A compliant Congress permits the Pentagon to take steps that increase the risk of nuclear war.
The new Pentagon budget, which calls for more money for the military than in any other year since the end of World War II, is frighteningly Orwellian. For the first time in nine years the United States does not have substantial forces fighting a war in Vietnam, but defense spending is to increase $10 billion over last year. Detente with the Soviet Union has been proclaimed by President Nixon, but the budget is bloated by new money for more accurate weapons to aim at the Russians. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is being widely ballyhooed as the man who at last is bringing peace to the Middle East, but last October's Israeli-Arab war has been eagerly seized upon by the Pentagon as an excuse for still more increases in military spending.
And even more disturbing than the details of the $90 billion-plus Defense Department budget for the fiscal year beginning next July 1--and the Administration's deliberate misrepresentations of the size and the scope of the Pentagon's spending plans--are the indications that Congress once again will roll over and play dead while the generals and admirals steamroller the budget through the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees on Capitol Hill.
Even Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, the RAND-trained, war-gaming Ph.D. who is making as great an impact on the Pentagon as Robert S. McNamara did in the early 1960s, must be disappointed in the lamb-like way Senators and Representatives who were disturbed about the ABM just six years ago are responding to his proposals, some of which constitute major and potentially dangerous changes in American nuclear strategy even more far-reaching than the ABM.
Shortly after Schlesinger was confirmed by the Senate last summer, he began talking about making American nuclear weapons more accurate so that they could theoretically destroy a military base near a Soviet city without leveling the city, too. In a question-and-answer session early in January before the Overseas Press Club in Washington, Schlesinger announced publicly for the first time that he was trying to improve the accuracy of atomic warheads. He also has said he hopes his plans will generate a great debate on American nuclear doctrine.
But so far Schlesinger's breath-taking plans have largely met with silence from members of Congress as well as from the defense intellectuals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other university centers--the scholars who led the impassioned fight against anti-ballistic missiles which finally were brought under control by the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation agreement signed in Moscow in 1972.
Some Washington observers blame the indifference with which Democratic liberals and other critics of the Pentagon have reacted to Schlesinger's strategic proposals and his first defense budget on the "Jackson Syndrome" which now seems to be sweeping the Capital. With his charge that the United States lost more than it gained in the SALT I pact of two years ago, his aggressive support of the Israeli cause, and his leadership in Congress on energy matters, Senator Henry Jackson of Washington has emerged as a leading Democrat on Capitol Hill. Some critics have noted that other Democrats have muted their views on defense doctrine and military spending because Jackson seems to have struck a politically popular chord.
What Schlesinger's nuclear ideas and budget signify is that the arms race not only goes on but is accelerating despite detente, summit meetings, the end of direct U.S. participation in the Vietnam war, a SALT I arms-control agreement, SALT II talks, and Soviet-U.S. discussions on mutual reductions in troop levels in Eastern and Western Europe.
The Nixon Administration's justifications for the continuing arms race include its ingrained fear of the Russians, U.S. intelligence reports that suggest--or are interpreted to suggest--that the Soviet Union is rushing ahead with its own weapons development program, the "bargaining-chip" theory that weapons need to be developed or talked about so that something is available to be given away in negotiations with the other side, and the inexorable, impersonal, and apolitical march of technology.
The last of these phenomena is illustrated by Schlesinger's plans for zeroing in American missiles on such Soviet military targets as bases, steel plants, railroad junctions, and airfields. The Administration is ready to do this--and, in fact, is beginning to do it--in part because the technology of computers, miniaturization, and electronic controls has advanced so far so quickly that small warheads can easily be built, and can be targeted and retargeted faster than an electric-light switch can be flipped.
The danger inherent in developing so many small, highly accurate nuclear weapons is that such arms make atomic war more thinkable and hence more likely. If the button the President pushes would set off a nuclear holocaust, he is much less likely to push it than if the result would be the destruction of only a few Soviet bases.
No less a supporter of big defense budgets and sophisticated weapons than Senator John Stennis, the Mississippi Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in 1971, when proposals similar to Schlesinger's were before Congress: "We do not need this type of improvements in payload and guidance now ... in order to have the option of attacking military targets other than cities. Our accuracy is already sufficiently good to enable us to attack any kind of target we want, and to avoid collateral damage to cities. The only reason to undertake the type of program ... is to be able to destroy enemy missiles in their silos before they are launched. This means a U.S. strike first, unless the adversary should be so stupid as to partially attack us, and leave many of his ICBMs in their silos for us to attack in a second strike."
Supporters of Schlesinger's current plans for smaller, more accurate weapons argue, however, that they could lead eventually to a U.S.-Soviet agreement phasing out land-based missile systems. The way things go in the nuclear arms race it is not too long before the other side also has what its opponent has developed, and if both the United States and the Soviet Union arm themselves with capabilities to take out individual missile silos without destroying all of North Dakota or Leningrad, too, of what use then are land-based missiles?
Perhaps pin-pointed missiles could lead to further arms control in the mad world of nuclear weapons, but the lessons of the arms control negotiations of the last few years would seem to, indicate that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union is willing to negotiate away weapons systems that are in place unless they are outrageously expensive and obviously dated.
Among the generally acknowledged "bargaining chips" in the new defense budget are funds for the development of a "cruise" missile which travels just above the surface and does not have the range of ICBMs for movable land-based missiles and missiles that can be launched from airplanes, and for smaller submarines that could still serve as launching pads for nuclear weapons.
The Air Force's old friend, the B-I bomber, designed eventually to replace the B-52, is still lurking in the budget, too, with $500 million assigned for further development. The B-I, however, is not looked on as a bargaining chip.
The trouble with bargaining chips is that they generally represent new technology and develop a momentum all their own. Schlesinger may think he is tough enough to control actual deployment of these weapons, but his tenure as Secretary of Defense is not likely to last beyond January 20, 1977, which is less than three years away, and both the weapons and the U.S.-Soviet negotiations undoubtedly will still be on the drawing boards when he hands over his job to his successor.
While Schlesinger has openly called for public debate on the development of smaller and more accurate nuclear weapons, he has resorted to a considerable amount of all too familiar Pentagon bookkeeping legerdemain to make the record-breaking defense budget look smaller than it is.
Besides asking Congress for $92.6 billion in spending authority in the 1975 fiscal year--actual spending always lags behind the Congressional authorization to spend, and 1975 outlays will come to $85.8 billion, an increase of $6.3 billion over 1974--Schlesinger also sent Congress a request for $6.2 billion in additional spending authority, for fiscal 1974, which ends on June 30. More than half of the supplemental request is for military and civilian pay increases, but $2.1 billion is for more military hardware which is not likely to be purchased until after the 1975 fiscal year begins in July, and therefore clearly belongs in the 1975 budget. But when that $2.1 billion is added to the 1975 spending authority figure, it brings the total to $94.7 billion, or a whopping $10.1 billion over 1974.
Furthermore, as Senator William Proxmire, Wisconsin Democrat, has pointed out, the Pentagon added $2.2 billion in emergency military aid voted by Congress to Israel last fall to the Defense Department's baseline figure for determining its 1975 budget. Yet, as Proxmire observed, the aid to Israel was clearly a one-time effort and not part of any long-range program.
In presenting his budget to Congress, Schlesinger has made much of the inroads of inflation on Pentagon spending, and has argued that the budget includes no real increase in spending. Proxmire has calculated, however, that the 1975 budget represents an eight per .cent increase in real defense resources.
The whole Federal budget is, in fact, permeated with increased costs resulting from the runaway Nixon inflation, but when the Administration boasts of a 165 per cent growth in Social Security and other income security payments since 1969, it conspicuously fails to mention the relative purchasing power of the dollar. And it skips over the reality that defense spending represents about $59 billion of that $85 billion in the $304.4 billion budget that is made up of what the Administration considers to be controllable expenditures.
Except for Schlesinger's new directions in nuclear doctrine, there is no evidence that the Pentagon budget was given a fresh look by him or anyone else in the wake of U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam war (which still drains $1.8 billion from the United States in military aid programmed in the 1975 budget). Money also is still provided for maintenance of an American military force of nearly 600,000 stationed at overseas bases around the globe, including Western Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
All three nuclear forces--the land, sea, and air-based missiles--are being modernized at a multibillion-dollar pace. Warheads are being MIRVed so that they can carry several independentlytargeted weapons rath,tr than just one. The $1-billion-a-submarine Trident program is well under way. New carriers are also being built at a cost of $1 billion each. And $15 million and $25 million airplanes are coming off the assembly lines to replace $4 million fighters.
Once again, what is sadly lacking from what little debate there is on the military budget is any sort of counterforce to the power of the Pentagon. The Congressional committees that are supposed to scrutinize the Pentagon budget consist largely of sympathizers of the military. Reductions made by Congress in the defense budget are always small ($3 billion last year, now swallowed up by the request for $6.2 billion in supplemental funds).
This year, with the nation facing a recession that may reach critical proportions, the defense budget is openly being talked about both within the Administration and in Congress as an easy spout to open just a bit more to pour out some Federal largesse to keep the economy in shape. There is no discussion in the Pentagon this year, for example, of closing some more obsolete bases.
It is sadly evident in Washington that the political leaders and other Americans who were outraged by the war in Vietnam, frightened by the implications of the ABM, and transfixed by the Pentagon Papers controversy have for some reason--weariness, perhaps--lost their taste for battle with the always moving, always advancing military juggernaut.
Julius Duscha is director of the Washington Journalism Center. He is author of "Arms, Money and Politics" and "Taxpayers' Hayride.”