Defense: America's allies should do their share

America seems in a belligerent mood these days as cries are heard for a stronger US military posture. The Carter administration has submitted a record even this is too little. The American public, for its part, also appears willing to support a bigger military effort in the face of growing Soviet adventurism.

The mood may be understandable but it raises a fundamental and serious question: how can the United States continue year after year to expand its defense capabilities, as the President wants, without incurring bigger and bigger deficits and fueling inflation? Put another way, what good will a bolstered military posture do if the US economy, the foundation of America's strength, is increasingly weakened? By 1985, the administration estimates, defense outlays are supposed to reach a staggering $225 billion. Is the American public willing to pay for this (as it did not pay in taxes for the cost of the Vietnam war)?

Whether massive increases in military spending are actually needed is a subject open to debate. But, in any case, we share the view of those who believe that the US cannot be expected to go it alone in meeting the Soviet challenge. In short, it is time for the Western and Japanese allies to play a bigger defense role. Western Europe and Japan, after all, are even more dependent on Middle East oil. They have as much if not more interest in resisting Soviet penetration of the Gulf region. Their own economies, moreover, are by and large strong -- a strength, it should be added, which the US was instrumental in building up. Is it not reasonable to expect, in these days of a heightened common threat, that the industrial democracies work more closely together? And that America's allies carry a greater share of the burden for defense? Secretary of Defense Harold Brown thinks so and we agree.

The fact is, the US continues to spend a greater proportion of its gross national product on defense than do its NATO allies. The figure is roughly five percent. The average for NATO, according to London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, is 3.5 percent. Canada, for instance, spends 1.8 percent of its GNP on defense; Denmark 2.4 percent; France 3.3 percent; West Germany 3.4 percent; Norway 3.2 percent. Britain makes the best showing at 4.7 percent. The Europeans, moreover, maintain comparatively smaller ground forces than the US.

Japan, for its part, spends even less on defense -- under one percent of GNP -- even though the Soviet Union is expanding its presence in the North Pacific. Constitutional strictures and public opinion have much to do with the restrained Japanese defense posture, of course. But even if it were not possible to increase military outlays dramatically, Japan could make a worthwhile contribution in other ways -- by providing economic aid to Pakistan, say. A nation which has benefitted generously from American largess and which is so strong economically ought to be ready for enhanced responsibilities.

This not to say that a huge measure of defense cooperation among the Western and Asian allies does not already exist. It does. But much more needs to be done. Thought should be given, for example, to proposals emanating from the Center for Strategic and International Studies for formation of an inter-allied "common market" for basic defense industries. Says the CSIS study: "If America's Atlantic and Pacific allies were equitably and collectively sharing the financial burdens of defending Europe, defending the Pacific, and defending the energy lifelines in between, total allied military expenditures would be 47 percent less than the Warsaw Pact" instead of slightly larger, with the US carrying the main burden. Within the Pentagon, too, are some voices calling for a total pooling of allied defense resources and elimination of often costly competition in weapons manufacture. Needless to say, the US would have to be more open than it has been so far to the purchase of European-made equipment.

In any case, the goal of the US should be to encourage its allies to become more responsible for their defense. It will always stand ready to come to their help in the event of aggression. But surely collective defense means a collective sharing of the cost. It is time the West Europeans and others, who can afford to do so, begin to pull their own weight.

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