Concern within defense circles over Air Force Gen. David Jones as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) was heightened last week when the Defense Nuclear Agency was quietly removed from study of the proposed U.S.-Soviet nuclear test-ban treaty.
The agency had advised that the treaty (favored by President Carter) banning all underground explosions can be violated by the Soviet Union without detection. If the agency is now cut out of the issue, the JCS will lose its independent source of technical information. Significantly, that could scarely have happened without at least the acquiescence of JCS Chairman Jones.
Decisions of that nature bother many fellow officers about Davy Jones. While nobody questions his executive competence, Jones is criticized for swallowing whole those Carter administration initiatives considered dubious elsewhere at the Pentagon. After failing to oppose such policies in private, he not only embraces but energetically applauds them in public.
Decisions to pull troops out of Korea, cancel the B1 bomber, suspend neutron warhead production and now push a total nuclear test ban have caused deep dismay in the officer corps - dramatized by the forced retirement from the Army of Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub. But by vigorously supporting such proposals, Jones has reached the top.
Fervent cooperation by Jones did not begin with the Carter administration. As Air Force chief of staff in the Nixon Ford administration, he stirred mixed emotions among his civilian superiors. While appreciative that Jones carried out orders with extraordinary expedition, Pentagon officials were troubled that he extended obedience to the point of no longer being his own man. That tendency is reflected in a highly unusual message from Jones to Air Force commanders worldwide last Aug. 20, just 10 days after the United States and Panama agreed on the canal treaties. "The Air Force actively participated in the development of all defense-related aspects of the proposed treaties, and fully supports them," said Jones.
Air Force officers were surprised, many of them unplesantly. They objected not to their chief's support of the president but to his proselytizing the officer corps on an issue about which many harbored misgivings. Especially unsettling was the message's last paragraph: "It is important that our personnel, particularly our senior people, understand our support for the proposed treaties."
Jones has consistently followed the Carter line. He tamped down Air Force resentment about the B1 cancellation. He has not reflected the general concern by uniformed officers over the administration's course on strategic arms limitation talks. When other members of the Joint Chiefs were furious about being misrepresented on SALT, Jones wrote a letter smoothing over the troble.
No wonder, then, that Carter passed over more independently minded Army and Navy candidates and picked the second straight Air Force general to head the Joint Chiefs. Adm. James Holloway, chief of naval operations, once favored to be the new JCS chairman, has been fighting the president's reduced shipbuilding.
Jones privately has expressed worry about Carter's proposed total nuclear test ban. But fellow officers doubt he will do anything about it. Such doubts were reinforced by last week's closeout of the Defense Nuclear Agency.
The overriding question involves proper conduct by professional military men in an adminstration whose policies they believe are wrong.
After Singlaub was relieved from command in Korea a year ago following his criticism of the troop pull-out. President Carter wrote a critical Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that "we will not stifle disent" from "military experts." When Singlaub resigned under pressure recently after additional criticism of Carter Policies, Hatch wrote Carter that "the administration seems to be so thin-skinned about its controversial policies that it must in fact resort to 'stifling' the military leaders of this nation."
Jones has informed congressional critics that if he ever cannot support the administration's policies, he will take off his uniform and go to the public. That evades the question, however, of what he does and says in uniform without going to Singlaub's extreme.
Meanwhile, the fate of Davy Jones and John Singlaub, born one day apart nearly 57 years ago, teaches an inescapable lesson to ambitious young officers. Which route leads to early retirement and which route leads to supreme career success is clearly marked.