Put the MX to sea

A well-orchestrated campaign is now underway to sell the American people on the virtues of converting portions of Utah and Nevada into networks of massive concrete caves to house the new MX ICBMs. More and more we are hearing that the "only solution" to the deadly shell game is to dig 4,600 very expensive rat holes in western valleys and interconnect them with 8,000 miles of super-superhighways.

No doubt we need the missile itself. It is new and fancy, reliable, and very potent. The ICBMs we now use to provide the land-based leg of the "triad" are getting old. The air leg -- the B-52 fleet -- is at least obsolescent if not altogether passe. And the Trident submarines, our third and only truly credible strategic deterrent force, are terribly expensive to build and to operate.

But we do not have to put the MX in massive concrete shelters, where no "shell game" we can conceive of will survive a surprise attack. Instead, we should sent the MXs down the river and on out to sea where they rightfully belong.

There are at least four very good reasons for sea-basing the MX. The first and most important is strategic. The soviet Union is a true "heartland" of a contiguous and integrated land mass. The United States is vastly smaller and has higher population densities. The Soviet Union has only tortuous pathways to the world's ocean highways. The US has free access to either the East or West. As a basic strategic tenet, we should avoid heartland competition with the Soviets by exploiting our inherent maritime advantages.

The second reason is geographic. Because the MX launchers will be high-priority targets in any nuclear exchange, Nevada and Utah, in the form of radioactive dust, would be the fatal poison of our industrilized East. With the MX at sea, we avoid most of this.

The third reason is geometric. With all the MX's rising from a single narrow sector out of Nevada, Russian defenses can be concentrated against them. With the MXs launched at sea, they will have to look in all directions. And with the MX's range, almost any point on the earth's oceans can be a potential launching pad.

The fourth reason is economic, which must be measured only on the basis of shares of national outputs. The Russians can add missiles far more easily than we can dig up valleys and move mountains. They understand the massive military numbers game far better than we. While we go broke pouring concrete down the drain, they keep their unemployment down by assembling more and more rockets and warheads. All we are really accomplishing is another crude acceleration of the nuclear arms race -- precisely what the world fears most.

When we take the MX out to sea, we have all the homecourt advantages. Our ships can freely move in and out of our ports and around our seas. A good Rand-McNally road map will pinpoint the MXs in Nevada. For finding MXs at sea, the Russians will need all sorts of expensive satellites, a navy several sizes larger than theiur present one, and an incredible amount of continuous good fortune. And if they ever got all of this in line, we could simply send out a few more decoys, or change the MX-carrying ship design, and their problems would begin all over again.

In short, the US would have the initiative in the shell game at sea. We give it away when we set the MX in western concrete. And even our out-of-pocket costs would be far less, regardless of what kinds of MX ships we use -- merchantmen, cheap submarines, sea-skimmers, battleships, or barges. Many of the dollars we spend would "fall out" as an investment in our currently ailing maritime sector. Shipbuilders, ports, and seamen would benefit. Construction workers and cement companies would suffer. Western water tables, ranches, and mining industries would be saved. Nuclear bomb-building would be less profitable.

There are some technological problems but no technological obstacles to putting MXs out to sea. The missile itself needs only minor modification for waterborne launch. Adequate accuracy could readily be achieved.

Nor is the MX at sea any "ultimate panacea" for our overall national security. We will still need the costly but inherently secure Tridents. And we should keep some of our present pre-MX land-based arsenal, primarily to remind the Soviets that both our people and our weapons would come under fire in any attack.

The basing decisions for the MX are critically important to every American. Our lives and our economic well-being are at stake. We should not be sold down the river into Utah because we can't get our strategic thinking cap on, or because it is politically expedient, or because the MX is an Air Force program. We should send the MX to sea because it is the only basing option that makes a ny sense at all.

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