Weinberger's reply

In response to Joseph Harsch's column of Nov. 6, ``Weinberger's woes,'' I believe it is vitally important to highlight the true character of the present government in Nicaragua. When the Sandinista government took power in mid-1979, it immediately embarked on an effort to acquire the military instruments for coercive power. By December 1980, the Sandinistas, with communist-bloc assistance, had already become the largest Army in Central American history, having grown from about 5,000 to at least 24,000 - an increase of almost 400 percent. By November 1981, the Sandinistas had an Army of 39,000 equipped with Soviet tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers. By the admission of the Nicaraguan ambassador to the US, prior to November 1981 ``there were only a few hundred ex-GH [Somoza's National Guard] soldiers staging sporadic raids along the border. Their principal occupations were cattle-rustling and extortion.'' Thus, in the absence of any armed resistance, the Sandinistas amassed enormous military potential relative to their neighbors. Today, the Nicaraguan military totals close to 120,000 men, with 75,000 active-duty forces and another 45,000 reserves and militia.

Thus, the benign tone that Mr. Harsch uses to describe the growth of the Sandinista arsenal does not do justice to the actual capabilities the Soviets and others have provided them. Coupled with the largest Army in the region, Soviet helicopter gunships, tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers present an ominous offensive threat to Nicaragua's neighbors.

Finally, to suggest that the Soviets are only responding to President Reagan's moderate efforts to supply the contras with a minimum amount of military assitance overlooks the past amounts of offensive military equipment the Soviet Union admits surrogates have been delivering to Nicaragua over the last six years. This is like the Soviet ``response'' of 440 SS-20s to our Pershings and ground-launched cruise missiles. The only trouble was that their ``response'' came several years before we regained any deterrent capability. As we reported, the number, type, and quality of Soviet military equipment delivered to Nicaragua in the first 10 months of this year already exceed that delivered in all of 1985. Far from being a response to any threat, Nicaragua's current helicopter and military inventories, provided them by the Soviets and their surrogates, are more than sufficient to subjugate the people of Nicaragua, to consolidate communist totalitarianism, and seriously threaten regional stability. Caspar Weinberger Sec'y of Defense


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