Pentagon Adapts, Faces Soviet Threat, Defense Official Says

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

DEPUTY Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood Jr. says the last year has been ``the most exciting in the 50-year history of the Department of Defense.'' It was a year that has seen vast changes sweep through Eastern Europe, greatly affecting both the future structure and mission of the United States military. Mr. Atwood discussed both the changes and their consequences for the Pentagon during a wide-ranging interview with Monitor writers and editors this week.

European security. ``The threat of a major land war in Europe is greatly diminished and would happen only after a long warning time,'' Atwood says. Still, the Soviet Union possesses ``the most awesome strategic arsenal the world has ever seen.''

Atwood opposes any US troop withdrawals from Europe while negotiations are under way on NATO-Warsaw Pact conventional and strategic force reductions. At the same time, he says that progress in those talks to date has been ``good,'' and that the administration hopes for agreements-in-principle by this summer and signed documents by the end of the year. ``We agree about tanks, artillery, and aircraft, but there is a lot to be done yet, specifically in strategic weapons,'' the deputy secretary says.

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The Pentagon budget. Atwood denies that the Pentagon budget is in a ``freefall.'' He says the Pentagon's 1990-91 budget request is ``needs-driven, not fiscal-constraint-driven.''

In its current budget review, he says, the Pentagon has asked each service to determine what it needs to maintain national security. At the same time, detailed studies are under way of major weapons systems such as the B-2 Stealth bomber, the C-17 air transport, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. Based on the results of these reviews, in May the Pentagon will release its budgetary forecast for the next several years, Atwood says.

Threats to US security. ``The biggest threat is still the Soviet Union's nuclear-strike capability,'' Atwood says. ``Hopefully the threat will lessen with [signing of] a strategic arms agreement.''

Another primary threat is the possible spread of nuclear weapons to developing countries such as Iraq, he says. Several people were arrested in London last week after allegedly trying to smuggle triggers for nuclear bombs from the US to Iraq.

``It's a very destabilizing situation,'' Atwood says. ``We need to make sure we have not only a deterrent, but a shield capability.''

The deputy secretary also points to the increasing conventional capability of some developing countries, which have graduated from being ``mischief-makers'' to possessing ``a capability ... for major action.'' He says the US needs ``smaller, more flexible, rapidly deployable forces'' to counter such threats.

The ``rift'' with the Central Inteligence Agency over Soviet developments. ``I don't think there is a genuine rift,'' Atwood says. He says press reports about disagreement between the two agencies over change in the Soviet Union revolved around whether the change was ``reversible.'' ``Both see a lessening of tension for a land war. The non-Soviet Warsaw Pact states are now focused on free democracy and a free economic system. But there is a continuing pattern of Soviet modernization. ... They still make three times as many tanks as we do annually,'' he says.

Export licensing. The Pentagon is reducing its role in the export-licensing process. US companies must be ``unshackled'' to compete with Swiss, Japanese, or other competitors for East-bloc sales, Atwood says. Business has repeatedly criticized the export-licensing system, which was tightened under President Reagan. ``We're trying to take a more realistic approach,'' says Atwood, a former General Motors Corportion executive.

Personnel reductions. As the US draws down its forces, Atwood says, it is important to remember that the military consists of professionals who intended to make the armed forces a career. Force cuts will create a surplus of mid-career officers (majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels) which must also be reduced.

``We can't force people out,'' without seeking a way to preserve the dignity and honor of the officers who would be, in effect, laid off, Atwood says. ``You can't recruit new officers if you don't treat your existing officers right.''

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