The challenge to arms control from American innovative genius

While Americans are typically materialistic about their success in technical fields, they are also animated by values implicit in technological innovation, values such as self-fulfillment - the restless American competitive genius ceaselessly working at innovation.

For some, failure stems principally from fear or loss of courage rather than insufficient financing. Between private venture capital and generous public funding, plenty of money exists for America's new high-technology industries, a situation in marked contrast to West Germany, where major private investors are reluctant to fund unproven, innovative companies. Future implications of the combined power of technological ingenuity, business expansion, and personal achievement for important fields of public policy in the United States can scarcely be imagined.

What kind of arms-control program, for example, can contain the US high-technology success story in space, when such advances are sustained by innovative genius and material rewards in today's booming high-technology fields? Certainly this technological prowess should, in the first instance, enhance defense and deterrence.

But should there also be limits on this defense, given the extraordinary amount of human ingenuity behind it? And what will ultimately be the Soviet response to this astonishing American success story in the domain of technique? In their defense? At the arms-control table?

For some who know Soviet science and technology firsthand, there is agreement that the USSR possesses a brilliant basic science establishment, lavishly supported, but with poorer technological application in certain areas than we have. Yet without vast internal economic reform, it may prove difficult for the Soviet Union to keep pace with the United States in fields of high technology vital for its future defense, even with an elaborate policy aimed at technology transfer (overt and covert), thereby increasing the possibility of rash steps in Moscow to adjust the military balance with us.

Our major allies may also find themselves increasingly backward in technological competition with us, with consequent suspicions that the United States, as a matter of deliberate policy supported by military as well as civilian funding, is seeking a dominant position in world high-tech markets at their expense. For West Germans this experience is particularly frustrating due to problems in finding the necessary entrepreneurship and venture capital to match US leadership in key fields.

As concerns about American ascendency mount for different reasons, among its adversaries and allies alike, the United States finds itself in a position somewhat analogous to Athens in the world of ancient Greece, on the one hand admired for its free, innovative genius, and on the other hand, feared for the expansive vitality of its enterprise. We would surely not want the Soviet Union and our allies to find common cause for concern with our dynamism nor give them any unintended reasons for a marriage of convenience against us.

Is the current ''hibernation of the bear,'' as described by Secretary George Shultz, a portent of what we may face over the rest of this decade as we undertake a defense in so-called ''high orbit'' regions and elsewhere which may not be matched by Soviet technology? Here the mere fact that Americans are energetically pursuing research and development may be as disquieting to the Soviets as actual deployment of space weapons, despite what some of their spokesmen claim is the implausibility of a ''star wars'' defense.

And are current difficulties with our major economic and military allies over subjects like nuclear-weapons policies and high interest rates merely a reflection of changing generations and simple misperceptions, or are these friends disquieted by the ambigious implications, for themselves, of a runaway American vitality which is both cause for praise and concern? Two areas where this disquietude manifests itself are economic policy and arms control.

Our present impasse in arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union seems obviously determined, in part, by certain immediate political developments - an administration in Washington quite suspicious of the Soviet Union and a situation in Moscow clouded by difficulties in succession and political economy.

At the same time, however, our own leadership may not have grasped the full significance, for public policy, of stimulating so vigorously high-technology ventures and the ingenious defense applications such technical advances promise. Our current commitment to rapid expansion of high-tech industries may require an equally strong determination to encourage imaginative arms control policies that can prevent dangerous instability in our relations with the Soviet Union and serious misunderstandings with our allies. We have yet to hear enough from either of our major political parties about the challenges to arms control posed by US innovative genius.

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