Clinton adds $100bn to arms budget

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON has proposed the biggest increase in US defence spending since the end of the Cold War in a weekend announcement critics say is linked to his impending impeachment trial.

In his weekly radio address, the first of the new year, Mr Clinton said that he would be asking Congress for a $12bn (pounds 7.5bn) rise in spending on the armed forces in the next financial year (2000), and a total increase of more than $100bn over the next six years. It will include substantial pay rises for troops.

"We must undertake this effort today so that our nation will remain strong and secure tomorrow," he told his audience, which included US servicemen stationed overseas. "The more we ask, the greater our responsibility to give our troops the support and training and equipment they need."

Mr Clinton made his announcement on the eve of tomorrow's meeting of the Senate Armed Services committee - the first of the new Congress - which is to discuss US military readiness.

The committee chairman, John Warner, said the timing of Mr Clinton's announcement was "very clever", but said that it "falls way short" of the needs of the armed forces as estimated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year, and that Congress would probably increase the sums sought by Mr Clinton.

A Pentagon official quoted by The Washington Post said, however, that the increase proposed by Mr Clinton would cover most of the needs regarded as "critical". Mr Clinton's announcement was also seen as reflecting two further considerations: a year-long campaign by the Pentagon and the Defense Secretary, William Cohen, to convince Mr Clinton that spending on the military was perilously low; and the Senate decision expected this week on how it will proceed with the President's impeachment.

The US top brass has complained for months that military budgets are too low. There were reports of flight training hours being cut because of fuel shortages, of equipment replacement running behind schedule and the need for large pay increases for officers. Despite the reported success of last month's US-British air attacks on Iraq, military morale is reported to be low.

But the promise of higher defence spending was also seen as one component in extensive White House lobbying designed to "square" individual constituencies in advance of the new Congressional session.

Mr Clinton has used the past two weeks to give assurances to a host of different interests, including those concerned to secure housing for the low-paid, pensioners, and now the all- important military.

Relations between Mr Clinton and the armed forces have been difficult because of his reported Vietnam draft-dodging and his allowing gays to serve. The perceived double standard between his behaviour with Monica Lewinsky (a junior White House employee) and the punishment meted out to adulterous and lying servicemen has only exacerbated the ill-feeling on the part of the military.