Security clearly ranks with the domestic economy in having the highest priority for the Reagan administration. But achieving security in the 1980s will be a complex task, perhaps more so than the administration now realizes.
So far its stress has been on military hardware and forces. Despite sharp cuts in the total budget and social programs, defense funding has been raised dramatically. The purpose is to correct imbalances resulting from 15 years of steady Soviet buildup across the board, and lagging US defense spending in the 1970s. While the effort began under Carter, the new budget substantially expands his program, without greatly changing its composition.
It will be unfortunate if this massive buildup, which will settle the character of US forces for several decades, is carried out without a fresh look at the tasks for the 1980s and beyond and the military capabilities they will require. The decision of Defense Secretary Weinberger to ask a special committee to reexamine the basing mode of the MX missiles was a sensible step. But a much wider and more basic review of strategy, priorities, and weapons systems would be in order.
Military hardware, however, is only one element of our security. Aside from the strategic nuclear deterrent, most of the other defense tasks require the collaboration of the NATO allies, Japan, and others. Nuclear parity and the enhanced Soviet capacity to project its power, as well as the critical importance of Middle East oil, all require readjustments of strategy and roles.
That will not be easy. The Europeans have their own perspectives and their own domestic political problems. They want a US lead but are not prepared to follow blindly or without question.The West Germans have their special concern for detente. Many younger people are skeptical of defense spending and must be convinced that it serves European interests; speeches like that of Richard Allen recently are not helpful to European leaders attempting to persuade their youth. Fortunately, Secretary of State Haig seems more sensitive to the European situation. In Europe, arms control plays an important role in relation to defense. In the 1979 decision on theater nuclear forces, for example, it was essential to couple it with proposals for negotiations to curtail these weapons.
How to provide defense forces for the Middle East poses added problems for the Allies. While Britain and France are willing to furnish some forces, the Federal Republic of Germany feels constrained from doing so by its constitution and treaties as well as domestic resistance. Its contributions will have to take other forms.
Security for the Middle East, however, depends on much more than a rapid deployment force, and could be jeopardized if arrangements for it are mishandled. Whatever its value against the Soviet threat, it has little relevance for the serious indigenous threats to stability such as domestic turmoil, as occurred in Iran, or local hostilities as in the case of Iran-Iraq, or the Arab-Israeli issue, which exacerbates tensions and frictions in the region and impedes cooperation with the West. The US and its allies will have to orchestrate a variety of means to enhance stability and the prospects for the steady flow of oil.
Yet despite such efforts, interruptions in oil supply during the coming decade seem almost inevitable in view of the fragility of the situation. And if they are substantial or extended, the damage to the Western economies could be profound. The limited effects of the Iraq and Iran reductions should not mislead us as to the impact in later years when total oil demand will be pressing harder on supply. Thus a vigorous program to reduce this vulnerability should have high priority in the interest of Western security.
The Reagan administration seems inclined to rely too exclusively on the market to solve the problems. Decontrol is a necessary measure and market forces will certainly press toward substitution, higher efficiency, and conservation. But the pace at which these shifts occur will be critically important, and added incentives to expedite the transition could be highly beneficial.
Finally, while dependence on Middle East oil continues, as it inevitably will , especially for Western Europe and Japan, steps can be taken to reduce vulnerability to the effects of interruptions from whatever cause. For this purpose, the most obvious means is to stockpile oil. This program, which has languished for several years, should be speeded up to provide a substantial reserve as rapidly as possible -- as a security measure. Yet a congressional committee has recently cut $2.9 billion from the proposed funding for the stockpile.
Achieving an integrated approach to security in the 1980s will take time the US can ill afford.