Prestigious source on military power charged with errors

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The credibility of one of the most authoritative sources for information on the world's armies and weapons, relied on by press and government alike, is being seriously questioned here.

According to the Center for Defense Information (CDI), "The Military Balance, 1980-1981," published by Britain's prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), contains scores of erros.

"We have identified ovre 100 items of dubious accuracy," says Rear Adm. Gene R. La Rocque (USN, ret.), director of the moderate, even dovish CDI, which has made a study of the section on United States forces in the widely respected IISS document. "There are numerous discrepancies between accurate official US information and the numbers contained in the IISS publication," he avers.

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Admiral La Rocque has written to IISS director Dr. Christoph Bertram listing the alleged inaccuracies along with what he describes as the "official sources" for the accurate information.

Observing that the IISS "is often a major force for sanity in military affairs," La Rocque declares that "in view of the high reputation of 'The Military Balance,' every effort should be made to assure that it is as accurate as possible."

The CDI letter, dated Dec. 8, has not yet reached the London office of the IISS, says information officer Robert Elliot. "Really, until I've seen what they're unhappy about, we've got a problem," he says. "We expect it the end of the week."

Mr. Elliot concedes that he is aware of one or two entries in the latest "Military Balance" that "we did have difficulty with." He says one concerned the Hound Dog stand-off missile "which I frankly missed. It had been taken out [of service] in 1976 and I still had it as being in the inventory."

The IISS publication states that the US has 400 of the missiles. But the CDI , quoting published hearings of the House Appropriations Committee, asserts that all the missiles, which were designed to deliver a miltimegaton warhead some 600 miles from a B-52 bomber, were withdrawn from US Air Force service in 1979. "That was certainly an error and should have come out," Elliot admits.

In his letter to Dr. Bertram, La Rocque notes that the IISS asked the editors of Air Force magazine to make a number of corrections when they reproduced "The Military Balance" in the latest edition of the magazine. "I trust that the media and subscribers to the original 'Military Balance,' which was released in September, 1980, will also be provided with updated errata sheets," he says.

One of the corrections, says Elliot, concerned the total number of US strategic nuclear warheads. "We said it was 7,301. What we didn't include on that was the Air Force figures. The original mathematics only covered the ground launchers and the SLBMs [submarine-launched ballastic missiles], and we should have had the Air Force in there." He says the real total is 9,200.

According to CDI staffer William Arkin there are a total of 105 errors in "The Military Balance, 1980-1981" in the sections dealing with US strategic forces, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. "Bertram is well aware, and has been aware since October, that we were working on this," he says. "This issue has to be cleared up and IISS has to respond in some responsible manner."

He says that he "likes to believe" the alleged errors are the result of sloppy workmanship, but adds that they cannot fail to "cast doubt on the credibility of the rest of the document. If the US section, which is the easiest to verify, has this many problems, then certainly I would question the other sections that are very difficult to verify."

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