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Present Danger?

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(The following was originally printed in the Journal of Civil Defense: June 1978)

Excerpts of a statement given by Eugene V. Rostow of the Committee on the Present Danger to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Budget (March 1, 1978)

Nothing could be more useful to the nation now than a serious public discussion about the nature of Soviet policy and the problems it poses for us . . .

We believe that prudent and resolute action by this session of the Congress, substantially increasing the Administration’s Defense Budget, could mark one of the finest hours in its long and glorious history. . .

But Secretary Brown seems to suggest that we have to do no more now than keep the situation from getting any worse than it is. We emphatically disagree . . .

There is no harmony between the words and the music of the Administration’s budget. The Administration’s proposals do not meet the implacable arithmetic of the problem. The budget does not meet the Secretary’s stated goal of maintaining the status quo. It therefore fails both as a diplomatic signal and as a security measure. It simply isn’t enough to restore our deterrent strength, both strategic and conventional. Moreover, it fails the most important test of a Defense Budget: to give us full confidence in our ability to protect our national interests in peace. The Administration’s budget proposals would leave the Soviet Union’s military effort still growing more rapidly than ours, thus further increasing their lead -in many important categories of military strength . . .

The government is in a strange mood, a mood which reminds me of the ‘thirties,’ when we and the British hesitated between action and inaction until it was too late to prevent World War 11 . . .

This time we must not wait for a new Pearl Harbor to arouse us. The risks of such a course are too grave to be contemplated. In this situation of incipient crisis, we should follow one of-Parkinson’s most perceptive laws-his observation that the success of a policy is measured by catastrophes which do not happen. The budget proposed by the Administration does not meet Parkinson’s standard . . .

If the Secretary of Defense is wrong in his assessment of the present situation, we may well face the prospect that the Committee on the Present Danger identified in its 1976 statement: “Our alliances will weaken; our promising rapprochement with China could be reversed. Then we could find ourselves isolated in a hostile world, facing the unremitting pressures of Soviet policy backed by an overwhelming preponderance of power. Our national survival itself would be in peril, and we should face, one after another, bitter choices between war and acquiescence under pressure.” . . .

Four fundamental and adverse developments have taken shape since 1972, when the SALT Agreement was signed. The Soviets have made extremely rapid progress in MIRVing their missiles. Since their missiles have more throw weight than ours, this raises the first problem-how many warheads are they deploying per missile? What is the destructive power of each warhead? And what is the accuracy of these warheads, and what will it be in the future?

The second great change since 1972 is that the Soviets have made some of their ICBMs mobile, despite what the Senate was told on that subject when SALT I was ratified. The President has said that the Soviet Union is already deploying mobile ICBMs. The experts agree that it is in a position to deploy them on a large scale and quickly.

Third, recent reports of Soviet progress in antisatellite satellites-killer satellites-threaten our chief means of intelligence, communications and control. There is no need to underscore the importance of this development.

Fourth, we must note the significance of the Soviet civil defense programs. Even if imperfect, these programs reduce the effectiveness of our deterrents.

These four developments alone-and there are others-transform the problem of strategic deterrence . . .

No President of the United States should ever be put into the position of having to choose between holocaust and the surrender of vital American interests.

About:  Eugene V. Rostow, executive committee chairman of the Committee on The Present Danger, is Professor of Law at the Yale University Law School. He was formerly under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

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