Defense -- the unresolved question
Washington — Now that congress and the country are showing they are ready to support whatever is necessary to redress the military imbalance with the Soviets, half of the problem is in train.
But only the lesser half. A far more difficult decision remains to be made. The decision that is unresolved is what kind of weapons should be produced in what quantity and in what priority to accomplish what purposes.
On this matter the Joint Chiefs of Staff are not in agreement with President Carter. Carter does not agree with Ronald Reagan and the top officials of the Pentagon do not agree with the top senior retired officials who were their predecessors.
It is all to the good that the House of Representatives in response to growing public anxiety passed a new defense bill by the overwhelming majority of 351 to 42. This measure provided for $20 billion more than last year and $2.5 billion more than the administration had asked.
This vote erases the recurring doubt that the American people are not alert to the need to build our security forces equal to the mounting dangers of the 1980s.
But there is pervasive doubt that either the administration or the Congress has any balanced agenda of what defense forces are requisite to meet military missions which are not yet clearly defined.
Fortunately some fresh military advice is coming from detached and informed sources.
We all know that the proclaimed Rapid Deployment Force cannot be rapidly deployed because we do not have the forces to deploy it rapidly. In this point James R. Schlesinger, secretary of defense under President Ford, speaks out:
"In a recent review of the backing and filling with the military budget, Newsweek was conned into believing that we are now undergoing 'the speediest military build-up since Vietnam.' If that were so, it would be more than impressive, it would be miraculous. It would be the first significant military budget build-up in the nation's history that has taken place without new funds, new personnel, new units -- and in the face of reduced production of conventional military hardware."
R. James Woolsey, former undersecretary of the Navy, asked, "What about non-nuclear war?" and raises the point that we are recklessly neglecting to get ready to fight the kind of war with which we would most likely be confronted.
Retired Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, who was chairman of the joint chiefs when Eisenhower was President and who was military adviser to President Kennedy, has the credentials to be heard and heeded. He says:
"By giving top priority to strategic weapons and thereby to preparations to forestall the least probable of our major military threats, it will lead us to expend much of our resources on the wrong things in the wrong order of priority. It will confirm us in the neglect of our conventional forces despite their present shortages in trained men, weapons, equipment, and munitions necessary for combat readiness."
There are two temptations which are likely to be very alluring to the politicians. One is to go all out for strategic nuclear weapons; they are the glamour weapons and funding them hastily is attractive. The other temptation is to talk about building a military establishement equal to the Soviets'. But that doesn't mean US military forces should be constructed in the image and likeness of the Soviet military mix.
Russia's military objectives and military needs are not ours. I cannot escape the conviction that instead of saying, "Let's get our defenses equal to or larger than the Soviets'," we ought to set ourselves the goal of getting a strong defense establishment which will fully meet the specific security requirements of the United States.
That is what General Taylor is saying when he remarks: "We cannot get forces capable of such a task by racing and slavishly imitating the Soviets, thereby adding their judgmental errors to our own."
Wouldn't there be merit and wisdom for the next president, whoever he is, to create a high-level panel with several respected members outside the administration, including two members of Congress, to take a fresh look at how we should proceed to meet our defense needs during the next several years?