Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus argues in Outlook (Jan. 10), that the administration in the past year "actually presided over a significant reduction in strategic nuclear weapons on alert as well as the development of new weapons for the future." To phrase it in the most charitable way possible, it is extremely difficult to conceive how Pincus or anyone could consider that the president's $180 billion strategic modernization program amounts to "unilateral disarmament."
The "significant reduction" to which he refers is the administration's plan to retire Titan missiles first deployed some 20 years ago and to continue the planned phase-out of the Polaris missiles now approaching the end of their useful life. Neither of these obsolete systems contributes enough to the security of our strategic deterrent to justify the increasing cost of maintaining them. And unlike the Carter administration, we do not feel bound to retain in the inventory weapons that are militarily ineffective and costly to maintain merely to convey the hollow appearance of a strategic force more formidable than we actually possess.
Pincus attributes to unidentified "defense experts" the novel theory that the president's MX program, which entails an interim silo deployment coupled with a vigorous search for a new, permanent and effective basing mode, is really a guileful temporizing aimed at eliciting from the Soviets a voluntary cutback in their ICBM program. To make this fantasy appear plausible, he cites an unidentified "administration official" who has interpreted a nonexistent "delay" in the Soviet ICBM test program, and alleged evidence of their tests of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, as an indication that the Soviets are exercising restraint in testing threatening ICBMs while going forward with SLBMs that are "unlikely to be first-strike weapons."
This is sheer nonsense. For one thing, the current Soviet ICBM force is, unhappily, more than adequate for a too-effective first strike against our Minuteman missiles. For another, we see no reason to believe that, even if there were delays in the Soviet ICBM test program, that would imply any slowing of the relentless Soviet strategic buildup, a buildup that has already reached dangerous proportions and shows no signs of diminishing. And finally, no one who has listened to the president or understood his determination to redress the strategic balance could interpret the administration's MX program as a gesture of unilateral restraint. It was the last administration that learned to its regret that unilateral restraint will not be reciprocated by the Soviets. The Reagan administration has never for a moment entertained this dangerous illusion.
The administration has embarked on a comprehensive program aimed at reversing the strategic decline of the last decade. It entails the modernization of all elements of our strategic triad: the deployment of the MX ICBM; the decision to proceed with the B1 bomber now and accelerated research and development on an advanced technology bomber for deployment later; the decision to develop a greatly improved Trident II missile; the new deployment of sea-launched and further deployment of air-launched cruise missiles; and the significant improvement in our systems of command, control and communications. No one of these programs will solve all the problems we face. Taken together, this multiplicity of partial solutions will give us the capability we need to respond adequately to the sustained growth of Soviet strategic forces. It is significant that, in his apparent desire to show that we are not adding to our strength, he fails even to mention the vast command and control investments and improvements we are making. Without those, even the inadequate Carter program could not be operated effectively.
Pincus is right in saying that the Reagan administration has been critical of the SALT II treaty that the Senate refused to ratify. But he is wrong in his characterization of our criticism. We share the view of the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the treaty failed to limit the threat to the security of our strategic deterrent. By permitting the continued growth of Soviet strategic forces, SALT II gave only the appearance, but not the reality, of moderation and restraint. The SALT II "limits," like the SALT I "limits" before them, failed to constrain the momentum of the Soviet strategic buildup. The forces permitted on the Soviet side were more than enough to leave our land-based missiles vulnerable to Soviet attack. The apparent constraint on their deployment of "new" missiles was little more than an elaborate loophole through which a new generation of Soviet missiles then under development could easily pass. That is what was wrong with the SALT II treaty--not, as Pincus suggests, the single fact that it left the Soviets with more megatonnage than the United States was permitted.
The president's program will enhance our ability to negotiate arms reduction proposals that are equitable, verifiable and--perhaps most important --that would really reduce arms and thereby reduce the threat to our security.
That is why the president's program is so vitally needed: it does add enormous strength both to our strategic forces and to our ability to secure, by negotiation, Soviet arms reductions.