For those citizens long concerned about the precarious state of our security and the need to rearm, President Carter in recent years has made two policy statements of great importance; his mid-December speech to the Business Council and his State of the Union address to Congress.
The former, which attracted little attention, outlined a proposed military policy with its funding for the next five years; the latter, listened to by most of the nation, enunciated his intended courses of action in dealing with the situation in the Middle East. They should be considered together, since the one presumably provides the military support that may be needed to attain the political goals of the other.
Unfortunately, a scrutiny of the two statements, reveals no such close correlation of purpose. The State of the Union address gives a new and heavy responsibility to the armed forces -- the defense of the Persian Gulf region, barren of base facilities and some 10,000 miles from home, against numerically superior Soviet forces, many already on the Iranian border or in Afghanistan a few hundred miles from the Persian Gulf.
The December statement takes no notice of this formidable new task and provides n o additional resources in compensation for it. Furthermore, its provisions contain fundamental defects that make it unlikely to generate the forces needed in the future at the right time and of the right kind.
To begin with, it conveys no sense of urgency. The principal measures it proposes to improve forces and weaponry -- the MX missle to compensate for the exposure of our land-based ICBMs specialized aircraft and ships to give strategic mobility to the newborn Rapid Deployment Force, and a 550-ship Navy needed for adequate sea control -- will take from one to two decades for realization. Furthermore, there is no synchronization of readiness of mutually dependent elements of the program, such as the combat elements of the Rapid Deployment Force and its air-sea transport.
Another defect is the failure to ensure sufficient trained manpower to man and sustain our forces in combat. It is true that, in the State of the Union address, the president modified his expression of unqualified confidence in the all-volunteer system contained in his December statement; he now promises to introduce legislation permitting a renewal of draft registration "to meet future mobilization needs rapidly as they arise." But he retains his belief in the adequacy of the volunteer army to meet current needs desspite voluminous evidence that the volunteer system is barely adequate to sustain the active forces in peace and will surely fail in time of combat when casualty lists will provide a powerful disincentive to enlistments, particularly in the combat arms.
A final criticism is that the adopted priorities of effort in rearming are inconsistent with the urgency of the present threats in the Middle East, eloquently set forth in the State of the Union address, and those forecast for the turbulent future -- indeed, they are quite similar to the military priorities of the Eisenhower administration in the heyday of the strategy of massive retaliation.
Primacy is to be given to the forces designed to cope with the least likely threats to our security -- a surprise strategic attack on the United States or a massive aggression by the Warsaw Pact against NATO. This preferential treatment accorded our strategic and NATO forces implies the funding of such costly projects as the MX missle, the new Nimitz-class aircraft carrier disapproved by Carter but imposed by Congress, more giant Trident submarines, probably a new penetration bomber and an expansion of the air and civil defenses of the United States.
After paying such bills, with the inevitable overruns beyond original cost estimates, there will be little left in the Pentagon till for lesser priorities, such as the needs of a larger sea-control Navy, the Rapid Deployment Force and related means to cope with threats like those in the Middle East cited by the president, and the manpower to go with the entire program. There will not be enough money to go around despite the impressive dollar increases of the expanded budgets recommended by the president for the next five years.
In fact, in terms of sacrifice, these budgets represent no increased commitment to national defense -- they still amount to about 5 perent of the gross national product, roughly the level of most of the post-Vietnam budgets responsible for the present deteriorated state of our defense.
But if the president's program for rearming is so deficient, what should be done about it? My preference would be to make a fresh start and, as a first step, divide our rearmament efforts into two parts -- the quick fixes that can be accomplished in a few years to improve the forces we now have, accompanied by a more leisurely formulation of a long-term military policy adapted to the conditions of the next decade as the president himselfforesees them.
These moves would be designed to produce a force structure capable of coping with the most dangerous threats of such a period -- primarily arising from continued Soviet malevolence supported by growing military power, the dependence of the United States andd allies on mideast oil and the turbulence of the developing world, where most of the overseas sources of imported raw materials are found.
Leaving long-term matters to the new military policy to be formulated, I would cite here a few relatively quick fixes first, though partial, are expeditious ways to repair some of the most conspicuous flaws in our armor.
To reduce reliance on exposed land-based missles, we can expedite effort to improve the accuracy of our submarine-launched ballistic missiles and exploit cruise missiles to the fullest in all their launch modes -- air, ground, submarine and surface ship -- for use against strategic and NATO targets.
To improve further the defense of the alliance, we can speed the modernization of weaponry recently approved by NATO authorities -- to include the maligned neutron bomb for use in Europe or elsewhere as required.
We can improvise a small Rapid Deployment Force from the ground-air forces we now have, but we would be obliged to scrounge throughout the military establishment for the essential logistic support units always in short supply in time of peace. Emergency procurement might provide the necessary reserves of munitions and equipment while the purchase or leasing of commercial aircraft and shipping might augment its transport.
Finally, we can swallow hard and restore some form of conscription, capable of improving the quality of the active forces and filling the ranks of the reserves essential for sustained combat. No other action we could take would so clearly demonstrate our seriousness of purpose; none if more essential to a genuine rearmament effort.