If Sen. Henry M. (Scoop) Jackson (D-Wash.) and certain of his allies have their way, not only will a possible SALT II treaty be defeated, but moreover there will be no treaty for the Senate and the American people to assess. With powerful forces behind him, Jackson is practicing what might be called parliamentary abortion.
Long an opponent of any agreement with the Soviet Union, the senator, working behind the scenes with his brainy young staffer Richard Perle, came out in the open the other day. He attacked the very idea of a SALT treaty that would, he said, give the Soviets 300 large, modern intercontinental missiles while the United States would get none.
He was challenged by Sen. Thomas J. McIntyre, (D-N.H.), who argued that the Senate should at least have a chance to see a treaty if one is finally achieved. He pointed out that the negotiations thus far had tentatively required the Soviets to destroy some 300 of their launchers.
"All I am saying," McIntyre concluded, "is to give the SALT treaties a chance before the American people. Must we beat it to death before we get it?"
The Senate was considering a measure to authorize military appropriations of $36.1 billion for the coming fiscal year. Of the total, $12.5 billion is in research and development. McIntyre, chairman of the R&D subcommittee, took the occasion to point to the hazards of the kind of panic psychology advocating development of anything and everything that could conceivably increase the U.S. lead over the Soviet Union.
A year and a half ago the Department of Defense was proposing fullscale development of the "continuous trench" system of deploying intercontinental missiles. Under that system the missile pops out of a hold in a long trench or tunnel to fire. In theory that frustrates Soviet knowledge of the location of U.S. missiles in fixed positions.
The Air Force was enthusiastic for the "continuous trench," which had an estimated price tag of $30-40 billion. Gen. Alton D. Slay, head of the Air Force R&D team was strong advocate of the MX missile and the trench system of delivery. Since then, however, further study has shown that it was the wrong method, both unworkable and certain to end with a waste of the many billions put into it.
McIntyre told the Senate that if the Department of Defense had been given a green light on full-scale development "we would likely have disastrously plunged ahead with the now-discredited continuous-trench scheme before its vulnerabilities had been understood." Hardly anything in the defense budget is more complex and difficult to comprehend than research and development. Having worked it over for 10 years, McIntyre could speak with confidence.
Following the final vote in the subcommittee, which was unanimous, Jackson, supported by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), came in with a generalized proposal for more money for the MX. Because it seemed vague and indefinite, Sen. John Stennis (D-Miss.) called a meeting of the full Armed Services Committee, of which he is chairman, to see whether it had any real support.
Going around the table with his long experience, Stennis found no response to more money for the MX, which would have added a few billion to the defense budget. To many, it seemed the idea had originated with Perle, who had in turn sold it to Jackson and Nunn.
There can be no doubt of Jackson's power. He may lead the execution squad if by some remote chance a treaty is arrived at. Or he may succeed in strangling the infant before it comes to term.
At a much earlier time, long before his heavily financed and conspicuously unsuccessful run for the presidency, Jackson was known as the "senator from Boeing," after the principal industry in Seattle. Pleasant, charming, he built up his contracts as he moved in 1952 from the House to the Senate. He was reelected in 1976 for the sixth term and, in the cozy Club of 100, seniority counts for a great deal.
Although he is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and often tangles with big oil, his principal interest is the military. Boeing is, of course, a very large defense contractor. But that is minor alongside his intense conviction of the importance of superiority over the Soviet in every department and his repeated cries of alarm that the United States is falling behind the arms race.
When the SALT I treaty was up for ratification five years ago, Jackson took the occasion to give a rough time to the negotiators of that agreement. He is a formidable in-fighter, as his opponents have good reasons to know.