The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

AMONG the problems awaiting President Eisenhower upon his inaugural on January 20 will be a substantial reorganization in the military hierarchy. In addition to the civilian secretaryships which will be vacant in the Department of Defense, the terms of three top military officials will expire soon after he takes over. Moreover, the structure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff itself is in line for an overhauling.

Despite General Eisenhower’s long friendship with most of the Pentagon “brass,” the re-establishment of mutual confidence will not be easy. Military men are trained, of course, to follow orders and avoid politics. Nonetheless, many of the top officers in the Pentagon, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were distressed over some of Ike’s campaign talk. They did not like his apparent repudiation of universal military training after he had long supported it, and they resented some of his discussion of the Korean war.

General Omar N. Bradley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, served as an army group commander under Eisenhower in Europe, and the two have remained close. Yet at one point General Bradley considered issuing a statement to place the Korean war in perspective. He decided against it on the advice of associates who felt that this surely would have injected the military into politics and might have “ thrown ” the election.

What bothered the military men particularly was Eisenhower’s vague promises to end the fighting. They are not nearly so sanguine about a decisive conclusion, or over the possibility of using more South Korean troops, as Eisenhower seemed to be. Actually, as Stevenson pointed out, South Korean troops for some months have been holding a substantial portion of the line. When the renewed heavy ground fighting broke out in October, there were five South Korean divisions in the line, with five more in reserve. This total of ten compares with seven American divisions and one British Commonwealth division in Korea.

Almost from the beginning the United States has been training Republic of Korea troops, or ROKs, as they are called. Each enlisted man receives eight weeks of training before joining a combat unit, and some 750 men complete their basic training each day. It takes more time to train officers. Recently, however, President Rhee withdrew his objection to the staffing of ten additional ROK divisions with American officers when the enlisted men are available.

The fighting ROKS

American Army men have a profound respect for the fighting ability of the ROKs. Equipped with American weapons, they have proved themselves tenacious and courageous. Some of the ROK divisions have had two years or more of combat experience more than most of the men in the American divisions because of our rotation policy.

It does not follow, however, that South Korea has the manpower resources to take over all of the ground fighting. Contrary to the estimates of two million potential ROK troops, officials here believe that the maximum is about one million men. Health conditions, age factors, and the devastation of the country all combine to limit potential recruitment.

The plan is for the ROKs to assume progressively more of the responsibility as they are able to do so. If there should be a truce the South Koreans would be expected to take over the entire defense of their country, with United Nations backing. If for some reason the Communist Chinese should withdraw, the South Koreans no doubt could take over the ground fighting, inasmuch as there reportedly are only two North Korean divisions in line and three in reserve.

Few Pentagon leaders believe, however, that it would be feasible to replace American troops with South Koreans in the fashion suggested by John Foster Dulles. They object to such proposals first on the practical ground that there simply are not enough trained ROK troops. Second, they believe that to transform the war into one of Asians against Asians would be to abnegate a responsibility of the United Nations.

The State and Defense Departments are actively soliciting more UN contingents for Korea, and there is no set formula that seven American divisions must remain there. The pressures against the Communists are likely to increase, in the form of heavier air attacks on North Korea as well as a tightening of the economic screws on China. Although the present plans call for no attack on Manchuria or China except as a last resort, there is discussion of the possible use of battlefield atomic weapons in North Korea if enemy concentrations justify them.

Military chiefs have confidence in the ability of General Mark Clark to maintain the sort of unremitting pressure that eventually will force a settlement, but there is little hope of an early truce. Meanwhile they are cncerned lest the idea of easy withdrawal rebound. ‘For all its ugly cost, the Korean war has provided the only real checkmate to Communist aggression. As such it is cheaper than either an expanded war or fighting what the mililary men call “brush fires” throughout Asia, especially in Japan.

Lovett and Defense

Many changes are impending in the complexion of leadership in the Department of Defense. It is traditional, of course, for all civilian secretaries to offer their resignations at the start of a new administration. Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett, a Republican, has made it plain that he intends to return to private life irrespective of any request for him to stay on.

Secretary Lovett and Under Secretary of Defense William C. Foster have made an effective team. Both are men of broad outlook and experience in business and government, and they have understood the necessary dovetailing of military policy with political policy. There has been the usual suspicion and distrust between the military and the State Department at lower levels, but relations at the top have been good.

When Lovett and Foster have made decisions, they have avoided the brashness of former Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, who managed to give even his essentially good decisions a highhanded twist. As a result there is a cult of what amounts to Lovett-worship among the military officers.

Undoubtedly the most controversial agency under Lovett’s direction has been the Munitions Board, which is charged with a wide variety of procurement and standardization functions. Pentagon officials admit privately that Chairman John D. Small has been inadequate for the job, though there has been hope that with clearer lines of authority he would pull things together.

The strong point, at the same time, has been the fiscal management of the Pentagon. This has been the responsibility of Assistant Secretary of Defense Wilfred J. McNeil, who doubles as comptroller. McNeil combines a deep understanding of indust rial procurement problems with a knowledge of strategy and a pinchpenny attitude toward the public purse.

Brought in by the late Secretary Forrestal as an assistant, McNeil has been one of the real architects of practical unification. Even the departments that suffer most from McNeil’s insistence on minute justification for every budgeted item have come to respect his knowledge and ability. He comes about as close as anyone in the Pentagon to the ideal nonpolitical public servant, and he has built a staff of unusually dedicated people.

Unquestionably Secretary Lovett had McNeil in mind when last summer he advocated the retention of a permanent secretariat at the assistant secretary level as a means of ensuring continuity in defense.

New Chiefs of Staff?

The terms of three of the four members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also expire early in 1953, and there is intense speculation as to who will replace them. General Omar N. Bradley, who is completing his second appointment as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has indicated on numerous occasions his wish to retire. General Joseph Lawton Collins, the Army chief of staff, also will complete his four-year tour of duty. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the Air Force chief of staff, now on a fourteenmonth extension of his earlier appoinfmenl, is reeuperm mg from a serious operation and is anxious to be relieved of responsibility.

Two years ago there would have been no question of who was to suceeed Bradley. The late Admiral Forrest P. Sherman exemplified, as few persons have, the senior military officer who could rise above the eonfines of his own service and visualize the needs of national defense as a whole. Sherman was a natural for the job also because of the unwritten rule of rot a lion among the services. Mis deal It left the held wide open.

General Collins probably would bo reeeplive to the lop appoinlmenl. and there could be many less felicitous choices. “ Lightning Joed whose largest. previous command was a corps, has grown tremendously under broad responsibility. Aparl from somelendeney to indulge in futuristic statements, he has shown finesse in his treatment of Army problems. One of his praiseworthy concerns has been the behavior of American soldiers abroad. For all his qualities of leadership. however, Collins is regarded by the other two services as too much an Army man.

Admiral William M. Feehteler, the chief of naval operations, is also regarded as somewhat parochial. Fechteler has done a competent job in the Navy, but he lacks the geopolitical mind that a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ought to have, General Yandenberg, meanwhile, is counted out of the running because of his hoalih. Hence the President will have to survey the field carefully for his new appointment.

Revamping the military setup

It is perhaps fortunate that the impending vacancies on the Joint, Cheifs of Staff also may facilitate structural changes in the strategic planning organization. Dr. Vannevar Bush, a man widely respected in Washington for his military insight, has stated most forcefully the need for a stocktaking.

As head of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development, and later as chairman of the Research and Development Board, he has been aculely aware of the shortcomings in military organization. His hook, Modern Arms and Free Men, which was published in 1040, was intensely practical.

Dr. Bush believes that the JCS organization is unwieldy because, apart from the hairman, each of the chiefs must double in brass as the head of his individual service. Accordingly, Dr. Bush has recommended that the members of the JCS be relieved of command and administrative functions and be reconstituted simply as the senior military planning agency to advise the Secretary of Defense.

Illis recomendations a re being view od seriously in the Pentagon, and some sort of legislative recommendation is likely soon after the new Congress coin ones.

Such a reshuffling of responsibility is not a new suggestion. The advantages would he obv ious. The Joint Chiefs would be freed of administrative worries and could concentrate on strategic problems. They would also. It is hoped, be less likely to be motivated by the interests of any one serv iee and more inclined to see the broad picture.

True, the authority of the JCS members deri rives from their positions as heads of the individual services. It might be difficult for them to command the same respccl if the formal tie were broken, though actually their deputies have taken the load of most administrative decisions.

Default in civilian leadership

Not all the troubles of the Joint Chiefs stem, however, from structural flaws, It has been impossible for such men as Lovett, Foster, and Air Force Secretary Thomas K. Finletter (who, in addition to being a competent administrator, is one of the most original thinkers in ihe Pentagon) to fend off requests from the White House for all sorts of quasipoliticai decisions by the Joint Chiefs. This default in civilian leadership outside the Department of Defense, and not an omission in the law, is responsible for the JCS becoming a sort of two-headed call.

Members have been snowed under, moreover, by paper work. Some of this, perhaps, is the fault of the Joint Staff, the collodion of approximately 200 officers of all services who work on so-called “staff papers. But in part, at least, it also results from a tendency in the Pentagon for civilian heads to buck decisions on all sorts of alien questions, such as personal matters, to the Joint Chiefs.

To be sure, the Joint Chiefs have suffered from indecision among themselves. General Bradley, though his own horizons have broadened immeasurably in office, has been more a moderator than a leader. It must he added, in his defense, that under the law the chairman of the Joint Chiefs does not have the power of decision.

The Navy in particular has always resisted propositions to give the chairman of the JCS a “vote” or to create a single chief of staff. “Vote,” of course, is a misnomer, because the deliberations do not include voting. Rather, they consist of informal discussion and persuasion, with the decisions resting pretty much on the sense of the meeting.

Military indecision

It is nonetheless true that the Joint Chiefs have developed an ability to put things off. Some of the perennial harangue between the Air Force and the Navy over air power results from the failure of the JCS in the past to assign priorities between the services in plane procurement. Stronger leadership, with or without the power of decision, might help to compel more pointed conclusions.

It is entirely conceivable that the Joint Chiefs, relieved of extraneous pressures, would find strategic decisions easier. One of the hopes enunciated by General Eisenhower several years ago was that eventually unification would develop a corps of senior officers who had graduated from the partisanship of the individual services and whose allegiance would be to the military establishment as a whole. Exchanges between the services are developing this sort of allegiance in some measure among the younger generation of officers.

This much may be said with certainty. No legislative changes can make the Joint Chiefs of Staff a more effective organization unless the civilian leadership in Washington assumes its own proper responsibilities for political decisions. The remedying of this growing default in civilian leadership is one of the prime challenges to the new Administration.