US military told to find dollars 11bn worth of cuts

LES ASPIN, the new US Defence Secretary, is ordering the Pentagon to come up with almost dollars 11bn ( pounds 7.5bn) of spending cuts for the 1994 fiscal year as the first stage of a compression of the military that will reduce the total active-duty troop strength by 400,000, or almost one-quarter, over the next five years.

In one sense the reductions are but a long-expected move by President Clinton to pare back the defence budget and shift resources towards his two overriding goals of boosting the domestic economy while making big inroads into the dollars 300bn federal budget deficit during his first term.

In dollar terms, the reductions sought by Mr Clinton fit in with his campaign pledge to cut the Pentagon budget by dollars 60bn more than the previous Republican administration. Indeed President George Bush had planned to reduce defence spending next year to dollars 280bn, dollars 3bn less than in fiscal 1992/1993.

But they jettison an article of faith of both the former President and the Chiefs of Staff, led by General Colin Powell, that an active military of at least 1.6 million is essential for national security by allowing the US to cope simultaneously with two regional conflicts of the size of the Gulf war against President Saddam Hussein.

Instead, the longer-term 'Policy and Programming Guidance' attached to Mr Aspin's demands for next year foresees an active troop strength of just 1.4 million in 1997, compared with 1.8 million at present. Among other things, this means the Pentagon will have to comply with existing legislation, which Mr Bush was hoping to amend had he been re-elected, ordering US forces in Europe to be reduced to 100,000 in 1996 from 185,000 at present.

But even the short-term savings, to be spread roughly equally between the navy, army and air force, could cause some difficulties as Pentagon planners scramble to meet next Monday's deadline for a first set of proposals, barely a week before Mr Clinton's State of the Union message presenting the outline of his economic programme. Many defence experts reckon that even the larger Bush budget for 1993/1994 was insufficient to fund many existing programmes.

The change of adminstration meanwhile has brought a variety of new frictions between a Democratic White House and the military establishment, ranging from the dispute over homosexuals in the armed services to Mr Clinton's inclination towards direct US intervention in the Bosnian crisis, which Gen Powell and his advisers strongly oppose.

Nor is Gen Powell well-disposed to deeper cuts in defence. Last week Pentagon planners made public internal documents implicitly rejecting campaign calls from Mr Clinton for the elimination of 'redundancies and duplications' in the structure of the armed forces. As long ago as March 1992, morever, he dismissed a similar cutbacks blueprint from Mr Aspin (then head of the House Armed Services Committee) as 'unbalanced' and 'fundamentally flawed'.

Under the 1993/1994 plan, the biggest burden falls on the navy and marines, which have to find savings of dollars 3bn. The air force budget is to be trimmed by dollars 2.8bn and that of the army by dollars 2.5bn - in all cuts of some 4 per cent from the spending sought by the Bush administration.

Mr Clinton is also taking an axe to the Strategic Defence Initiative programme, which Mr Bush had tried to expand despite considerable congressional hostility. Next year's 'Star Wars' spending will be unchanged at dollars 3.8bn, instead of rising to dollars 6.3bn as Mr Bush had requested.

WASHINGTON - President Clinton is close to selecting a new nominee for attorney-general, and Kimba M Wood, a New York federal judge who presided over the trial of the junk-bond trader, Michael Milken, is a leading contender, AP reports.

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