For the country's military planners and political leaders, the signals are ominous:
In the past five years, the enemy has added more than 3,000 nuclear warheads to its intercontinental missile force. It has added alarming new technology to its major weapons systems, so they are now vastly more accurate, more lethal and easier to defend than they were just a few years ago.
The enemy is building a new missile-bearing submarine force that may be impossible to detect at the bottoms of the world's oceans. They are considering construction - at a cost of billions - of a new system of mobile, concealed, land-based missiles. They have developed technology enabling them to deploy an entirely new kind of intercontinental weapon - one virtually immune to existing defenses or detection.
The enemy is giving its conventional forces impressive new weaponry, some of it still beyond this country's ability to duplicate. Moreover, the enemy's allies are modernizing their forces in potentially crucial areas. The other side now has deployed 2,000 new tanks in Central Europe that are demostrably better than any others in the world.
Another Pentagon alarum? No. This exercise is a hypothetical press release from the Defense Ministry in Moscow - a description of U.S. and allied military forces as they might be seen through Soviet eyes. The Americans are coming!
The Soviet view of the balance of terror seldom enters into the American debate on defense preparedness. Americans make an easy presumption of innocence. Donald H. Rumsfeld, the last Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration, stated that presumption in his farewell "posture statement."
"There are only major powers - the United States, which is the primary champion of freedom, self-determination and international pluralism, and the Soviet Union, which has an imperial domian already sprawled over two continents and is the primary advocate of a command economy, centralized control and the subjugation of the individual to the state."
The Soviet Union sees it otherwise. In the Soviet view, the United States and its allies are not proponents of "international pluralism," but are imperialists - advanced capitalist states determined to protect their markets and sources of natural resources, and demonstrably hostile to the Soviet Union and its interests. The American imperialists are also demonstrably willing to undertake military adventures in remote areas, from the Dominican Republic to Lebanon, Korea and Vietnam.
The purpose here is not to paint the Russians as the innocent victims of the Cold War. But one need not accept Soviet innocence to realize that the arms race we see does have an alarming mirror image in Moscow.
Not only does the United States have an enormous, varied and technologically superior armed force, with bases that ring the Soviet Union and a history of foreign military adventures. Perhaps more significant, the Soviet Union must worry about other - and nearer - potential enemies:
Eight hundred and fifty million Chinese, for example, whose goverment claims a large part of Soviet territory; the well-equipped Iranians, who now have some of America's best new weapons; the unpredictable and well-equipped Turks; the nuclear-armed French and British; and the West German Bundeswehr, arguable the best single army in the world.
A Senate aide who studies the East-West confrontation observed recently that Americans might well comtemplate the prospect that, say, Canada and Mexico were both powerful and well-armed enemies of the United States - a situation roughly comparable to the Soviets'. "How would Americans react to that situation?" he asked rhetorically.
The Americans who expresss loudest alarm about the current East-West balance openly acknowledge that their fears at the moment are based on "worst case" assumptions, and on their projections of the balance 5, 10 or 15 years from now. They say it is only prudent to think in such terms.
If we presume that Soviet defense planners prudence over the past 30 years, it may be easier to understand the steady buildup of the Soviet Union's military forces.
It seems fair to start from the proposition that the Soviet Union has had superpower ambitions for many years. Since World War 11, the standards against which the Soviets could judge those ambitions have been set by the world's leading superpower, the United States.
At his first press conference, President Carter reiterated the longstanding American position: "At the present time, my judgment is that we have superior nuclear capability."
The Soviets have only lately had any cause at all for confidence in what the experts call the "essential equivalence" of the nuclear balance. From the dawn of the atomic age in 1945 until the last year or two, AMerican superiority has been beyond question.
The present genearation of Soviet political and military leaders, in other words, grew up looking into uncomfortable end of the nuclear barrel. For many years, the American advantage was virtually absolute. When the Soviets began to deploy intercontinental, land-based missiles and, later, intercontinental submarine-based missiles, the absolute advantage disappeared, but the American's relative edge remained imposing.
The buildup of Soviet strategic arms that now alarms some American specialist began in the mid-1960s. Many western specialists on Soviet affairs believe that the humiliation of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis - when the Soviets had to back down in the face of a threatened American naval "quarantine" of Cuba - was a principal cause of the buildup. The buildup has proceeded steadily since.
The most recent deployments of new Soviet rocket systems are what have alarmed many observers in this country, but they are the product of development and production decisions that the Soviets made at least five years ago. (Our Pentagon reckons that it takes about 10 years to take a new weapons system from conception to development.) If the decisions which led to these new deployments were indeed taken in the late 1960s in the Kremlin, then they were taken at a time when American superiority was still beyond doubt.
Despite years of Herculean effort and indisputable Soviet success in many fields of strategic development, the new American President still claims "superiority." It is not difficult to image how the Pentagon would react if it had presided over a similar history, and now faced a comparable claim from Leonid I. Brezhnev, the Soviet leader. The Soviet Defense Ministry, presumable, remains less than satisfied with the current balance of terror - whether their goal is superiority or partly in their own eyes.
Soviet statements and writings demonstrate that the Russian's assessment of the East-West balance goes far beyond simple counting of weapons and warheads, however. The Soviets have a Marxist view of power - one which calculate economic technological and social factors along with military hardware. They also have a Russian view of the world - suspicious, insecure and cautious.
A Marcist analysis of the East-West balance is not comforting in Moscow. The Russians boast often that the "correlation of forces" in the world has shifted in their favor, but this is largely a military argument. The Soviet economy is lagging, and is far behind America's. Weighed together, the economies of the western nations and Japan produce several times the amount of goods and services that the Soviet Union and its East European allies produce.
The habit of referring to the Soviet Union and the United States as "the two superpowers" skim over the profound differences in the economic, scientific and technological capabilities of the two countries. The Soviets may now agree that there are two superpowers, but they also see that only one of the two goes to the other to buy computers, steel foundries, oil drilling equipment, wheat, corn and thousands of other products.
The Soviets know that they are 15 to 25 years hehind America in computers. They know that their workers are vastly less productive than those of the West. They know that their industrial machinery is less efficient and less reliable than the West's. They know they are No. 2, by a good distance.
The Soviets must make judgments about their potential enemies' intentions, and it is in this realm that traditional Russian suspicion and fears must come into play. Americans are often tempted to believe that the Soviets must realize that our intentions are peaceful, benign. The Soviets don't see it that way.
History is important in this regard - more important than it ever seems to be for Americans. How many Americans remember that the U.S. Army joined with forces from Britain, France, and Japan in invasions of Russian territory in 1918 to support rebellious "Whites" against the Boshevik "Reds"?That long-forgotten military misadventure helped convince generations of Soviet leaders that the western powers did actively and aggressively wish them ill.
For years afterward the United States refused to recognize the Soviet Union. (Ambassadors were finally exchanged in 1934.) During the 1930s from the Soviet point of view, the Western powers did not seem alarmed at the prospect of Nazi aggression eastward, and eventually Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, causing staggering losses and damage. After the uneasy wartime alliance collapsed in the late 1940s, the Soviets watched as America embarked on what must have appeared to Moscow as an orgy of anti-communism. John Foster Dulles ringed the Soviet Union with a network of military treaties, then threatened to "roll back" communism from Eastern Europe.
Then in the '60s came the Cuban missile crisis - a threat to bring down the holocaust that America obviously took seriously - and the American adventure in Vietnam, coupled with a dramatic improvement and buildup of American strategic forces.
For a nation that has sufferdd invasion, which fancies itself "the vanguard of the international working class" in a struggle against capitalism, which has always regarded by foreigners as dangerous almost by definition, all were ominous signals.
This analysis is obviously argumentative. The Soviets were not innocent bystanders throughout these years. They too sent out alarming signals; many of the moves that alarmed them were prompted by their moves that alarmed the West. The point here is that the Russians were genuinely alrmed; they saw cause to fear that the West harbored aggressive intentions against them.
Today the new "correlation of forces" appears to have persuaded the Russians that they are no longer vulnerable to Western attack. But that does not make it comforting. The United States continues to press forward in new areas of military technology, and in many fields continues to hold apparent advantage over the Soviets - in anti-submarine warfare capability, in cruise missiles, in "smart" weapons tha can find their targets electronically, and others.
Moreover, recent history teaches the Soviets that they must continually fear the unknowable - the next unexpected breakthrough in American technology. Authoritative Pentagon sources say that the United States is today testing new weapons about which nothing is publicly known, and some of them have the potential for radically changing the "correlation of forces" in the future.
Reading recent Soviet comments on the latest round of the strategic debate in Washington, one sense the concern with which the Russians view the mirror in this unprecedented relationship. Sounds of alarm in Washington cause alarm in Moscow.
Geori Arbatov, the Kremlin's principal expert on the United States, observed on Moscow television recently, "It is understandable that the American generals do not like the situation when parity exists, and when they cannot attack out country, cannot blackmail us, because nuclear war would be suicide for the United States. But it is a fact the Americans will have to live with. Many serious changes have taken place for America in this respect. The country has lived for 200 years under different conditions from other countries, beyond two oceans and with feelings of complete national security, and now it has begun to live like all other countries; it is just as vulnerable in case of war as the others."
NEXT; The Nuclear Math.