From the campaign oratory being expended on the need to restore our military strength and the rival solutions being advanced by party leaders, one can foresee a formalized arms race with the Soviets sponsored by the next administration.
Regardless of who wins the election, the new president will feel obliged, in consistence with his party platform initially at least, to support a military program purporting to seek either military parity with or superiority over the Soviet Union. Thus, we will be committed to an arms race, which I deplore. Although the race concept may appeal to a sport-loving public and thus facilitate explanations of the need to spend more for defense, it is not the way to regain the military strength needed to support our purposes and interests over the tempestuous years ahead -- the proper objective of a sound military policy.
My first objection is that, in an arms race to achieve parity with or superiority over the Soviets, the goal is too ill-defined for program planning and the location of the finish line, even if it is discernible, may be changed at will by the Soviets. While the race is in progress, the relative position of the runners is also uncertain. Thus an arms race may be endless and its outcome indeterminate.
These uncertainties arise from inability to define the terms, parity and superiority, with any degree of accuracy. Any attempt at clarification will be hampered by the numbers fallacy to which many of us have become addicted in the course of SALT debates and similar attempts to measure comparative military strength. The fallacy is a mistaken belief that by the simple method of counting major components of military strength -- missiles, aircraft carriers, bombers, tanks, divisions and the like -- it is possible to determine relative military strength between the United States and the Soviet Union.
While numbers have their importance, this method is dangerously misleading, in the case of strategic weapons in particular, since it ignores such critical factors as reliability, quality, survivability and destructive potential of the respective arsenals. Even if a parity were established that took into account all these factors, equality in peacetime numbers would not ensure strategic operational equality upon the outbreak of war. Since we must anticipate a Soviet surprise attack to open strategic hostilities, we would need to have more weapons than the Soviets at the outset to compensate for first-strike losses.
Relative strength in conventional forces is even more difficult to verify. In addition to ignoring quality, the numbers method is generally irrelevant to our purpose, since the most extreme American hawk would hardly advocate expanding our 16-division Army to equal or surpass the 180-division Soviet army. Nor would he be likely to demand forces able to establish and maintain superiority over the Soviets in such places as the Baltic, the Black Sea, Hungary or Poland. Our current difficulty in creating a limited military presence in the Persian Gulf region in deference to the Carter Doctrine is a timely reminder of the dominant roles of time, place, geography and logistics in determining relative conventional strength and the severe disadvantages of conducting military operations far from home. One may hope that this experience will recall to our Washington strategists the age-old saying, "A cock has great influence on his own dunghill." and thereby make them wary of tests of strength in the Soviet front yard.
Given these dubieties, a new president committed to a race is likely to adhere at the start to the promises and statements of intention contained in his party plafform. The position of both parties favors the big, expensive, highly visible weapons and equipment in which the Soviets have a reasonably clear numerical advantage -- mainly the specialized weapons of strategic warfare. For an administration seeking military funds from Congress, such weapons have the advantage of bearing familiar names like the MX missile, the B1 bomber, the Trident submarine, the new cruise missiles and the once-abandoned antiballistic missile. Since their manpower needs are small, they have the further advantage of not raising embarrassing manpower questions regarding the need to return to some form of conscription. Both parties have indicated continued support for the all-volunteer system.
This big-weapon bias implicit in an arms race is ample ground for rejecting it as a substitute for a sound military policy. By giving top priority to strategic weapons and thereby to preparations to forestall the least probable of our major military threats, it will lead us to expend much of our resources on the wrong things or in wrong order of priority. It will confirm us in the neglect of our conventional forces despite their present shortages in trained men, weapons, equipment and munitions necessary for combat readiness. Yet these are the forces we need right now to discourage any further Soviet advance toward Middle East oil fields, the control of which would give Moscow irresistible political and economic leverage over the NATO nations and Japan. The are also the forces that guarantee the security of our home base in the Western Hemisphere, ensure an ability to reinforce our overseas deployments in Europe and Asia and prevent the interruption of our trade with important overseas markets. The fatal and growing dependence of our economy on imports of scarce raw materials -- petroleum and industrial minerals -- has given a new vulnerability to our security and a new mission to our conventional forces -- the maintenance of access to key markets.
We cannot get forces capable of such tasks by racing and slavishly imitating the Soviets, thereby adding their judgmental errors to our own. We must have a military policy made to meet our peculiar needs -- one that identifies our real threats worldwide and allocates resources to them in appropriate quantity and priority. It would determine the tasks that the Armed Forces must be able to perform and then design the force structure capable of performing them. The only race involved would be to meet program targets on scheduled time, with both targets and time set in Washington, not Moscow.
All this is not to say that the Soviet Union is not at present our most dangerous international adversary -- one requiring unremitting attention. But that fact must not cause us to overlook the many dangers arising from other sources with little or no Soviet connection -- the increasing turbulence in the Third World, the weaknesses of many of our allies, the disastrous dependence of our economy on imports and the global consequences of population explosion. A rational military policy must prepare against all real dangers from whatever source, and in so doing take due account of that part of Soviet strength that may do serious harm to our country.