The U.S. Military's Manpower Crisis

Courtesy Reuters


Three hundred forty-five million dollars can, roughly speaking, buy one F-22 Raptor -- the U.S. military's new stealth fighter plane -- or pay the average annual cost of 3,000 soldiers (although it would cost far more to equip, maintain, and deploy either the fighter or the troops). The soldiers are a better investment. Yet U.S. military personnel, pundits, and policymakers have been downplaying the importance of ground forces since 1991. Even today, in the face of ongoing, manpower-intensive counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration is emphasizing long-range strike capabilities over land forces. The recently released 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review and the president's budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 both reaffirm this priority.

The administration has maintained this emphasis despite the fact that the long-term neglect of U.S. ground forces has caused serious problems in the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns. If not corrected, moreover, this neglect will cause even worse problems in the future. War is fundamentally a human activity, and attempts to remove humans from its center -- as recent trends and current programs do -- are likely to lead to disaster.


The current manpower crisis in the U.S. military predates both the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Iraq war. The problem started in the early 1990s, when George H. W. Bush began recklessly cutting military spending without paying enough attention to the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) uses to which the military would be put. Bill Clinton accelerated these cuts, even as the number of U.S. forces deployed abroad steadily grew. By the end of the decade, the U.S. military was overstretched and inadequately staffed for the missions it faced.

Calls for Washington to reverse some of the cuts began to proliferate. Just what critics were asking for, however, varied dramatically. Some recommended an increase in traditional military spending. But others demanded that more money go to research and development (R & D) in order to spur a "revolution in

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