With the Reagan economic policy in trouble, his military policy cannot be far behind. Like the voice of the turtle, a swelling chorus of critics and skeptics is rising to question the validity of the goals and programs that constitute a seemingly disjointed military policy. The critics stress the estimated cost of over a trillion dollars in five years and the likely effect on government deficits and social programs.
The skeptics find much to question in the specific plans and programs. In the case of strategic weapons, they want to know such things as (a) the evidence supporting a belief in the vulnerability of our land-based ICBMs; (b) the reason for wanting another land-based missile, the MX, on American soil; (c) grounds for resurrecting the B1 as a new penetration bomber, given the many thousands of cruise missiles soon to be available; and (d) the justification for spending $180 billion to improve strategic forces that are already sufficient to destroy the Soviet Union as a functioning government and viable nation.
Regarding the conventional forces, the questions indicate serious misgivings about such things as (a) the realism of expecting to conduct sustained operations against the Soviets in the Persian Gulf region; (b) the ability of our forces to conduct sustained military operations anywhere without resort to a draft; (c) the utility of the Rapid Deployment Force as a suppressant of non- nuclear threats given its limited strategic mobility; and (d) the procurement of highly sophisticated battlefield weapons that cannot be repaired short of the factory of origin.
Implicit in both the criticism and the skepticism is a feeling that the administration does not have a military policy worthy of the name. But what would constitute such a policy?
I would say that the kind of policy we need would include an initial presidential decision as to the threats to the national interests that the armed forces must be ready to counter, along with a set of goals, guidelines and programs for generating the necessary forces. Measured by this yardstick, the Reagan policy in its present form may be properly criticized on several counts.
The enemy to be countered is too narrowly defined--Soviet malevolence backed by preponderant military force. Our security is menaced by many threats and hostile forces beyond those directly attributable to the Soviets--for example, the dangers to our economy that would arise from the exclusion of our trade from important markets and the disastrous consequences of excessive population growth in destabilizing the regions in which these markets are found.
The overall military goal of the Reagan policy, as set forth by its exponents, is to match or to surpass Soviet military strength with forces able to fight, presumably successfully, anywhere at any time for an indefinite duration. Does that mean, one wonders, that we should increase our Army from its present 16 divisions to match the Soviets' 170 and then expect our forces to fight the latter anywhere, say in Siberia?
Specific programs are less ambitious, but still open to criticism. In his Oct. 2 statement regarding the strategic forces, the president indicated a primary concern for the strategic programs contributing to closing the "window of vulnerability" resulting from the exposure of our land-based ICBMs. However, these programs will require so long to produce results that they will do little to close the window even partially before the end of the decade.
In the conventional field, there have been statements of intention to strengthen the Rapid Deployment Force, to expand the Navy from 450 to 600 combat ships, and to give the Army two additional divisions--but there have been no formal programs and no indication of the source of the additional 250,000 personnel such expansions would require. Nor is there evidence of appreciation of the urgent need for task readiness on the part of the existing conventional forces needed to meet promptly the many relatively minor contingencies that are sure to arise. The administration seems committed to preparing for the least probable threats to the neglect of the most probable.
If the Reagan policy is as deficient as these criticisms imply, can anything be done to retrieve the situation at this late hour? It would require fundamental changes of policy involving a broadened recognition of the threat, a restatement of policy goals and a new set of guidelines for the structuring of the armed forces.
The statement of guidelines would be most important. It would include the following:
* The forces to be created and sustained must be capable of maintaining unchallenged military superiority in the Western Hemisphere and its air-sea approaches, continuing to deter the Soviet Union from military attack on the United States and its allies and ensuring uninterrupted communication with our principal allies and overseas markets in peace and war.
* First priority will be given to the readiness of existing forces to perform their assigned tasks.
* For inclusion in new programs, every major unit and weapons system must be justified by its contribution to an approved task, the latter arising from a policy goal that in turn derives from the need to counter a recognized threat. Thus, numerical parity with the Soviets would cease to be a matter of concern and an arms race would be irrelevant.
* The national economy having become an exposed target to foreign enemies, through its vulnerability to the loss of overseas markets, the armed forces will henceforth be prepared to contribute as directed to the protection of these markets and their access routes.
If the Reagan military policy could be modified in consonance with these guidelines, it would become much less vulnerable to the criticism building up against it. Its purposes and programs could be explained in relatively simple terms. The new stress placed upon the role of the armed forces in securing our national power base in the Western Hemisphere and in protecting the national economy should appeal to the average citizen who wants to see the relation between increased military expenditures and his own way of life. A modified policy would offer him a reasonable chance to remain safe without going broke in the process.
It should also be attractive to an administration otherwise reluctant to change a previously announced course. In addition to redeeming a policy in distress, consider the political gains at home and abroad of being able to abjure any future arms race with the Soviets while assuring the nation of the task adequacy of the forces to be maintained. Under such conditions, there would be no need to apologize for a change in policy. The president would not have abandoned his guns but merely shifted their aim to fire more effectively on more important targets.