The top military officer on the staff of the White House National Security Council claimed yesterday that the "Soviets are on the move, they are going to strike," and said the United States is "in the greatest danger that the republic has ever faced since its founding days."
In a speech that appeared to go beyond even the hard line the administration has taken, Army Maj. Gen. Robert L. Schweitzer also declared that Moscow now has nuclear superiority in all three legs of the strategic triad -- meaning land-based and submarine-based missiles and long-range bombers -- and spoke of "a drift toward war."
Schweitzer, who heads the defense group on the NSC staff, said evidence continues to mount that the Soviets have in mind invading Poland, that Moscow continues practicing maneuvers aimed at taking over Persian Gulf oil fields, that U.S. church leaders have not been helpful in combating the Soviet presence in Latin America and that a backlash involving Israel could occur here if the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia is thwarted by Congress.
A White House spokesman, describing Schweitzer's speech as "off the wall," said, "We want to knock this one hard." He said of the speech, "It's much more pessimistic than the president's own views."
Schweitzer provided his grim assessment in a speech before several hundred Army officers and others at the annual meeting here of the Association of the United States Army. His speech marked one of the rare times that someone on the NSC staff, other than its director, presidential adviser Richard V. Allen, has been allowed to speak publicly. Allen has also told NSC staff members they may not talk to reporters.
Another White House spokesman said Schweitzer "was giving his own personal views and not speaking for the administration." If Schweitzer had submitted his speech for White House approval, it would not have been approved, the spokesman said.
Schweitzer told the audience that his speech probably would not have been approved if he had submitted an advance text. He said he told his bosses generally what he was going to say and they expressed the "hope" he would not cause trouble.
"Well, I think we are going to have to get ourselves in trouble and our principals [apparently meaning our allies] in order to lay out the threat, because the threat is believed not to exist," Schweitzer said. "That's the feeling in [Western] Europe. They think it's automatic, another 30 years of peace. That's wrong. The Soviets are on the move.They are going to strike. They've got every incentive and the capability."
Schweitzer also said:
* On Poland: "A possible, certainly threatened, Soviet invasion" is the leading challenge to the western alliance. While scholars and analysts may debate the timing or strength, "the evidence continues to mount that the Soviet Union very much has this in mind."
* On the Caribbean: The region "is in flames. There is no other way to describe it." There is some level of active, organized communist insurgency in every country throughout South America, he said, while in the Caribbean and Latin America there is, in addition, endemic economic and sociological revolutions. "The last administration minimized the communist threat and maximized human rights. In so doing, they confused a goal with a policy."
* On pacificism: "The seed of pacificism and neutralism is sweeping over Europe, and we're not immune to it in this country, where bishops and churchmen have been extremely unhelpful in trying to deal with the realities of the [communist] threat down in Latin America."
* On the Middle East: IF the AWACS deal is vetoed; the United States faces an $8.5 billion loss of sales and tax revenues and the Saudis would buy Nimrod warning planes and Mirage fighters from Britain and France. Then Israel would ask U.S. help to meet this new threat. The Israelis will say, "Here is our list, and we want it on the same terms . . . and 50 percent grant aid that you've always given us in the past.
"I wonder if there isn't going to be some backlash in the U.S.," Schweitzer said, when it is considered that the United States diminished Israeli security and now is making demands on U.S. taxpayers "to buy them [the Israelis] out of a threat that really will be created with out own hands."
* On Soviet superiority: "The Soviet Union knows that for the first time they have superiority in every leg of the triad," and thus "they may be tempted to use nuclear or nonclear forces." This was "a very bad trend -- the drift toward war." No administration figure has made such a sweeping calm of Soviet supremacy. U.S. submarines and bombers still are judged superior.
* On the press: "The press gets fed a steady diet . . . and if they didn't get this, they'd get sick. So sometimes they make it up, or extend and expand on it." Those remarks brought the most applause.