The Reagan administration's nuclear missile program was sharply criticized yesterday by the Committee on the Present Danger, a pro-defense group whose original board of directors included Ronald Reagan and more than a dozen other top officials in his administration.
The committee said yesterday that despite the administration's defense buildup, the United States has fallen further behind the Soviets each year.
The group, which criticized President Jimmy Carter as having allowed the United States to become vulnerable to a Soviet missile attack, charged that U.S. strategic missiles remain equally vulnerable under the Reagan administration.
"To date, the lack of a priority program to restore survivability to the U.S. strategic forces is the most striking deficiency," the committee said in a report released yesterday.
Although defense expenditures have "increased marginally," the report said, "the gap between U.S. and Soviet military capabilities continues to grow."
William R. Van Cleave, a board member who headed the Reagan administration's 1980 transition team at the Defense Department, said yesterday that the Reagan military spending plan was "following the outlays projected by Jimmy Carter" and "was not doing enough to rescue us from serious dangers" posed by the Soviet military buildup.
Van Cleave, a professor at the University of California, said the Reagan administration had "ruled out the only two survivable methods" for protecting the proposed new MX intercontinental missile: the Carter "racetrack" plan for moving 200 MX missiles among 4,600 shelters and a plan to surround U.S. missiles with a defensive system to knock down incoming warheads.
He said he opposed continuing the MX program because the administration plans to put them in vulnerable silos now occupied by Minuteman III missiles. Instead, he wants to push ahead with a mobile Midgetman missile and add multiple shelters to protect the Minuteman force.
The committee's report attacked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for saying that U.S. strategic nuclear forces "would remain effective even if the Soviets were to attack." That conclusion, the report said, "is questionable."
In a broader attack on the administration, the report said, "The United States must develop a comprehensive strategy that can be articulately presented." Instead, it complained, "the current strategic situation illustrates the immense gap which has been allowed to develop between the declared objectives of U.S. strategic forces and their capabilities."
The committee's attack on the Reagan administration's strategic program, and the comparison it made with Soviet forces, was reminiscent of papers produced from 1978 to 1980 attacking the Carter defense program and its SALT II strategic arms-control treaty. The prime authors in those days were Paul Nitze, Fred C. Ikle, John F. Lehman Jr., and Richard N. Perle, all of whom now are top government officials with reponsibilities in the defense and arms-control areas.
The report also took issue with the Reagan administration's analysis of the growth of Soviet forces:
"In the view of our committee, the U.S. strategic force posture vis-a-vis the Soviet Union has deteriorated sharply, and is considerably worse than official estimates."
Van Cleave, asked about Reagan's recent statement that the United States can "negotiate from strength" with the Soviet Union, said this country "obviously did not have enough" strength.