Britain's Conservative government has published details of the most resolute defense policy to have come out of Whitehall for a generation. Defense Secretary Francis Pym intends to spend $:11 billion ($22 billion) over the next year -- 3 1/2 percent more in real terms than the previous Labour government.
And in successive years defense spending will continue to rise in line with the declared NATO policy of seeking to match the Warsaw Pact's heavy military program. Issuing the Thatcher government's first defense white paper, Mr. Pym said scarce national resources will have to be switched from civil to military programs to fulfill the new policies.
The defense secretary cited "the ever-growing threat to the interest of the West from the military power of the Warsaw Pact, and from the Soviet Union in particular."
Russia, he said, had broad nuclear parity with the United States, and a Navy that was rapidly expanding. Its conventional ground forces pose a major threat to the NATO central front. The British response had to be the pursuit of a much more ambitious defense program, with more than 40 percent of spending devoted to military equipment.
In a white paper of great complexity, supported by a wealth of published statistics, Mr. Pym described a military threat to Britain and the West that tends to make East-West detente a secondary element in government calculations. In contrast to earlier years, the world detente hardly appears in the defense secretary's outline of political and strategic priorities.
In a striking development of defense policy, Mr. Pym raised the idea of issuing women in the British services with military arms. He is in favor of the idea in principle and wants it to be debated in Parliament. The idea is controversial, though Mr. Pym's intention at this stage is that if women in the services do carry arms, it will be for self-defense only.
The Labour opposition defense spokesman rapidly began attacking Mr. Pym's decision to boost spending and his apparent intention to replace the submarine-launched Polaris nuclear deterrent with a highly expensive new generations of strategic nuclear delivery systems. Labour believes Briain's economy is too weak to sustain a heavy increase in defense outlays.
At many points in his white paper, however, Mr. Pym had made plain that he thinks the previous government's approach to defense was inadequate.
Both the Prime Minister and the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Geoffrey Howe, are solidly behind the dedense secretary in his intention to authorize progressive real rises in defense outlays.