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Rio Grande; Defense ’99

Program 9902
January 12, 1999


Ira Clark, Professor Emeritus of History, New Mexico State University

Bill Addington, Sierra Blance Legal Defense Fund

Bess Metcalf, Executive Director, Rio Grande Basin Coalition

Steve Koziak, Director of Budget Studies, The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.


JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground.

BILL ADDINGTON: Of course the Rio Grande was named as an American Heritage River by President Clinton. And I don’t see how a national nuclear dump for states like Maine and Vermont, and other states, later, could in any way, shape or form be a way to protect the Rio Grande.

MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, a report on the Rio Grande basin and the effort to save it from pollution and overuse. And then later in the program, the United States spends a lot of money on defense and the President is urging that we spend even more. Are we getting our money’s worth?

STEVE KOZIAK: Today we have a very effective force for dealing with another country that’s armed with fighters or armed with tanks or armed with surface ships. And we proved that to a large extent in the Gulf War. But we may not have the right kind of military to confront very different kinds of challenges that we may face in the future, like ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons, biological weapons.

MARTIN: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin.

President Clinton last year declared the Rio Grande an American Heritage River. But the river suffers from decades of pollution and battles over its waters. Now a movement in the United States and Mexico is trying to counter those problems and restore the river ecosystem. Kent Paterson has this report.

[sound of rushing water]

KENT PATERSON: Under the gaze of New Mexico’s Oregon Mountains, a ditch supplies water to local farms. Connected to the Rio Grande River, this asaquia?? is part of a modern irrigation network that’s the latest man-made innovation to tap the life waters of the region. Centuries ago it was indigenous people who first began harnessing the Rio Grande. Ira Clark is Professor Emeritus of History at New Mexico State University.

IRA CLARK: That’s one of the probably, get into, is that too many ignore the fact that the water was being used for irrigation long before the coming of any white people. But their systems are so unsimilar and so it was easy to adapt to each other.

[sound of rushing water]

PATERSON: After the Spanish and American conquest of what is now the US Southwest, competition over the Rio Grande’s waters grew. By the early Twentieth Century big farmers, state politicians, land speculators and the US and Mexican governments all jockeyed for their share of the river’s waters. Professor Ira Clark explains why an international imperative prompted the federal government to step in and take control of the Rio Grande’s flow.

CLARK: Recognition that the idea that all water should be under state control was wholly fallacious because there were times when the federal government had to have control over the disposition of waters. That was the point which they recognized the need of the federal government to be able to build dams or handle the water, that would serve national purposes rather than simply state purposes.

PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER: That’s the biggest catch of the tournament. Seventeen pounds, 6 ounces. You own the money. All right.

[sound of cheering and applause]

PATERSON: One result was the construction of irrigation works like Elephant Butte Reservoir here in New Mexico. Now a popular recreational spot, the big lake hosts sporting events like this bass tournament. Upstream and downstream from Elephant Butte, the river is used for many other purposes. Indian tribes need the Rio Grande for ceremonial reasons, while cities dump municipal into its currents. These activities frequently pit users against each other. At the same time, the Rio Grande is increasingly plagued by environmental degradation, sedimentation, toxic dumping, water shortages, and the disappearance of native animal and plant species, from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.

[sound of environmental activists singing a protest song[

PATERSON: The crisis facing the Rio Grande is encouraging cross-border activism. For instance, citizens from the United States and Mexico recently were instrumental in stopping the state of Texas from approving a low-level radioactive waste repository near the town of Sierra Blanca, located only about 18 miles from the river boundary separating the two countries. Opponents feared hazardous waste would eventually leak and contaminate aquifers and the river.

[sound of people talking at a meeting]

On a broader level, citizens from Mexico and the United States, gather every year on the border to strategize over different ways to preserve and restore the river. At this meeting of the Rio Grande Basin Coalition in El Paso, TX, activists discuss plethora of issues. They include wastewater treatment, pollution of Native American lands and the controversy over the Sierra Blanca dump. Bill Addington of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund says conferences such as this one are invaluable in building networks.

BILL ADDINGTON: Of course the Rio Grande was named as an American Heritage River by President Clinton. And I don’t see how a national nuclear dump for states like Maine and Vermont, and other states, later, for their atomic waste that they produce every day, and then of course the power plants themselves, the entire decommissioned power plants, dumped so close to the border, could in any way, shape or form be a way to protect the Rio Grande. When in fact you look at it every such dump in the United States, the government admits and confirms has the leak their daily contents in their soil and water. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done here in educating the public. And of course forcing our leaders, our elected officials, to start protecting our health and safety. And of course the precious water of the area.

I see it as a value, to exchange information and to learn. I don’t know how many people do anything about the things they hear here today, whether it’s my issue—or our issue I should say—about the wastes on the river, the radioactive waste and the sewage sludge we’ve got from New York City. We have the largest sludge dump on Earth here in Sierra Blanca also, from New York City. But getting people, even if we reach just one person that will do something it’s worthwhile to me. And hopefully we’ll reach more than one.

PATERSON: Founded four years ago, the Rio Grande Basin Coalition, serves as a forum for both governmental and non-governmental groups. Bess Metcalf, the Coalition’s Executive Director, outlines her group’s principal goal.

BESS METCALF: Start looking at the Basin as a river basin and not just as it’s pieces. Because one of the things identified in this meeting in ’94 was that nobody knew what was going on. And I still find that too, to be true. People downstream don’t have a clue as to what’s going on upstream. And what happens upstream has everything to do with what happens to them. And vice-versa. You know, there’s, people are really focused, and understandably, on their own issues. But they’re not really able to look at the bigger picture. Or even know what’s going on innovatively upstream or, that could potentially help them. And particularly across the border, US-Mexico.

So that was, the intent was to help cross-pollinate information, help break down some of those barriers across borders, and state borders, and international borders, between organizations. And also to help break down the borders between NGOs and some of the other stakeholders in the basin: farmers and ranchers and some business people. And try and foster that, kind of help find common ground among all these groups. The feeling being that if, in order to really confront sustainable development in this basin, or sustainability in this basin—not just sustainable development, just sustainability—there needed to be a lot of education and a lot of kind of meeting of the minds. It needed to be more kind of finding common ground and fewer law suits maybe. Or lawsuits, just figuring out different ways, different strategies to kind of build some connections between groups and come up with solutions that were possibly win-win solutions, when that’s possible.

[sound of speaker at a meeting]

PATERSON: Metcalf adds that one concrete accomplishment is the annual Day of the River. Every Fall people from the United States and Mexico pitch in to clean up the river. The participants range from environmental groups to government agencies such as the National Park Service and Keep El Paso Beautiful.

METCALF: We have a celebration each year called Dia Del Rio. And this will be it’s fourth year. They did kind of, that’s one of the first things that came up with when they sort of pulling together this organization. And it’s a basin-wide celebration of the river. It’s geared at celebrating the river and remembering how important the river is to this Basin. Life would hardly be possible if the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos and the Rio Pecos and all the, this whole system, didn’t exist. And also to raise public awareness and public involvement in river issues and sustainability issues. So each year we’ve had, each year it’s kind of grown. Last year we had a 25 different cities participate. And about 6,000 people in the US and Mexico. Doing all sorts of things like from tree plantings to river clean-ups to symposiums on river issues or toxics or whatever. Whatever the local groups pretty much decide and we just provide the loose umbrella and provide some financial support for that.

PATERSON: Gabriella Valle Ochoa is coordinator for the Coalition in Mexico. According to Valle Ochoa, the Coalition is holding educational workshops on river ecology in poorer neighborhoods and providing grassroots groups with technical and computer networking support. She says her group has achieved some other modest gains during the last few years.

Gabriella Valle Ochoa: [speaking via a translator] For example, in the city of Juarez the river bank has been cleaned and three nature parks have been established. The river bank in Reynosa has been reforested. While in the Rialto the whole river bank has been cleaned up and a pretty little nature park has been established there too. In Chihuahua people are working on reforesting the Conches River. In Ohinagua we’re trying to reduce the salinity. Those are the best things we’ve done.

PORTER: Valle Ochoa says the Coalition is attempting to broaden the appeal of their issues and not confine them to the exclusive clubs of environmentalists. In this sense ecology and the economy are integrally linked.

Gabriella Valle Ochoa: [speaking via a translator] We don’t only focus on the ecological problem. We believe that if people don’t have food and a job we can’t force an ecological consciousness on them. We have to help them find work and improve the place in which they live, in order for people to be concerned about the environment. This is the type of development we’re seeking for the river basin.

PORTER: Underlying the work of the Rio Grande Basin Coalition is a philosophy that views the river as a single ecosystem. According to the Coalition’s Bess Metcalf, this watershed approach is gaining currency in Mexico and the United States, where even government agencies are forming river councils and considering new ways of thinking about old problems.

METCALF: More informally, I know the Mississippi River, which is an enormous—I think the Rio Grande is huge, but they have 22 states—but there are a couple of different coalitions that are emerging. Like an interstate coalition and also a grassroots coalition. And they are trying to begin to look at some of the issues that they have in common. So I think that more and more, that’s the way—EPA’s approach is now turning to watershed approach. They’re really urging and supporting a watershed approach. So that’s more and more how it’s sort of an emerging trend. And how not only, rather than just looking at resources individually, kind of looking at things as a whole ecosystem. And watersheds are the perfect way to do that. Because they are sort of a contained entity.

[sound of rushing water]

PATERSON: The Rio Grande Basin Coalition is growing. Still, the group has a formidable task ahead of it. With population growth continuing at high rates in the region, the stakes are high. Ultimately, the Coalition’s success or failure will depend on whether it can convince historically contentious governments, the agricultural industry, and others, to all cooperate for the sake of the Rio Grande ecosystem. For Common Ground, I’m Kent PATERSON reporting.

MARTIN: We’ll break for a moment and when we return, an analyst who has pored over the entire US defense budget raises some questions about how wisely money is being spent.

STEVE KOZIAK: We have three new fighters, which over the next several decades will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to procure. And one wonders whether there is a power out there that is really going to try to confront us in the air again the way the Iraqis did so unsuccessfully during the Gulf War. And if that’s not the case then maybe we’re spending too much on those kinds of systems.

MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.


In 1999 the United States will spend about $279 billion on defense. Common Ground correspondent Keith Porter sat down with a leading expert on military spending to see just how much bang we’ll get for the Pentagon buck this year.

PORTER: President Clinton asked for just over $270 billion in defense spending this year. When Congress completed the appropriations process they authorized about $8.5 billion more than that. Crunching these numbers to determine just what the mean in terms of war, peace, and security, is no easy task. But one Washington, DC think tank does it all the time. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is a highly regarded research group which issues non-partisan analysis of defense strategies and budgets. In an effort to make sense of 1999 defense spending, I sat down with the Center’s Director of Budget Studies, Steve Koziak.

STEVE KOZIAK: The overall defense budget, which is about $270 billion, a littler over $270 billion, is subject to the caps on discretionary spending which were part of the overall budget agreement that was reached in 1997 between Congress and the Administration. In addition to that there is $8.3 billion in emergency spending for defense. And it’s questionable whether all of that is truly emergency spending.

PORTER: But it is a mechanism that allows us to spend more than the caps say, right?

KOZIAK: Right.

PORTER: In legislative practice that’s how it works.

KOZIAK: And some of the things are I think arguably are the, there’s some additional money for readiness which has been declining. They’ve had trouble with equipment maintenance and recruitment and retention. And some of that is unexpected. And so I think that is fairly characterized as emergency. There’s other portions, for example, an additional $1 billion for ballistic missile defense; funding, another $1.5 billion for intelligence funding; and some other things which I think it’s not really clear why that is considered an emergency. If that was to be funded why should not that have been funded through the regular appropriations bill.

PORTER: You mention this idea of Congress appropriating more money than was asked for. We hear about that a lot and can you tell us specific cases where that happened this time? That Congress appropriated money the Defense Department didn’t ask for?

KOZIAK: Well, there are particular weapons systems where they, the Congress, over the past 3 years Congress actually added a lot of money to Defense. In fact they added about $20 billion more to the Defense budget than the Administration requested over that period of time. This year they didn’t, in the regular appropriations bill, at least, they didn’t actually add more money. But they shifted money around. Which Congress also typically does. So we had funding in there, for another large amphibious assault ship. There was money for some additional F-16 aircraft, which the Administration did not request. There was, in the supplemental, as I say there was additional money for ballistic missile defense, about $1billion, that the Administration did not request. And then there’s also some funding for relatively modest—but we’re talking about perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars—programs in the military construction budget. For example, in other little projects that help particular members’ districts and states.

PORTER: In your estimation does this appropriations bill make us safer, more secure? Does it add to the defense and our ability to project force around the world?

KOZIAK: Overall I think it probably does. Certainly we have a military of about 1.4 million troops. Much of this money goes to simply paying those people, paying the 700,000 or 800,000 civilian personnel we have working for the Department of Defense. Much of it is just maintaining what we currently have. I think where we have some questions, where I have some questions, is whether we’re perhaps spending too much to meet today’s threats, which by historical standards, and certainly by the standards of the Cold War, are relatively modest. And maybe not enough money to prepare for future kinds of threats.

PORTER: I do have a couple of terms that jumped out at me as I was looking through some of the documents. The one is “military revolution.” And I see that in a lot of your Center’s documents. And then I also see the term “defense modernization,” which shows up in a lot of Defense Department publications or rhetoric. What do those two terms mean? And are they related?

KOZIAK: Well they’re certainly related. Defense modernization generally refers to the procurement account and the R&D accounts within the military. That is, R&D is the money that we spend, over $35 billion a year now, investigating, developing, researching, new kinds of technologies, and developing new kinds of weapons systems. The procurement account, which is about $48 billion this year, is for actually buying new weapons. So we buy, we’re buying new aircraft, we’re buying new ships, we’re buying new missiles. What the “revolution in military affairs” or the “military revolution” refers to is the fact that we may be now entering a period where technology is changing so rapidly, especially computer-related informational technologies, that we’re in a period like we were before World War II where we saw militaries shift away from the battleship, for example, to carrier aviation. And we saw ground forces shift away from sort of static infantry kinds of units to the blitzkrieg concept that was developed by the Germans. And air power, strategic aerial bombardment, for the first time became effective. And so it was a very, because of changing technology and also changing concepts of operations, we saw a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of military forces. Again, it’s not just a question of technology changing, but also concepts of operations changing. And so we developed very different kinds of forces. And our concern is that today we have a very effective force for dealing with another country that’s armed with fighters or armed with tanks or armed with surface ships. And we proved that to a large extent in the Gulf War. But we may not have the right kind of military to confront very different kinds of challenges that we may face in the future, like ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons, biological weapons. And that we should be spending more on researching and developing those kinds of technologies rather than the traditional systems that we’re focused on.

PORTER: In the past at least we have always sort of fought the last war. Do you see that being the case now? Where we’re sort of fighting the old enemy and not the new enemy?

KOZIAK: Well I think to some extent that’s true. Again, we’re spending a lot on new generations of fighter aircraft. The F-22 fighter, the F-18EF, and the Joint Strike Fighter. We have three new fighters, which over the next several decades will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to procure. And one wonders whether there is a power out there that is really going to try to confront us in the air again the way the Iraqis did so unsuccessfully during the Gulf War. And if that’s not the case then maybe we’re spending too much on those kinds of systems.

PORTER: And we were in a world before where the Soviets were continuing to upgrade their fighter capabilities as well. And we no longer face anyone who’s got that technological capability, do we?

KOZIAK: Right. There are certain countries which have a small number of advanced fighters. But as you say, during the Cold War we were not only worried about a country that had advanced fighters, but who had, which had hundreds of thousands of advanced fighters. And now we’re talking about countries like Iraq or Iran who may have a few high technology fighters but not a lot of them. Now there’s other reasons to buy fighters. They don’t just simply fight other aircraft. They also attack ground targets and you need improved fighters to take care of more advanced anti-surface-air missile systems and things like that. So there is certainly a reason for some, making some advances in those kinds of technologies. But again should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars in those areas. When we’re spending very little on certain new technologies. For example, the Navy was planning to build a small number of what were called arsenal ships, which would be a ship which might have a crew of only 50 or 100 personnel compared to 5,000 for an aircraft carrier. And instead of carrying aircraft it would carry several hundred long-range missiles, ground attack missiles, like the Tomahawk, for example. And that offered the potential to not replace carriers perhaps, but to supplement carriers. And make it so that we didn’t have to rely on carriers so much. Because carriers are very costly. It costs close to $5 billion to build one; got to build all the support ships. You got to maintain them year after year. It’s a very costly proposition. So the Navy was looking into the idea of these arsenal ships but ultimately canceled it because they couldn’t find the money for that because they’re spending so much on these other systems, these more traditional systems. And again, we’re not talking about a huge investment in these new technologies, but just setting aside a small portion of the defense budget to research and develop these kinds of technologies.

PORTER: Let’s say you’re someone who believes that the US really has no choice but to be a sort of global cop. The world policeman. Great power imposing some kind of order around the world. From someone who has that point of view, how do you analyze the defense budget? I mean, are we—and the current status of the defense infrastructure? Are we where we should be if you have that particular point of view?

KOZIAK: I think you’re right that you have to look at the point of view that you have. And you have to talk first, the first order of question you should be answering is what kind of role does the US have in the world? And obviously if you think it has to be a world policeman you’re going to have a different set of requirements than if you think it just has to take care of the homeland and maybe engage in occasional military operations around the world. But I think you also have to look at what your time horizon is. Do you think that the threats are especially bad today or do you think they’re likely to get worse in the future. Cause if you have a fixed amount of resources you can’t have, no power in the world has ever had so much money that it can afford to be absolutely secure. You always have some level of risk. And part of the question today is, “do you want to have risks today or do you want to have greater risks tomorrow?” And I think that the force structure in the military we have today is geared primarily towards fighting today’s, meeting today’s challenges. And much less so geared towards countering tomorrow’s challenges. And when I say tomorrow I’m talking 5, 10, 15 years out into the future. But of course what we buy today, aircraft typically are in service for 20 years or so. A ship might be in service for 40 or 50 years. So the decisions we make today very much affect the kinds of forces we have and the kind of strategy we can implement 10 or 20 or even more years from now.

PORTER: So let’s say someone was certainly more of an isolationist, who believed in a strong defense, but no more. That protecting, like you said, protecting the homeland is goal number one, and beyond that doesn’t want to see much money spent. What would that person like and not like about the current defense spending?

KOZIAK: Well I think one thing that we might want to discuss a little bit is that our current strategy, there are two important parts of our current strategy that really drive the costs. One is that we have a two-war requirement. We have a requirement that we be able to fight two major theater wars nearly simultaneously. And win those wars quickly and decisively. And the theaters people really talk about are the Middle East—either Iraq or Iran—and then in East Asia, on the Korean peninsula. So those are the two areas where we currently are maintaining a capability to, if necessary, fight two wars nearly simultaneously. And again win them very quickly, very decisively.

The other driver is having an ability to have a very active forward presence even in peacetime. So we have carriers deployed forward in East Asia, we have carriers deployed forward in the Mediterranean, we have carriers deployed in the Indian Ocean, and we also are carrying out peacekeeping operations in Bosnia currently, and elsewhere, in Haiti and Somalia, over the past several years.

And we also, so those are the two big drivers. If you don’t think it’s necessary to have that two-war capability, if you think a capability of fighting and winning just one war quickly and decisively is adequate, and maybe in the other theater being able to just hold on long enough so that once you’ve won the other war you can shift forces into that second theater, well then that could significantly reduce the amount of money you have to be spending on forces. If you think that you don’t have to be carrying out peacekeeping operations, if you don’t believe in operations like Bosnia, those kinds of peacekeeping operations, or don’t believe that you need a, the argument is that it does a lot of good politically to have carriers present, for example, in these forward areas of the world. If you don’t believe it does, then obviously you don’t have to have as many carriers to maintain that presence. And that can save a lot you a lot of money. So it really does depend on your overall perspective on what you think you need forces for.

PORTER: That is Steve Koziak, Director of Budget Studies for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

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