Is the Western alliance military muscle more than a match for Soviets?
As Republicans and Democrats exchange opening salvos in a national defense debate that promises to become a fierce artillery duel by the fall, a lobby group here is claiming that "the US and its allies are superior to the Soviet Union in all elements of national power."Skip to next paragraph
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The Center for Defense Information (CDI), a moderate, even dovish organization, that supports " a strong defense but opposes excessive expenditures or forces," says there is "an ingrained tendency in our government to overstate Soviet military power and understate US and allied strengths."
Rather than compare the military budgets of the United States and the Soviet Union, declares the CDI's monthly "Defense Monitor," the total military spending of NATO and the Warsaw Pact should be compared. While NATO spent $215 billion in 1979, its rival spent $175 billion, the organization maintains. "Including Chinese military spending with the Western allies gives a combined anti-Soviet military expenditure of $265 billion in 1979," it adds.
Apart from being outspent by NATO and the Chinese, the CDI asserts that WARSAW Pact forces also are outnumbered by them. While the latter can field about 4.8 million men, NATO can muster 5.1 million, it states. When China's 4.4 million are taken into account, the CDI continues, the Warsaw Pact finds itself facing 9.5 million men. Moreover, the quality of NATO artillery, antitank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, helicopters, tactical aircraft, and air launched missiles "exceeds that of the Soviets," it adds.
Indeed, the CDI declares that the alliance's lead in the quantity and quality of antitank weapons and tactical aircraft "perhaps more than compensates for the pact's advantage in the number of tanks."
On the basis of US Defense Secretary Harold Brown's assertion that a rough numerical balance exists between NATO's immediately available nonnuclear forces (including those of France) and the Warsaw Pact in the central region of Europe, the CDI concludes; "This contradicts the widely held view that the Soviets could easily conquer Western Europe in a lightning Blitzkrieg,"
But this conclusion seems to be at variance with the defense secretary's observations on NATO in his annual report to Congress earlier this year. Though Secretary Brown felt the Atlantic Alliance would be "much more nearly in balance" with the Warsaw PAct in Central Europe, provided it modernized and ensured the rapid deployment of reserves, he declared that "even with these reinforcements, NATO will not have as high a level of confidence as I would like of containing a large attack by the [Warsaw] Pact launched with little preparation and warning."
The CDI makes no mention of the oft-repeated assertion by Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, that, "NATO has a questionable capacity of sustain a conventional defense of Europe because of continuing severe shortages in available stocks of ammunition and war reserve equipment, a lack of sufficient strategic sealift and airlift resources, and the absence of a reliable manpower mobilization base."