Last Saturday The Post carried a story concerning various compromises on funding of the MX missile being considered by the administration and the Senate. It described President Reagan's belief that funding production of the missile is separate from the subject of where the missiles will be based, and quotes him as saying that last week's debate in the House "was lacking a little in honesty."
It is unfortunate that the president chose to impugn the honesty, and therefore the motives, of those who disagree with him. I certainly will not respond in kind. I must admit, however, to great puzzlement over the kind of information being presented to the president and his method of arriving at conclusions based on that information. Had I the opportunity, I would put to him a series of questions, the object of which would be to show him the other side of the issue. They would go something like this:
1) Missiles take about two years to build (three at the outside) and Dense Pack would be ready in four years at the absolute earliest. What is the point in building missiles until we have a place to put them?
2) You are quoted as saying that "it is absolutely essential to a strong, secure defense that we vote now on funds for that missile." How is our defense made stronger and more secure by funding production of homeless missiles?
3) Are you aware that the Pentagon's hand-picked independent expert, Charles Townes, expressed reservations about the viability of Dense Pack two months before your decision to go ahead with it?
4) In your address of Nov. 22, you said that Dense Pack silos would be at Warren Air Force Base. The Air Force says they will be on private land. In fact, some 10,000 acres of private and state land must be acquired for the silos, and some 3,000 acres of federal land withdrawn from the Bureau of Land Management for support facilities. Are you aware that this alone makes a December 1986 date for Dense Pack extremely unlikely?
5) One of the suggested compromises on MX funding includes a reexamination of Dense Pack, along with other possible basing modes. That will take time, and will push the initial operational date farther into the future. Does this not make production funds for missiles even more premature than they already are?
6) Decisions to produce new weapons are supposed to be based on the results of test programs. For some time, Air Force schedules have shown the first MX test flight as occurring in January 1983. Information available to me strongly indicates a slip in that date. Have you asked the Air Force about its missile test schedule?
7) The missile's second-stage motor blew up in a recent ground test. Have you been told that a redesign will be necessary?
8) Doesn't the possibility of test schedule changes and motor redesigns make production funds for missiles even more premature?
9) You say that withholding missile production funds undermines negotiations with the Soviets. Without a place to put them, the missiles are useless, as both we and the Soviets know. Wouldn't the Soviets be more tractable it they saw schedules for missile production and basing construction that were in step, and that consequently indicated a well-considered and workable plan?
So much for questions the president probably will never see, much less attempt to answer.
I have believed for several years that the MX proponents are barking up the wrong tree. It is simply impossible for the United States to protect its land-based ICBMs, which carry 25 percent of our nuclear warheads, from Soviet land-based ICBMs, which carry 75 percent of theirs. That impossibility is confirmed by the Pentagon's fruitless search for such protection, at a cost in the billions over a period of years.
The most recent attempt, Dense Pack, which was opposed even by a majority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been an embarrassment and has brought scorn and ridicule at a time when we needed to build a national consensus on our defense needs.
We need to move beyond MX now, and get serious about alternatives to land-based ICBMs. I hope that our ability to study those alternatives has not been impaired by recent events. I believe that MX and Dense Pack have already become a symbol in the public mind of a bloated defense establishment, mindlessly pursuing schemes that have little to do with defense but a great deal to do with squandering money.
The president is incorrect in believing that the vote in the House last week was over the MX basing mode. It was over the basic, common-sense idea that until we have a place to put missiles there is no point in building them.
The writer, a Democratic representative from New York, is chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.