On the first page of the report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces (known as the Scowcroft Commission after Brent Scowcroft, its chairman) there appears a list of the members of the commission as well as the names of the senior counselors to the commission. The name of Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin does not appear. Perhaps it should.
Both Aspin and I serve on the House Armed Services Committee. We sit one seat apart. I watched in awe last winter as he worked the phones to muster congressional support for the Scowcroft compromise. His argument was that the package should command allegiance both from those who believe that arms control should be the primary focus of our strategic decisions and from those who believe that augmenting our arsenal to combat an unprecedented Soviet threat is the first priority. Aspin's article in The Post ("It's a Good Deal--and It's in Trouble," Topic A, July 17) reveals how bitterly disappointed he is that the compromise package is unraveling.
Even within the context of nuclear game theory, the argument for the MX is weak. Only by stringing a hundred "What ifs?" together can you come up with a justification for it. Yet the cost of the system is extremely high. For the MX, or any other strategic system, we ought to ask the following questions:
Is deterrence strengthened or weakened by building this system? Does building this system increase the predictability of the arms race in the future? Does it save any resources? Does it increase or decrease the incentives for nuclear war? Will the building of this system lead toward arms control negotiations in a reasonable time period? Can this weapon system be part of an arms control package that allows for reasonable verification? The MX does not produce satisfactory answers to these questions.
Each MX missile holds 10 or 12 nuclear warheads, each of which can be targeted independently. If each warhead were accurately targeted and potent enough to break the hardened concrete and steel covering Soviet missile silos, the 100 MXs provided by the Scowcroft Commission could destroy 1,000 or 1,200 of the Soviet's 1,400 land-based missiles. For a preemptive first strike, therefore, the MX would be quite effective in eliminating the ability of the Soviet Union to retaliate.
On the other hand, the fact that up to a dozen warheads may be bunched on a single missile in a single silo makes the MX not very useful for responding to a Soviet first strike. In fact, systems with multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs), such as the MX, provide increasingly irresistible targets for an enemy first strike.
The MX was designed too large to ever be mobile. Weighing 192,000 pounds and being 92 inches in diameter, the MX is a monster of a machine. One vexing technical problem now faced by the Air Force is how to transport the huge third stage from its assembly point to a silo. Alas, many highway bridges cannot support the weight. Being immobile, the MX would be the primary target for Soviet missiles. They would be unavailable for retaliation. The point is that, unless we commit ourselves to launching a first, preemptive nuclear strike, a position most Americans find repugnant, the MX is a waste of $29 billion.
The MX missile program is one element of a six-part Reagan administration plan to modernize our strategic nuclear forces. Other elements include the development of a single warhead Midgetman missile, the development of a Stealth bomber, the deployment of 3,200 air-launched cruise missiles on B52 bombers, the building of a Trident submarine a year for the foreseeable future, and the deployment of 400 sea-launched cruise missiles. The MX missile has the lowest utility, highest cost and greatest potential for destabilizing the nuclear weapons balance of any of these systems.
Aspin describes the Scowcroft package this way: "The conservatives got the MX. . . . Liberals got promises of changes in the administration's arms control approach. . . . Liberals got a commitment from the administration to shift away from multi-warhead MIRVed missiles by beginning work on a small, single-warhead weapon." Congress can and should continue to deal with the MX factually and objectively; we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated into making the MX a right-versus-left debate.
Aspin appeals for liberal votes for the MX on two grounds. First, he reports that he gave his support for the MX in exchange for a commitment from the Reagan administration to pursue arms control diligently. Second, only if Congress goes forward with the MX, Aspin warns, will the administration go forward with the single-warhead Midgetman. It's worth scrutinizing these arguments.
We all want the START talks to succeed. Yet, we have negotiators who publicly proclaim that anything the Soviets will agree to has to be bad for the United States. It takes good will to negotiate, and that commodity seems to be in short supply in Geneva. If President Reagan were committed to arms control, he would appoint some of the outstanding individuals who served on the Scowcroft Commission to serve as our negotiators, not the right-wing ideologues now serving. The letter sent to Rep. Norman Dicks by President Reagan provided no assurance of a real change in the administration's arms control posture. The first item on the arms control agenda must be the elimination of MIRVs, for MIRVed missiles are good for only one thing: a first strike. Arms control negotiations should be aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war; eliminating MIRVs would be the best first step toward doing so.
The Midgetman is an abandonment of the MIRV philosophy that has guided our missile design for the last 20 years. Building single-warhead missiles, to the exclusion of MIRVs, is the direction we should be taking. On defense matters, and specifically on the issue of land-based strategic missiles, this administration acts like a child in a candy store. It refuses to choose between the MX and the Midgetman. It demands both. Why it is in the interest of those of us dedicated to arms control to build both systems is something that Aspin does not explain.
In his article, Aspin makes a great deal of the dramatic shifts in public attitudes on defense spending. He paints the anti-MX lobbyists as monied bruisers, buying radio ads to scare members off the fence. I wish our side had some heavy-hitters, like the bankers or the insurance industry. I certainly haven't seen them. Who I have seen lobbying on the MX issue are priests, nuns, ministers and rabbis. I have heard from students, senior citizens, environmentalists, labor union members and many others.
This great anti-MX, pro-freeze lobbying force is an honest-to-goodness grass-roots response to the government going awry. It is made up of citizens who refuse to accept the rebuke that they do not know enough to have a say in our nuclear weapons policy. Opponents of the freeze movement will not and cannot accept the reality that freeze advocates are concerned American citizens who believe that the government is making a potentially cataclysmic error with nuclear weapons. Rather than trying to discredit the movement, as this administration has tried, we ought to listen to it.
Aspin thinks that if "the right-wing fringe" would attack the Scowcroft compromise, liberals would support it. I resent this argument. Those of us who oppose the MX do so because it is an expensive and destabilizing system. We do not and should not oppose it because the right wing supports it.
We are all anxious to resolve the issue of the MX missile. I believe the issue should be resolved by terminating the program. We can resolve it by negotiating with the Soviets on all aspects of our nuclear arsenal to reduce tensions, reduce the risk of nuclear war and reduce weapons on both sides. And there is no better way to start than by negotiating a nuclear freeze.