(13 of 13)
The Chairman ought to be given a stronger hand to deal with interservice disputes. An even more radical suggestion, made by Army Chief of Staff General Ed ward Meyer, should also be considered: removing the dual hats that the Joint Chiefs wear as the heads of their respective services. Upon promotion to the Joint Chiefs, a general or admiral should be beholden to only the President and the military as a whole. The current Chairman, General John Vessey, has resisted major reforms to the structure of the top command.
The 400-member staff that serves the Joint Chiefs should all wear "purple uniforms," meaning they should not owe their allegiance to their respective service branches. The law restricting tenure on the staff to three years should be repealed, and the Chairman, rather than the four services themselves, should appoint the members. The fear that a powerful "general staff" could become a dangerous political force is outdated and bogus. Potentially, the Joint Chiefs, with a truly independent staff, might even be able to budge the entrenched bureaucracies in the Pentagon to adopt innovative doctrines. At the very least, they could be responsible for setting priorities in weapons procurement.
The ideas proposed by the reformers have been sharply disputed by many in the military Establishment. Indeed, there are compelling arguments on both sides of most questions about weapons procurement and fighting strategy. The disputes which are healthy will no doubt become more contentious. In the next two weeks, Spinney is expected to brief three more congressional committees.
The one issue that is clear from this growing debate is that the problem of funding the nation's much needed rearmament cannot be solved by knocking out a billion dollars here and there each year. To be sure, Congress will have to look carefully at the proposed fiscal 1984 budget and set priorities, which the Pentagon has thus far failed to do. But the real challenge will be to reform the way the military spends its billions. If the defense Establishment continues to squander money on a small number of expensive weapons, it will also squander the public support that is crucial for a defense buildup. But if the winds of reform swirling within and around the Pentagon help dispel the climate of mismanagement and waste, the military will have not only more money but also more fighting strength. By Walter Isaacson. Reported by Bruce W. Nelan, Christopher Redman and Evan Thomas/Washington