Defense Secretary Harold Brown has spelled out for a generally receptive Congress the need for his proposed $15.3 billion defense budget increase -- which some congressmen find too small.
He has also reminded the Soviet Union and US allies that rising international tension is all the more reason why SALT II, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty , should not be permanently shelved.
SALT, the Defense Secretary told the House Armed Services Committee Jan. 29, "serves our national security interests -- even more so when the Soviets are aggressive -- but the timing of its ratification must defer to the urgent need that we assess and respond to Soviet actions in Afghanistan."
Past Soviet willingness to negotiate arms controls, Dr. Brown implied, makes future controls even more desirable. SALT II, he recalled, puts ceilings on the superpowers' bombers and missile launchers, permits US intelligence to monitor Soviet compliance, and avoids constraints on US weapons-development programs. A number of congressmen regarded this as almost-ritual support of SALT II.
Facing criticism from such congressional hawks as Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska for not asking for more new defense money, Secretary Brown soberly recalled that in 1979 "the Soviet military effort was about 50 percent larger than our own."
The Defense Secretary's 300-page annual report to Congress was backed up by a further statement on US military posture by Gen. David S. Jones, USAF, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He warned of a "significant" increase in risk of a US-Soviet conflict before 1985, but said he doubted Moscow would launch a first nuclear strike. Secretary Brown said:
* By directly using its own military power and the armies of surrogates like Cuba, the Soviet Union directly threatens the Western energy lifeline. Recent Russian moves in South Asia "make a volatile situation even more explosive."
* The United States now has adequate ground forces to meet such threats. The problem of lift capacity to move them quickly to where they are needed is to be solved through pre-positioned basing ships and a fleet of big, new cargo planes capable of carrying heavy tanks and other large equipment. Access to Middle East bases is also needed.
* African oil and mineral resources, needed by the US, are endangered by Soviet and Cuban military aid to African radicals. Nearly 40 percent of American oil imports, and about two-thirds of light crude oil imports used for gasoline and military purposes, come from Algeria, Libya, and Nigeria.
* In East Asia, struggles between rival communist forces which threaten to spill over into Thailand and a continuing North Korean military buildup require US vigilance and strength, at a time when US naval forces have been moved from the Pacific into the Indian Ocean to meet the Afghan and Iranian crises.
* In the worldwide strategic arena, the Soviets "are attempting to undermine US confidence" in its defense "triad" -- land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and bombers.
The Soviets, says Secretary Brown, will soon have enough accurate intercontinental missiles to threaten most American Minuteman and Titan missiles in their fixed silos -- meaning that "a significant part of the triad would be eroded and that the Soviets would be encouraged to undermine the rest of it."
The US answer, Dr. Brown repeats, is the administration's decision to proceed with mobile-based missile development (the MX plan, now in trouble because of local opposition in Utah and Nevada to putting the "racetrack" missile system there), and to modernize the other two legs of the triad.
* In Europe, the US has responded to the threat of Soviet multiple-warhead SS-20 missiles and the Backfire bomber by preparing deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles.
SALT II could control these systems.