It is not every day, every week, or even every year that a secretary of defense sends a letter to thirty US newspapers and forty foreign publications. It is even rarer that such a letter is used to defend his administration’s policy against alleged inaccuracies and misrepresentations, as if he did not have any other means to put the facts before the public. Yet, on August 23, just such a letter was sent by you on the subject of this administration’s nuclear-war policy. (It is reprinted on the opposite page.)
I realize that you did not send this letter to me personally. But it is an open letter, and, therefore, anyone may answer it publicly. It requires an answer from someone.
One question immediately arises: What provoked your letter?
It was provoked by “leaks” from your top-secret documents. One of them is “National Security Decision Document 13,” adopted by the National Security Council in the fall of 1981. This document was reported by Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times of August 15 of this year to have specifically stated for the first time that it was US policy to prevail in a protracted nuclear war. In the spring of 1982 this policy was then incorporated in a 125-page document entitled “Fiscal Year 1984-1988 Defense Guidance,” parts of which were leaked to The New York Times and disclosed by Richard Halloran, its defense correspondent, on May 30. This “Defense Guidance” is a five-year plan, beginning October 1, 1984, to provide general strategic direction to all the armed services. It was approved by you and represents the official view of the entire US military establishment. Most of the leaks came from it. This document is said to have been elaborated in even greater detail in a “strategic master plan” developed by the Pentagon and sent to the National Security Council for approval in early August. Scheer reported that, according to one member of the Reagan administration, it contemplates a nuclear war lasting as long as six months.
Just how such secret documents get leaked is an even greater secret. You fret and fume about it but seem incapable of locating the culprit or stopping the practice. The leaks must undoubtedly come from sources high enough to know what is in the documents, because the leaks come with exact quotations of just what you did not wish to be leaked. No one has denied the accuracy of these quotations.
That there is a division of opinion in the top leadership at the Pentagon seems clear. When he left as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last June, General David C. Jones of the Air Force repudiated the idea of a “protracted nuclear war.” Money spent to prepare for such a war, he said, would be thrown into a “bottomless pit.” If such a high-ranking officer thought it necessary to express himself so openly and so forcefully on this issue, there must be others who are also appalled by the adoption…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.