Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko, in a speech published today, called for a "strengthening of the country's defense capability" as a response to the "growing aggressiveness of imperialism."
The speech, delivered at the weekly meeting of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo, gave no figures on defense spending, but the mere mention of a priority for the military is an unusual public acknowledgement that more money is likely to be channeled into defense next year.
For more than a dozen years, the official Soviet budget has fixed defense spending at about 17 billion rubles ($13.9 billion), a figure that western analysts agree grossly understates the actual expenditure.
As Chernenko made public his commitment to higher defense spending, he also reiterated in responses to questions submitted by NBC-TV correspondent Marvin Kalb that he stands committed to reaching accords with the United States on major arms issues. Chernenko said, however, that the time was not yet right to consider a summit meeting with President Reagan. Details on Page A18.
Chernenko's speech, setting the direction for the 1985 Soviet budget, closely followed the tone set by his predecessor, the late Yuri Andropov. It stressed better management, greater efficiency and higher productivity as the way to economic growth. Next year is the last year of the current five-year plan, the 11th, and analysts here detected in the speech no shift in overall economic policy.
What was unusual was not the content, but the form in which it was delivered. Typically, Chernenko, as general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, would be expected to deliver such a speech at the party plenum, which usually precedes a meeting of the Supreme Soviet, or rubber-stamp parliament.
A session of the Supreme Soviet has been scheduled for Nov. 27, and some western diplomats here speculated that by publishing the speech this week, the 12-member Politburo may have circumvented the need for a plenum, where such questions as leadership issues might also be expected to be addressed.
They noted that Chernenko instructed the government to recommend the budget decisions directly to the Supreme Soviet, without referring to the Central Committee plenum. Chernenko, however, did mention a forthcoming plenum, which, he said, would be devoted to the urgent question of putting scientific and technological innovations to use in the work place.
The speech dwelled on recent Soviet economic accomplishments but, according to western analysts, appeared to keep goals for 1985 within realistic limits. According to western diplomats, Soviet economic performance has slightly exceeded its goals for the first 10 months of this year.
Chernenko noted the upturn in the economy by saying the average yearly growth of industrial output reached 32 billion rubles ($26.2 billion) in the last two years, 1.5 times the average growth of 1981 and 1982. Next year, Chernenko said, the goal will be for a 3.3 percent increase in real income, "substantially higher than the average of the previous four years."
He noted that oil and coal production have fallen below target, an official acknowledgement of what Soviet statistics have revealed recently. Western analysts here predict that 1984 oil production will at best match 1983 figures.
Like Andropov, Chernenko called for greater vigilance against sloppiness, complacency and "a tendency to relax" in the work place and urged workers and managers to aim not only to fulfill the current five-year plan but, "wherever possible and necessary," to surpass it.
He touched on the failures of the Soviet consumer economy, deploring, for instance, the current lack of quality winter shoes in the stores, particularly for children.
He noted that in the course of a working day in the machine building industry, 14 percent of all equipment does not work.