A White House task force of scientists, whose members and findings reflect the administration's dominant arms-control philosphy, has recommended that President Carter kill Defense Department plans for full development of the proposed MX mobile missle.
What makes this recommendation remarkable is a top-secret Defense Department study in October rejecting the possibility that any arms-control agreement could conceivably protest the U.S. land-based Minuteman missile - a finding fully endorsed by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown. Moreover, new tests show the Soviet SS-18 missile to be more accurate than ever, further increasing the vulnerability of U.S. Minuteman silos.
Why, then, would a panel of distinguished scientists not urge the President to move rapidly toward deployment of a mobile missile? Because the key figures on the task force subscribe to a fixed theology of arms control that deplores any new weapons system as a destablizing sin and preaches that striving for U.S. Soviet strategic parity is no salvation.
The makeup of the task force was guaranteed to oppose the MX, reflecting the arms-control theology prevailing among the White House officials who selected the panel. This, in fact, is what the current SALT debate is about: Can national safety be found in a policy that automatically bans new weapons, or through a policy that insists on strategic parity?
The MX panel was headed by chemist John Deutch, chief scientist for the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) who is respected by hard-liners. But the mild-mannered Deutch is not assertive enough to win against the stacked deck: Richard Garwin (IBM), Wolfgang Panofsky (Stanford), Marvin Goldberger (Princeton) and Saul Buchsbaum (Bell Laboratories), all physicists, and Engineer Jack Ruina (MIT). All are ardent arms controllers.
The stacked deck, with Garwin on top as the ace, foretold the outcome. During the week of Nov. 28, a report went to the President's desk denying urgent need to do anything about the vulnerability of Minuteman silos. The scientists claimed that the Air Force, instead of seeking deterrence, is pushing the MX for a war-fighting, war-winning capability.
According, the task force reached its verdict: It is premature to begin full-scale development of the MX in fiscal year 1978-79 as proposed. At the Pentagon, this recommended delay is viewed as a ploy to kill the MX, already delayed two years from the original Ford administration scheme.
Yet without a mobile missle, there will be no secure land-based leg in the U.S. retaliatory triad (land-sea-air). A recent test of the Soviet SS-18 suggests, according to Defense officials, a dramatic breakthrough in accuracy further threatening the Minuteman. Even before the news of this test, the October Defense Department study presented bleak news for its top-secret readership.
While supporters of the Carter administration's SALT proposals had boasted that they could limit the big Soviet missile systems to gurantee security of the Minuteman, the Defense Department report emphatically disagreed. Nothing in the SALT proposals could prevent the Soviet Union from achieving enough accuracy to destroy the Minuteman force.
Soon after reading this report, Secretary Brown - not permitting direct quotation - talked bluntly to reporters Nov. 6: "People who say we have to have Minuteman survive are going to have a hard time with lots of SALT agreement . . . a SALT agreement that will ensure the survivability of Minuteman is very different from any that has ever been discussed by both sides."
Yet, more than two weeks later, a leading congressional SALT enthusiast was putting out precisely the opposite information. Rep. Bob Carr (D-Mich.) an observer at arms-control negotiations in Geneva, told Aerospace Daily on Nov. 23 that "if a SALT agreement is as effective as I think it will be, Minuteman will not grow in vulnerability."
If the Minuteman is not vulnerable, there is no need for the MX in the view of the arms-control lobby. So, Sen. Thomas McIntyre (D.N.H.), a leading congressional foe of the MX, signed a Nov. 29 letter to the President from like-minded senators declaring it is necessary to limit Soviet missile development to protect the Minuteman.
But the invulnerability that the senators want through negotiated limitations on Soviet missilery is deemed unattainable by Brown and his experts. Their alternative is the MX mobile missile, but that violates the theology of arms controllers in the Senate, in the administration and now on the President's special scientific task force. It is Jimmy Carter who must whether these theologians know where the nation's safety lies.