The politics of defense: abroad and at home

Military analysts Barry Blechman and Edward Luttwak have been fighting each other on the ''dove'' and ''hawk'' sides of America's defense debate for more than a decade.

Now the two have decided to join forces. They will be doing the research for what they hope will be a major annual review of challenges to US security. The review's focus will be on changes in the balance of military power, both nuclear and conventional, between the United States and the Soviet Union.

If Messrs. Blechman, the dove, and Luttwak, the hawk, can agree on anything substantive, it could help to provide the basis for a new consensus on defense needs. Such a consensus has been lacking since the 1960s, when the Vietnam war split the country.

Blechman and Luttwak say that most studies of the kind they are contemplating tend to magnify the differences between opponents in the defense debate rather than point to areas of agreement. One result, they say, has been the lack of any authoritative, evenhanded assessment of the military balance.

When the two put out their final product, however, their names are not likely to be the leading ones attached to it. Other, more prominent luminaries in the defense field will be offering suggestions and revising drafts submitted by the two. Former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger will head a bipartisan board of former high-ranking government officials. Board members are to agree on and present the final report, due for publication in early 1984.

The board will be sponsored by Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Funding will come from both the Carthage and Rockefeller Foundations.

According to David Abshire, the president of the center, there is a critical need for the projected review because Americans have become ''polarized'' over the past 15 years.

''Existing descriptions of security problems are, or are perceived to be, partisan or ideological,'' Mr. Abshire said. ''Far too often, polemics have been substituted for analyses.''

In the 1970s, Blechman and Luttwak, who are now both CSIS senior fellows, found themselves frequently debating defense issues. They appeared as opponents before committees, seminars, and television they also developed a friendship over the years. And they discovered that a lot of unnecessary emotion and rhetoric was clouding the defense debate, thus leading to more political controversy than there needed to be on defense issues.

The differences between the two scholars remain nonetheless large.

Blechman is a Democrat and former assistant director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who has negotiated for the Carter administration with Soviet officials over proposals to reduce conventional arms sales to third world nations. He has been a strong supporter of the strategic arms control, or SALT, treaty which was negotiated by the Carter administration. He is highly critical of the Reagan administration's efforts in the arms control field.

Luttwak is a Republican who has worked as a defense consultant to Republican administrations and is happy to be called a hawk. He says he believes that the Reagan administration has done much more good than harm with its defense programs and that its defense spending plans are closing many gaps. He is more skeptical about the wisdom of previous arms control agreements than Blechman is. Luttwak places more emphasis on the role of military power in world politics than Blechman does, and he favors more of a confrontational policy toward the Soviet Union.

On several points the two scholars agree. They say they believe that most proposals for a freeze on nuclear weapons would not make for good defense or good arms control. They agree that intermediate-range American nuclear missiles ought to be deployed in Western Europe, as planned, starting in December of this year. They also agree that the Soviets hold superiority in the field of heavy, land-based nuclear missiles.

On one point at least, Blechman is the hawk. Thanks perhaps to his past work with the Center for Naval Analyses, Blechman believes that the US has been too lax in enforcing restraints on Soviet naval deployments to Cuba and the Caribbean.

In an interview, Luttwak said that the aim of the CSIS-sponsored study would be to define the challenges to US national security in the most precise way. He said that the aim would not be to dilute estimates until agreement can be reached.

According to Luttwak, a good marriage counselor does not avoid dealing with areas of conflict. In a similar way, those working on the national security report are expected to confront their differences in a direct but also careful, well-defined way.

''Everybody's differences are probably much less than they were originally perceived to be,'' said Luttwak. '' . . . The magnification of differences has degraded the quality of our thinking on these subjects.''

Luttwak said that by working together, he and Blechman would ''keep each other honest, as it were.''

In addition to James Schlesinger, the bipartisan board will include Edmund Muskie, former secretary of state; Gen. Maxwell Taylor and Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; W. Graham Claytor Jr., former deputy secretary of defense; Adm. Bobby Inman, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Walter Stoessel, former deputy secretary of state; and R. James Woolsey, former undersecretary of the Navy.

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