On a hot July day in 1979 Gen. David C. Jones, testifying to the Senate for all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the SALT II treaty "a modest but useful step," and this may cost him his job. President Reagan campaigned against the treaty, and it was shelved in the Senate. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger wasn't able to tell senators in his own confirmation hearing this month whether he would retain General Jones as head of the Joint Chiefs.
adm. Thomas B. Hayward for the Navy and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert H. Barrow also gave qualified support to the treaty. The issue got into politics, and military men, perhaps, will be more careful about giving their views in the future.
Now Mr. Reagan is President, and it might be helpful to review the situation. All three military men hinged their support for the treaty on massive expansion of the armed services. In a chilling summary General Jones said:
"We [the JCS] are unanimous in our view that although each side retains military advantages, Soviet momentum has brought them from a position of clear inferiority to their present status of at least military equality with the US. . . . In some areas they have already surpassed us and we are concerned because their momentum will allow them to gain an advantage over the US in most of the major static indicators of strategic force by the early 1980s. . . . The Soviets have been out-investing us for 10 years and, for the past few years, their total military investment effort has been about 75 percent larger than our own."
I was present at the hearings, and they made a deep impression on me. Liberal Republican Sen. Jacob Javits of New York observed that the Soviet buildup has occurred "while the US goofed off." That was the mood most of us got.
Halfway through his general warning General Jones came to the SALT treaty specifically, and he weighed technical details. His estimate makes some of the subsequent political denunciations of the treaty seem farfetched. Yes, he said, there are articles in the treaty that Moscow likes; on the other hand "there are also a number of important restrictions in SALT II which operate primarily to our advantage." His summary:
"None of us is totally at ease with all the provisions of the agreement. . . We believe, though, that the risks in this area are acceptable, provided we pursue vigorously challenges to questionable Soviet practices, improvements in the capability of our monitoring assets, and modernization of our strategic forces. In this context, the JCS believe the agreement is adequately verifiable.
"Also, despite differing degrees of concern on specific aspects of SALT II, all of us judge that the agreement which the President signed in Vienna is in the US national interest and merits your support. We believe it is essential that the nation and its leadership view SALT II as a modest but useful step in a long- range process which must include the resolve to provide adequate capabilities to maintain strategic equivalence coupled with vigorous efforts to achieve further substantial reductions."
This is a careful qualified utterance that made a deep impression at the time. Mr. Carter seemed prepared to pay almost any price in US military buildup to get the Soviet-US process of negotiation continued. Some of the political debate that followed during the 1980 campaign seems reckless. Perhaps anticipatting it, Admiral Hayward, when it came his time to testify, declared that "at no time have I received even the slightest pressure from the Commander-in-Chief or the secretary of defense in arriving at my judgments."
The Afghanistan invasion shelved the treaty for the time being. Now Mr. Reagan has taken over. Whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff retain their position in the new administration remains to be seen.