It was said of the Holy Roman Empire, in one of those quaint witticisms that delighted the older generation and bemused the younger, that it was neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire.

The words emblazoned in "Rapid Deployment Force" seem similarly devoid of content, and can only serve to depress any current observer of the power balance. In truth, there is nothing rapid about the RDF, either in the extended period of its creation or in its prospective speed of movement. It is not much of a force, since it cannot be brought to bear in a manner to fulfill its assigned mission, and it is certainly not a new force. Whatever the potential for deployment remains to be demonstrated.

To date, the principal novelty of the RDF is a new headquarters. There are no additional units -- simply the public earmarking of forces that previously had been quietly earmarked for possible service in the Middle East. Since these units are also earmarked for NATO reinforcement, deployment to the Middle East would effectively preclude NATO reinforcement in an emergency. Such adjustments of commitments probably are wise under current conditions. Nonetheless, one must be aware that we have here no military counterpart of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. The RDF simply means the drawdown of forces previously assigned to other missions.

A major element in the RDF is a Marine component, constrained by amphibious lift limitations to the equivalent of one division. These forces are, to say the least, ill-equipped for combat with hostile tank forces. Marine forces have been especially hard hit by the severe budget cutbacks of recent years. Using FY1978 as a standard, constant dollar appropriation requests for Marine land forces declined by 26 percent in FY1979 and by 45 percent in FY1980. FY1981 has apparently been a banner year in that the decline below the FY1978 level is only 26 percent. However gung-ho the Marine Corps may be for its challenging new assignment, it starts from a starvation diet in procurement over the last few years.

The aggregate figures for Army procurement are happily somewhat more robust. Nonetheless, the Army elements earmarked for the RDF, notably the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Air Mobile Division, are essentially as ill-equipped to take on hostile tank forces. The sheridan-shillelagh system, the main armament of these divisions, is marred, to put it mildly, by technical deficiencies. The upshot is that, even if these divisions could be transported in time someplace in the Indian Ocean, it is scarely evident with what they would fight and what forces they could overcome.

The distances to be covered are, of course, vast. Given the congressional reluctance to support the expansion of airlift capability since 1973, the pace of buildup is not likely to frighten a powerful foe. While the precise buildup is classified, it is evident that the earliest that these forces could be rapidly deployed from the continental United States will be the mid-1980s -- if we begin now seriously to work on the deficiencies.

One might say, nonetheless, we have a new mission and a new headquarters. A new command can at least point out serious deficiencies, so surely that is a sign of progress. Yet one can never be sure. One must recall that the administration's response earlier to the discovery of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba was -- to establish a new headquarters at Key West. Similarly, the chief military concomitant to the very ambitious mission embodied in the Carter Doctrine was the establishment of a new headquarters for the RDF -- along with some frenetic planning and some slight action.

One can scarcely overemphasize the importance of command/control in assessing the chances for success. Particularly is this the case when adjustments of service roles and missions are in prospect. One need only to recall the recent abortive rescue mission in the Iranian desert to understand both the significance and the delicacy of command/control arrangements. Let us therefore review what has happened with the RDF.

A Marine general has been placed in charge of the RDF. The Army, fearing that it might be foreclosed in large degree from the most significant new mission of the decade, appealed to Higher Authority regarding the initial command arrangements. Consequently, the RDF has now been made subordinate to Readiness Command -- by the sheerest coincidence commanded by an Army general. In the event that the balloon goes up, that would provide the Army with suitable terrain from which to commence bureaucratic combat. In the event of trouble, the Marine general would become commander-in-chief of Indian Ocean forces. Yet he has no lines of authority over the forces that he hopes would be assigned to him, if he were told to go. He can start planning now to negotiate for the forces (if they are at all ready) with which presumably he would fight.

The overall impression, then, is one of reallocation of unready forces from prior missions with severe limitations on equipments, supplies, transportation and doctrine. Success in closing any operation will depend upon countless favorable assumptions, including a friendly reception at the far end of the air bridge. One can only wonder whether or not what still remains to so large an extent, a paper operation justifies the publicity and fanfare with which it has been announced. Those to be protected are scarcely more likely to be impressed than those to be deterred. Yet the public has been led to believe not only that htere are great expectations, but that there have already been great achievements. Is this just the triumph of PR over reality? Or is this another astounding case, like that of Stealth, in which a public announcement by itself is said to alter the balance of power?

In a recent review of the backing and filling with the military budget, Newsweek was conned into believing that we are now undergoing "the speediest military buildup since Vietnam." If that were so, it would be more than impressive; it would be miraculous. It would be the first significant military budget buildup in the nation's history that has taken place without new funds, new personnel, new units -- and in the face of reduced production of conventional military hardware.

It seems to be a hallmark of this administration that it is prepared on occasion to embrace -- and then to advertise -- some of Zbigniew Brzezinski's concepts. It is, however, wholly unwilling to put behind such concepts the resources and the planning effort necessary to turn concept into reality. Oddly enough, Brezezinsk himself appears to be satisfied with this arrangement. The delights of concocting verbal formulas seem far more rewarding than the banality of influencing reality. The administration seems more interested in taking a pass at a problem in order to alleviate political pressures than it is in attempting seriously to alter what the Soviets call "the correlation of forces."