Washington — Sen. John Tower (R) of Texas -- who had been mentioned as a top contender to head the Defense Department -- is urging a thorough rearmament program for the United States. Such a thrust would "raise the threshold of risk" for the Soviet Union around the world, and particularly in the Persian Gulf, he says.
"We do that through strengthening our strategic capability, improving our conventional capability, our theater nuclear capability, and getting on as quickly as possible to improve our maritime posture," he told a recent gathering at the Overseas Writers Club.
Senator Tower -- who is due to inherit the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee in January -- refuses to speculate on reports that he was one of those being considered for the post of secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Noting that "at the moment" he does not have to choose between the Senate chairmanship and the Pentagon, he declares: "Should anything occur that would compel me to make that choice, I would meditate on it very prayerfully indeed." Some observers believe Senator Tower now is out of the running for the Pentagon post.
The senator says he attaches "first priority" to rebuilding the nation's Navy so as to maintain a full-time naval presence in the Indian Ocean without having to deplete fleets in European and Asian waters. "As a chief boatswain's mate in the United States Naval Reserve, I have a slight naval tilt," he declares with a smile. Then he quickly adds more seriously: "However, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee I will be very objective."
Declaring that the cancellation and delay of vital strategic systems will leave the US without a credible nuclear strategy within three years (he favors a countermilitary strategy, "not an incredible threat to launch mutual suicide on the Soviet population and our own"), Senator Tower urges "dramatic action" to secure:
* The "earliest possible enhancement" of US land-based missiles "in a survivable configuration."
* Development of the Trident 2 missile.
* Development of a manned penetrating bomber for the 1980s, "and, then, a follow-on system using the best technology available."
The Texas senator adds that he would like to see US theater nuclear capability in Europe enhanced, noting that it is currently inferior to that deployed by the Soviet Union.
"The state of readiness of our conventional forces is not satisfactory," he continues. "Many of our divisions in the United States are not combat ready for various reasons, ranging from personnel shortages to lack of material. The Army is short more than 45,000 noncommissioned officers; the Navy is short over 22, 000 petty officers; [and] overall, we are short more than 6,000 pilots because of the erosion of pay and benefits they have suffered in recent years."
To staunch the flow of talented men and women from the military and maintain the readiness of US armed forces, Senator Tower believes "badly eroded" pay and benefits must be restored. "In other conventional areas, we must restore our procurement rates of tactical aircraft so that we at least replace annual losses. We are not doing that today. We must rebuild our stocks of ammunition and parts so that we can last more than a few days in any conflict."
To meet these personnel, operations, and maintenance costs, and to "provide funding for our Indian Ocean presence," Senator Tower says he expects President-elect Reagan to seek some $7 billion in additions to the fiscal 1981 military budget. He contends that the additional expenditure will be necessary because the Carter administration failed to "come in with about a $7 billion 'fact-of-life' increase" to meet such costs.
Last week the Senate passed a $161.1 billion military appropriations bill, the largest in the nation's history and $6.5 billion more than President Carter had requested. Now this will have to be reconciled with a $157.5 billion bill passed by the House last September.
Senator Tower says that increased military spending can be met with cuts in domestic programs. "I think we can make substantial economies in domestic spending. I believe that this [new] administration will make wise, selective decreases."
He says he feels the American public will support increased defense expenditure "being aware, as I perceive them to be, that we are falling into a position of dangerous inferiority with the Soviet Union in terms of military capability." The Senate Budget Committee has projected a defense expenditure of
In Senator Tower's opinion, "hopes for fundamental change in Soviet goals are illfounded." Moscow, he says, "will seek to expand its influence in areas even closer to vital US and allied interests, and we ignore that at our peril."
Military power, he maintains, "gives credibility to our diplomacy . . . assures that we will be taken seriously, deters aggression, and . . . is the fundamental underpinning of any hope for continued peace in the world." In the view of some military analysts he might well have echoed the words of Frederick the Great, who declared: "Diplomacy without arms is music without instruments."