Sunday, November 21, 2004
Chapter 36 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974
Blueprint for Disaster: American Defence Expenditure
By STEWART ALSOP
This is going to be one of those old-fashioned, reactionary columns that will cause all right-thinking persons to label the writer a tired old toady of the military-industrial complex. But there are certain facts of our present situation that really do seem worth a bit of thinking about, and that are hardly being thought about, or argued about, or written about, at all. Here are four examples:
1. The way things are going, the U.S. Army will soon hardly be in shape to take on a determined girls' hockey team. The Army is now dependent on volunteers, and young men are not volunteering fast enough, despite a pay scale that makes our Army infinitely the most expensive per capita in world history. So the Army is headed down to 800,000 men, and could go down to 730,000 men.
Moreover, the Army bureaucracy, in its incredible way, has ruled that only fifteen per cent of the men in Army uniform should be the fighting men of the three combat services, infantry, artillery and armour. That means an Army of around 120,000 combat soldiers -- the rest are support troops or bureaucrats in uniform, rather less capable of harming an enemy than a determined girls' hockey team. An Army of 120,000 combat soldiers must seem some sort of joke to the Russians, who field a superbly equipped army of at least eighty combat-ready divisions.
2. Norman Polmar, U.S. editor of Jane's Fighting Ships, the traditionally accurate British guide to naval strength, believes that the Soviet Union, which hardly had a navy fifteen years ago, 'may already have become the dominant seapower'.
3. U.S. intelligence satellites have spotted no fewer than three new Soviet missile types since the SALT 1 agreement was signed last year. All three are designed to carry very heavy warheads. One, for example, is a heavier version of the SS-9, which already carries a warhead about twenty times as heavy as the American Minuteman. Another uses a 'pop-up' technique to enable the smaller SS-11 to carry a much heavier warhead than before.
Why all this emphasis on heavier warheads? The answer is obvious. MIRVing a warhead is like slicing a pie-the bigger the warhead to be MIRVed, the bigger, and the more numerous, the individually targeted warheads into which it can be divided. The SALT agreement represents a stable nuclear balance, simply because the Soviet missiles are not MIRVed and ours are. But all the experts are agreed that the Soviets will have fully mastered MIRV technology by 1980 at the latest.
Then, unless something is done in the meantime, the nuclear balance will cease to be stable. For then, according to the experts in such matters, the Soviets will have the capacity to knock out our entire land-based nuclear deterrent in a first strike, with enough nuclear warheads to destroy every major city in this country in a second strike. We will lack an equivalent capacity. Thus the stable nuclear balance will cease to be stable.
4. The Canadian truce team in South Vietnam, just before it withdrew in frustration, issued a report. The Canadians, hardly toadies of the U.S. military-industrial complex, reported that the North Vietnamese had been cheating wholesale on the Paris agreement. North Vietnam, the Canadians charged, 'without being deterred one scintilla by the Paris agreement, has been infiltrating massive armed North Vietnamese troop units into Cambodia and South Vietnam in order to conduct military operations against the Republic of South Vietnam . . .'
One thing that is interesting about these four assorted facts is the reaction to them of the Democratic opposition. The Democratic Party of John Kennedy and his predecessors would have been howling to high heaven that something had to be done to right the growing imbalance in both conventional and strategic power. The current reaction of the Democrats is summed up in a paper signed by almost the entire liberal Democratic defense establishment -- Paul C. Warnkle, Adrian Fisher, Morton Halperin, Roswell Gilpatric, Herbert ScoviIle, Herbert York and so on. The booklet proposes to cut more than $14 billion from the current defence budget.
This is to be done partly by sharp reductions in conventional strength. 'At least' three divisions are to be cut from our enfeebled Army, and carriers, nuclear submarines, tactical air wings and so on are to be similarly cut back. It is to be done partly by eliminating virtually all new strategic-weapons procurement, even to the point of halting 'the final instalment for the MIRVing of the first 550 Minuteman missiles.' And it is to be done partly by cutting off all logistic, economic or other support for the South Vietnamese.
All three proposals are fairly mind-boggling. The men who put their names to the report are intelligent men, but it is curious reasoning, surely, that the way to deal with an unquestioned threat of decisive Soviet superiority in conventional and strategic power is to cut back on U.S. conventional and strategic power.
The report points out that the 'imbalance in the teeth-to-tail ratio' needs to be reversed. Indeed it does, and by the toughest kind of action, up to and including the mass firing of generals and admirals. But the way to do so is not to cut three divisions from our thirteen-division Army, for example, but to demand that the Army provide a lot more divisions --at least twenty-from its 800,000 manpower level.
As for the proposal to cut off all logistic and other support to the South Vietnamese, this would of course insure the defeat of South Vietnam. The 'massive' infiltration which the Canadians report is clearly in preparation for another North Vietnamese offensive, for which the Soviets and the Chinese are providing generous logistic support, including heavy tanks and long-range artillery. Cut off from all U.S. support, the South Vietnamese cannot possibly contain the offensive.
The betrayal of South Vietnam was the price demanded by the Communists for the return of our prisoners, before the Paris agreement. If this Democratic defence blueprint is approved, South Vietnam will be betrayed gratuitously, and the war lost retroactively. It is a curious atmosphere in which we find ourselves, in which moral men like those listed above can blandly propose the betrayal of a small dependent ally, amid nods of approval from other moral men, who can claim to have been right all along, when the inevitable defeat of South Vietnam occurs.
In such an atmosphere, the Democratic defence blueprint seems likely to be adopted without much argument or much thought. For to dispute its wisdom is to invite the Pavlovian label of cold warrior or Pentagon toady, and no sensible man, no politician especially, wishes to be so labeled.
This chapter originally appeared as an article in "Newsweek", 13 August 1973, p. 35.