Pentagon: Ready For Two-On-One

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North Korea's sudden shift of nuclear policy has forced the United States to confront two diplomatic challenges at once, both with the potential to become military confrontations — although the United States has carefully avoided rattling sabers against North Korea the way it has against Iraq.

That begs the question: Can the United States fight two wars at once?

From 1993 until last year, the Pentagon subscribed to a two-war doctrine, requiring it to be able to "defeat large-scale, cross-border aggression in two distant theaters in overlapping time frames."

But last year, the Pentagon changed its strategic tune to "building a portfolio of capabilities that is robust across the spectrum of possible force requirements." The idea was that given the asymmetric nature of combating terrorism, the biggest threat was not multiple wars at once but a myriad of new and different forms of combat.

However, the QDR stipulated that "The United States is not abandoning planning for two conflicts to plan for fewer than two," but rather bracing for how to win against even more threats.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said as much Monday. "We are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts," he said. "Let there be no doubt."

" We are capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other," the secretary said.

War with Iraq and North Korea would, however, be a tall order. According to the Center for Defense Information, the U.S. has about 1.3 million total troops and 1.2 million reservists. But not all those troops could join a war in either or both places, because at least some would be needed for ongoing missions elsewhere and homeland security duty.

North Korea has about a million fighting people, and 4.7 million in reserves. Iraq has a total of about a million, half of whom are full-time soldiers. According to the Defense Department, it also has the world's largest special forces, with 100,000 troops.

However, the United States holds a vast advantage in terms of equipment. It has more of it — six times as many airplanes and eight times as many helicopters as Iraq and North Korea combined. And its equipment is probably more sophisticated than its potential opponents'.

What's more, the United States has allies that could help if conflict broke out in either place. On the Korean Peninsula itself, South Korea claims about 4.5 million active and reserve troops.

By Jarrett Murphy