Defense and the President-elect

By , Gene R. LaRocque, Rear Admiral, US Navy (Ret.), currently directs a defense research group in Washington.

In the heat of a political campaign reality can be only dimly perceived. Politics and defense are particularly ill-suited companions. After we brush away the campaign rhetoric, no easy task, it becomes clear that President-elect Ronald Reagan and his advisers have little new to offer, just the old formulas of attempting to solve complex international problems through through throwing our military muscle around. This has not worked in the past and there is no reason to believe it will work in the future.

Mr. Reagan's tendency to rely on his advisers is especially troubling in the military area. We should note what John Sears, Reagan's former campaign manager , has said: "I have been asked many times how Reagan goes about making a decision. The answer is that his decisions rarely originate with him. He is an endorser. IT is fair to say that on some occasions he is presented with options and selects one, but it is also true that in other instances he simply looks to someone to tell him what to do."

The military advisers around Reagan, for the most part, hold extreme and narrow views of the world about us and are prone to advocate highly questionable military solutions.

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No matter how hard some may try to make it appear otherwise, the national security issue in 1980 is not disarmament versus armament but rather, what areas of military spending can actually improve the defense of the United States? If we are to spend more on the military, how can this be done most efficiently and with real results?

The American people want a strong defense but they do not want to throw money at the military just for the sake of appearances. A public opinion poll just released by Newsweek is instructive. The question was asked: "What is the nation's most serious problem: that not enough money is spent for defense or that the money that is spent is not used efficiently?" Seventy-two percent responded "not used efficiently," while only 15 percent said "not enough money."

There has been growing recognition this year that the first priority for military expenditures should be ensuring that the existingm military establishment, including personnel and weapons, is utilized in the most appropriate and efficient manner. There are already too many extremely costly programs in the military budget today which are in competition with each other.

President Carter has programmed at least $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) for the military over the next five years. There is not going to be much more than that available for defense, irrespective of last Tuesday's election results.

Hard choices are necessary. Mr. Reagan, through his rejection of SALT II, advocates an expansion of US nuclear weaponry and an uncontrolled nuclear arms race with the Soviets. Some of his advisers propose that the US seek a nuclear first-strike capability. I can only agree with Gen Maxwell TAylor, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that an emphasis on a nuclear arms buildup would be at the expense of manpower, weapons, and equipment essential to improving combat readiness of conventional forces.

The SALT II treaty is very much in the security interests of our country. It has been endorsed by the military officers leading the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. It is only through putting some reasonable limits on nuclear weaponry that we can hope to free the resources to concentrate our military efforts on those sectors that do require improvement. It is idle dreaming or pure political rhetoric to claim otherwise.

The constant denigration of American strength that Mr. Reagan and his advisers have engaged in for years is both factually flawed and damaging to our international position.

Our country is not military weak. President Carter has not neglected US defenses. We and our military allies are equal to or superior to the Soviet Union and its allies in all important measures of military power. In the areas of nuclear weaponry, military spending, military technology, number of men under arms, naval forces, forces for distant intervention, forces for war in Europe, and the overall balance of world power the Soviet Union is inferior to the alliance of powers opposing it. The soviet Union faces a more hostile and troubling world than does the United States.

But the Russians do have powerful military forces. They are the only country that could destroy our country. There are improvements that can be made in the US military. We must be strong and must work with our allies to be strong together. The point is, however, that we should not panic ourselves with illusions of our own impotence or exaggerate alarms about imminent Soviet world domination.

The President-elect's desire for a big nuclear buildup is logically connected with his obsession with the Soviet Union as the source of all the world's problems. Mr. Reagan has stated that he believes "the Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on."

But he cannot simultaneously maintain that the Soviet Union is embarked on a single- minded pursuit of world domination through military superiority and also argue that it will acquiesce in easily surrendering this alleged military superiority. IF the Russians actually are as tough and malevolent as Mr. Reagan alleges, we cannot push them around without a brinksmanship that will genuinely risk world peace.

It is a stark recipe for trouble to see the Soviet hand behind every conflict in the world and to advocate greater US readiness for military intervention to deal with this alleged Soviet threat. This is the kind of simple- minded thinking that led us into the Vietnam quagmire under the illusion we were combating the Russians or Chinese.

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