Along with many other fellow citizens, I am yielding to the urge to give President-elect Reagan unsolicited advice regarding a matter of high policy confronting his administration. In my case, the issue is how to formulate a rational military policy capable of restoring our debilitated military strength.
By a rational military policy, I mean one designed to provide military forces capable of performing the tasks deemed necessary to support the needs of present and future foreign policy. We have never had such a military policy, and the Reagan administration has the opportunity to perform a unique national service.
Let me illustrate how such a policy could be formulated. The preliminary step would be to make available the resources necessary to make the existing forces combat-worthy -- that is, ready to enter combat in accordance with an agreed time schedule and sustainable in combat wherever engaged. Few of our general purpose (non-nuclear) forces can meet this standard today.
While this rehabilitation process is going on -- it will take several years to complete -- Reagan's principal advisers should be set to work developing positions -- which must be agreed upon prior to a final policy formulation. The first is an answer to the fundamental question: What are the principal dangers and threats in the coming decade that may require military force to deter or resist them?
In replying, the temptation will be to cite only traditional ones, such as a surprise Soviet nuclear attack on the United States or a Warsaw Pact aggression against NATO or -- perhaps adding one of more recent origin -- an attempt by the Soviets to seize control of Mideast oil. These dangers are real in that they could cause us immense damage if they occur, but fortunately the probability of occurrence, at least of the first two, is quite low. The new policy must include serious consideration of such matters as the consequences of excessive population growth in the Third World, the dependence of the American economy on imports, and the opportunities offered the Soviets to exploit such conditions. In particular, the danger represented by a denial of access to essential foreign markets should be high on their list.
With an agreed tabulation of threats and dangers, the Pentagon leadership can then provide a list of tasks and missions that the Armed Forces must be able to perform to fulfill their expected roles. Unless the goals of the president's foreign policy differ widely from the past, such a list will include most of the following:
Continued deterrence of a resort to strategic nuclear warfare by the Soviets;
Uncontested military superiority in the Western Hemisphere and its sea-air approaches;
Combat-worthy overseas deployments in Europe and the Far East at about current strength levels;
A permanent military presence in the Mideast-Persian Gulf region of a size we can afford in relation to other global requirements;
Control of the sea-air lanes linking the United States to its principal allies and essential markets;
A combat-worthy Ready Deployment Force based in the United States for use in Third World contingencies;
A specialized counter-terror force trained to prevent, frustrate, or retaliate for acts of international terrorism.
Guided by this list, our military authorities, probably after heated in-house debate, will be able to recommend the force and major weapons systems required to perform the indicated tasks. Then, following tentative presidential approval of these recommendations, the budget experts can provide an estimate of the costs and the fiscal effects of such a military program. Thereafter, the president would have only to approve or modify the conclusions that had been reached to have the framework of a military policy meeting the criteria of rationality established at the outset. All this may sound deceptively easy; it will not be so in practice.
Before giving any final approval, there are at least two controversial issues that will require the president's personal attention. The first is the MX program already under way. If asked to give my advice, I would recommend that he withhold approval of this expensive program until he is thoroughly satisfied on the following points:
The authenticity and urgency of the Soviet threat to our present ICBM force;
The need for any new land-based ICBM if the threat is both real and urgent;
The validity of the claim that the MX is the optimum weapon for this purpose.
The other issue is the military manpower problem. The all-volunteer system has proved itself at best marginally adequate in time of peace. It will fail disastrously in a time of military operations when casualty lists chill volunteer enthusiasm for service in the combat arms. We will never have truly combat-worthy forces until the manpower problem is solved. I know of no solution other than a return to some form of conscription.
If the end product is indeed a rational military policy, what has been gained? The new administration will have a policy that can be defended against all challengers when the post-election honeymoon is over and the increasing weight of the defense budget brings forth protests from political opponents and unhappy taxpayers. By making task adequacy the standard for force strength, our military policy will meet the legitimate requirements of national security without need to resort to a mindless arms race with the Soviets. Yet it is a policy broad enough to take due account not only of the Soviet direct military threat but also of the many contingencies, often Soviet instigated, that will arise in the Third World to creat regional turbulence and endanger our access to essential markets.
Finally, the president will have an answer to the perennial questions till now unanswered: how much military strength is enough, and why?