to help transform the military into a more versatile force that can prevail over so-called unconventional enemies.

The total earmarked for combating terrorism next year is $27 billion, of which $10 billion is considered a war reserve.

The Pentagon says it has spent about $7 billion so far on the war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7. The costs have grown so rapidly, officials say, that Rumsfeld already has decided he must ask Congress for more money as early as March.