Although it would be frivolous to devote extensive space to the purely stylistic aspects of James Schlesinger’s 1975 defense budget we should note at the outset that his prose is that of a man visibly animated by strong and eccentric emotions. One would not expect someone who spends his hours of relaxation listening to tape recordings of bird song, and his hours of worship at the Lutheran church making careful notes on the sermon, to produce merely humdrum requests for money.1

On the very first page of the budget he is quoting the psalmist to the effect that “where there is no vision the people perish,” and after sixteen pages he has taken wings: “Eli Whitney belongs to us, not to our competitors. He rather than the medieval craftsmen of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres—however magnificent and unique their art—must once again become our model.” The startling invocation of Eli Whitney follows immediately after sentiments less exalted, but more to the point: “We can and must become increasingly competitive with potential adversaries in a more fundamental sense. We must not be forced out of the market—on land, at sea or in the air.”

This is by way of introduction to Schlesinger’s main theme: “This is our first peacetime defense budget in a decade. It is therefore an appropriate time to consider best how to settle down for the long haul.” In a reflex action, familiar to those who have immersed themselves in Pentagonese, this becomes “a long haul posture.” But Schlesinger is not a stupid man and his budget is adroitly presented. It demands the closest scrutiny, for his vision of “the long haul posture” raises profound and gloomy questions about the nature of the arms race in the Seventies; about the real intentions of this peacetime budget and what it portends.

The most conspicuous feature of the FY (fiscal year) 1975 defense budget is its colossal size. “A policy,” Schlesinger remarks, “requiring us to maintain our military strength and alliances while we are actively pursuing détente with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China may appear to some as incongruous.” The incongruity, expressed in round figures, amounts to this: the DOD has requested budgetary authority to spend $99.1 billion (the largest ever, with the exception of 1942 when the figure was $99.5 billion) and the DOD’s estimated outlay is $85.8 billion, the largest sum ever to be spent by the Defense Department. This, despite DOD claims to the contrary, represents an 8 percent real increase on the outlays for FY 1974.2

To adjust ourselves to the atmospheric conditions required to maintain life and sanity on the DOD’s budgetary planet we should begin by slowly breathing in the strange terminology of defense jargon. Unfamiliar flora and fauna abound: Worst Case Analysis (consideration of the worst things that could possibly happen, and consequent response to them as though they were true) and adjacent to this concept its half brother, Higher Than Expected Threat. Penaids (penetration aids) move through the somber heavens.

Strange sets of initials, too cumbersome even to be acronyms, come sliding out of the swamp, unrecognizable to all but the most expert of zoologists. Here comes AABNCP (E-4).

The AABNCP program, as currently planned, would be pursued in several stages geared to our growing understanding of the command and control problem in a nuclear war environment, and to the further development of applicable technology….

What is this? Actually it’s the Advanced Airborne National Command Post: converted Boeing 747s stuffed with electronic equipment and high brass which can fly. about for up to sixteen hours without refueling in the event of nuclear attack. The NEACP or National Emergency Airborne Command Post will carry the President himself, always assuming that he has survived the perilous transition between White House and Andrews Air Force Base.3 A computer terminal aboard the E-4, connected directly to the “WWMCCS ground-based ADP system,” will furnish the airborne commander in chief with progress reports on nuclear destruction for as long as the ground-based system continues to function. Thereafter, says Schlesinger bleakly, “it would have to operate in a manual mode.” Unfortunately we do not yet know the cost and timing of the actual computer terminal, as opposed to the aircraft, since “it has yet to be fully defined.”

This budget, with its “long haul posture,” represents a significant increase in real expenditure—a Great Leap Forward of the kind that has occurred about every ten years. Each leap forward comes equipped with a new strategic doctrine: for example, in the early Fifties it was the doctrine of “massive retaliation,” which justified the maintenance of high post-Korean War budgets. In the early Sixties it was the strategy of “flexible response.” And now, in the dawn of the “long haul posture,” we have Flexible Targeting Options which have come to be known as Counterforce. The announcement of a proposed new doctrine is not necessarily directly linked to huge budgetary appropriations (Schlesinger requests only $310 million for Counterforce this year), but debate has developed conveniently about it, leaving such items as $26.5 billion for operation and maintenance of existing forces under relatively less intense scrutiny. Counterforce, in short, has become this year’s fashionable topic—an excellent lightning conductor.


Since 1967 the official strategic doctrine of the US has been Assured Destruction, or—in its more companionable form—Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The essence of this strategy is simple enough. The enemy will be deterred from attempting a first strike by the prospect of instant destruction of its cities and industry. The Assured Destruction doctrine allows Schlesinger to say in this year’s budget that

even after a more brilliantly executed and devastating attack than we believe our potential adversaries could deliver, the United States would retain the capability to kill more than 30 percent of the Soviet population and destroy more than 75 percent of Soviet industry. At the same time we could hold in reserve a major capability against the PRC.

(It is reckoned by DOD strategists who exclude the capricious tyrant contingency from their calculations that the Soviet Union would regard as “unacceptable” the loss of 25 percent of its population and 50 percent of its industrial capacity. As Schlesinger remarks, these figures were arrived at in the Sixties because “beyond those levels very rapidly diminishing increments of damage would be achieved for each additional dollar invested.”)

To achieve assured destruction the US can count on approximately 6,000 deliverable warheads excluding those carried by strategic bombers and by tactical launchers based overseas. The first set of SALT agreements were acknowledgments of the fact that both the USA and the USSR can inflict intolerable damage upon each other, and this mutual knowledge was assumed to be “stabilizing,” a word much favored in such strategic debate.

What Schlesinger is now proposing as a topic for national debate is the doctrine of Flexible and Selective Targeting Options, popularly called Counterforce, although Schlesinger is careful to distinguish between the two. Counterforce means the ability to hit the other side’s missile silos. It has been opposed by SALT strategists lest it should undermine the MAD doctrine and establish what is known in the business as a Disarming First Strike Incentive. Flexible Targeting Options means providing the President with the choice between Counterforce (missile silos) or Countervalue (people). Schlesinger makes great play with the essentially humanitarian features of his new doctrine in this regard, asking why “the terrible retribution” of MAD should be visited on the Russian people for “some ill-defined transgression of their leaders.” He also argues that if one makes the idea of limited nuclear war credible (by lowering the nuclear threshold, so to speak), one enhances deterrence. An adversary is more likely to believe in nuclear retaliation for an act of aggression if retaliation does not entail general holocaust.

In effect FTO means acquiring a limited Counterforce “capability,” or rather improving the efficiency of a Counterforce capability already possessed by present US missiles, which can now be retargeted to hit Soviet missile silos or indeed any other specific military objective. In any case a limited Counterforce capability does not fit the two arguments which might justify it. It cannot provide a disarming first strike so long as submarine-based missiles cannot be detected. On the other hand it is not sufficiently limited to avert massive retaliation. Schlesinger may feel the tenderest emotions toward the Russian people but he cannot really expect that nuclear explosions will not damage cities or industry, and that the Russians will not be prepared to reply in kind.

One of Schlesinger’s rationales for this seemingly otiose “improvement” is based on the development of new heavy ICBMs by the Soviet Union and its testing for the first time last year of a MIRVed warhead (a missile which in flight releases several individually targetable warheads. The US tested its first MIRVs in 1968 and deployed them in 1970). These developments in the Soviet strategic arsenal—still in the testing stage—could, according to Schlesinger, enable the Russians to destroy US missile silos.

The word used to frighten people about Russian ICBMs is their “throw-weight,” that is to say, the size of the warhead they are capable of releasing. Russian missiles are not nearly as accurate as their American counterparts and thus need copious throw-weight to produce sufficiently large explosions to compensate. This also means that Russian ICBMs will inevitably slaughter a large number of American citizens as well as accounting for missile silos. So why is Schlesinger suggesting that the USSR has a limited Counterforce capacity when his own theology of Counterforce implies “limited collateral damage”?

The “bargaining chip” rationale also makes its predictable appearance. Schlesinger says he needs to develop new strategic systems as bargaining counters in negotiations with the Russians and as a hedge against failure to reach agreement in strategic arms limitation. In the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the budget Senator Symington had some sour reflections, in this regard, on


just how much the arms control disarmament discussion generally called SALT is costing our tax payers. The ABM was sold as a bargaining chip. Trident was sold as a bargaining chip and this new Counterforce targeting is being sold as a bargaining chip…I am worried about still more bargaining chips that pop up regularly and so heavily increase our costs.

Liberal arms controllers argue that although Counterforce demands small sums of money—$310.7 million—it could provoke a new round in the arms race with enormously “destabilizing” consequences for the East-West relationship. They may be right. But Counterforce may justify an arms build-up quite apart from any Soviet arms increase and quite apart from the presumed merits of the new strategy. To see why we must first concentrate on the reasons why the US government spends over $90 billion on defense, and what this expenditure actually means. Critics of the Pentagon, in this context, constantly refer to the “military-industrial complex” with rather rare inspection of what the complex actually implies.


The substantial increases in this year’s budget are not due to a sudden change of heart toward the Soviet Union, or to a striking shift in strategic thinking. They are, rather, consequences of past decisions. The jumps in the Procurement and the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (R&D) budgets of 6 percent and 12 percent respectively are logical outcomes of hasty projects started within the last five years to compensate for the collapse of the Vietnam war boom. The rise in the R&D budget is particularly significant, for it represents additions to military know-how. All of it goes toward the enhancement rather than the maintenance of military capacity. Since the early Sixties the R&D budget has been constant or falling in real terms.

Its rise this year, just as in the early Sixties—and indeed in the early Fifties—represents a new phase in the arms race, a quantum leap in future arms spending consequent upon decisions taken to solve the industrial difficulties of 1968-1972. The R&D appropriation reverberates throughout the entire budget of which it seems merely one small part. An increase in R&D of 12 percent this year implies a much larger increase in total spending in the future. Schlesinger told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if there is a favorable SALT agreement and if the force structure is kept constant the budget will increase by five or six billion dollars a year. But the expansion implied by the increase in the R&D budget suggests that the growth will be at least twice that size.

These increases flow from the decision to preserve a capacity to make armaments; such a decision is also a decision to expand that capacity indefinitely. A capacity to produce, and above all to develop, a modern weapons system involves scientists, specialized equipment, plant, machinery, and skilled workers who have to be continuously employed. But continuous employment also means continuous expansion. Employment of scientists produces technological advances. More importantly these advances are actually applied since corporations can only continue to sell their weapons if they possess attractive improvements over old weapons. They must offer something better than their competitors, something the military can justify to Congress.

But such improvements cost more money. Each new weapons system takes more people and materials to build than its predecessor. And although the number of weapons may be narrowed, this rarely compensates for the increase in cost to the Pentagon. This year’s budget, for example, includes $2.043 billion for the acquisition of Trident submarines as part of the $13.5 billion program for ten submarines. The total acquisition cost of forty-one Polaris submarines, Trident’s predecessor in the period 1959-1967, was only $13.9 billion. The budget also includes provision for an alternative successor to Polaris, the Narwhal submarine.

What has come into being is the system known as the follow-on. The system started in the late Forties when new procurement decisions were taken to prevent the total collapse of specialized defense companies such as Boeing, Raytheon, and Bath Iron Works of Maine, Boeing began to develop the B-47 bomber and Raytheon the Sparrow and Hawk missiles which have kept it going to this day. ($100 million is included in this year’s budget for Hawks.) The full impact of these decisions was obscured by the Korean War. After the peak of that war the defense budget has never fallen below $40 billion. (In 1950 it was $14 billion.)

These projects were followed by others in expensive succession. For Boeing, the Minuteman followed the B-52 strategic bomber, which followed the B-47. Between 1952 and 1973 Newport News’s yards have produced no fewer than seven carriers, each bigger and better than the last, bow to stern, in the best follow-on tradition. Lockheed developed a notorious (for cost over-runs and allied misfortunes) series of heavy transport planes; the most recent being the C-5A.

The idea that each weapons system must have a follow-on has become self-perpetuating. Each corporation has a planning group whose sole function is to choose suitable successors for weapons currently being produced and which maintains close contact with consorts in the military. The planning procedure is supposed to be an exercise in prediction. In actual fact, because of the intimate relationship with the armed services it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even so the system has not worked smoothly, and it has taken periodic industrial crises to initiate the full range of new projects.

The first wave of weapons production after the Second World War began to subside in the late Fifties. In the resulting trough a plethora of new projects was introduced, hence promoting the difficulties experienced by Kennedy and McNamara when they made some efforts to control defense spending in the early Sixties. A decade later large cuts in the space budget coincided with recession in civil aviation and merchant shipping. The second great wave of postwar military boondoggles was subsiding: the time was propitious for a new set of decisions.

Between 1968 and 1972 aerospace employment fell by 42 percent. Shipbuilding employment showed a decline of 10 percent (because of the special skills required of production workers in shipbuilding, manufacturers are particularly unwilling to release their workforces during recessions). The situation in naval yards had been exacerbated by McNamara’s decision to contract navy work to new aerospace-managed yards, e.g., Litton, and to avoid the traditional parceling out of naval work among several contractors.

In this situation it was not surprising that the Pentagon should have precipitately fostered a number of new projects. We are now witnessing the consequences. For example, the new strategic bomber, the B-1, gets $500 million for development funds in this year’s budget. It follows on from early North American (now Rockwell International) projects—the wartime B-25, the Korean War B-45, and the attempt to produce B-70, strangled by McNamara. That strangulation seemed to most people to mark the end of the vulnerable strategic bomber. North American was in a serious situation. The famous series of Sabre fighters was coming to an end and North American’s attempts to get into the missile business in a big way had failed.

The B-1 solved all its problems. This was heartening for North American, but has presented the Pentagon with some problems in how to justify a craft made not only vulnerable but superfluous by advances in missilry. In this year’s budget Schlesinger makes a half-hearted stab at it, producing a very fine specimen of Worst Case Analysis.

If we are to continue to maintain an effective strategic bomber force through the 1980s and beyond, as I am convinced we should, we will eventually have to modernize that force. The principal improvements needed are: 1) faster airfield escape and greater protection against the effects of nuclear detonations in order to avoid destruction by SLBMs [submarine launched ballistic missiles] which might be launched on depressed trajectories from Soviet SSBNs [nuclear submarines] operating close to our shores, and 2) a capability to fly at very low altitude at high subsonic speed in order to penetrate improved Soviet air defenses.

So far, so good. Schlesinger goes on,

Although we have no evidence as yet that the Soviet Union is developing depressed trajectory SLBMs, or plans to operate its SSBNs close to our shores, or will undertake major new air defense programs at home, all of these capabilities will clearly be within its technical competency and economic capacity.

Altogether, a most vigorous deployment of the future conditional.

Boeing, the creator of the B-29, the B-47, and the B-52, had also hoped to construct the B-1, particularly in view of its own crisis at the end of the Sixties. Instead it received some consolation prizes: the B-1 “avionics” (i.e., airborne electronic equipment); our old friend the AABNCP; AWACS (a curious hybrid plane whose destiny seems to waver between air defense operations over Europe and the bombing of underdeveloped countries, and which gets $500 million in this year’s budget); a strategic cruise missile which some people hope will provide an alternative to the B-1 bomber. Boeing, of course, has continued to oversee the production of Minuteman, and the budget proposal for the development of a new follow-on ICBM opens up limitless prospects for land-based strategic missile production.

All this amounts to a mere $2.2 billion in the 1975 budget, not including $155 million for converting the jumbo 747s for emergency military airlift purposes. Altogether the Pentagon plans to convert 110 jets (747s, DC-10s, and Lockheed Tristars) at a cost of over $1 billion—about half as expensive as rebuilding the same planes from scratch.

The sudden requirement for an improved airlift capacity (justified by the Middle East crisis), involving the construction of side-loading doors, comes at a time when airlines and aerospace companies alike are suffering from the effects of the fuel price increase (the airlines get paid a subsidy for the absence of underused aircraft on military duty), and when one aircraft—the DC-10—has had unfortunate difficulties with its rear loading door.

Boeing and North American are not the only beneficiaries of the post-1968 crisis. The F-15 Eagle ($1 billion in the budget) and the F-14 Tomcat ($700 million in the budget) keep McDonnell Douglas and Grumman in funds. These planes represent the retreat from McNamara’s disastrous attempt, with the F-111 variable-geometry aircraft (a plane whose wings can be adjusted to different roles), to persuade the air force and the navy and their corporate counterparts to share a project. Ironically the F-14 and F-15 differ little from each other and display few technical improvements over previous fighter aircraft.

There is also a cornucopia for the shipyards—over $1 billion for Trident (not including missiles); $500 million for a nuclear-powered submarine; $240 million for nuclear-powered missile-firing frigates; $100 million for patrol hydrofoils. Lockheed along with minor contracts gets the money for submarine-based missiles—making for a $1.5 billion total.

To soothe those appalled by such expenditure the Pentagon applies a salve called the High-Low Mix: the addition to many expensive projects of many relatively “cheap” projects. This satisfies defeated competitors for the big contracts and gives congressmen a saucy whiff of military parsimony. The Narwhal submarine and the Strategic cruise missile fit this category as does the A-10 close air support aircraft, which costs $270 million.

Of course the Procurement and the R&D appropriations are not the only items in the budget. They jointly account for 30 percent of it. But a weapons system means much more than just its acquisition cost. It takes fifty men, for instance, to make up a field organization to repair and service a single military aircraft. The cost of a submarine will be multiplied several times over in repair and overhaul costs during its lifetime. Every new generation of weapons costs more and more to maintain. This is the reason why the Operation and Maintenance budget increased 10 percent this year. And then we must not forget the sailors and the pilots and the planners. For the air force and navy “force structures”—the term used to indicate the composition, size, and hierarchy of various sections of the armed forces—are built around particular weapons systems. (The army presents a different case since numbers of men or numbers of combat troops determine the size of the Procurement budget. But naturally the army has to keep in step with navy and air force budgetary victories. So this year it gets an extra third of a division.)

Students of bureaucratic politics, it should be noted, are not happy with the argument for the potency of industrial requirements. The B-1, they say, was ordered to maintain strategic bombing missions for the air force: the air force’s manifest destiny is to bomb. But such an answer fails to take into account the requirements of the defense industry—the fact that arms companies must go on producing bigger and better weapons if they are to survive. It fails to explain why the useful life of a weapons system should correspond so aptly to the manufacturing cycle of weapons systems, or why armed services should prefer fewer and larger weapons when more weapons would maintain a larger force structure.

Bureaucratic politics is merely the medium through which industrial competition reaches the highest levels of government. The intense battle to maintain force structures is in fact an industrial battle, since the maintenance of a particular military function—such as strategic bombing—supports a whole host of weapons systems, which in turn keep the industry alive. Grumman is a navy corporation; Boeing is an air force corporation. Competition between them, based on different “capabilities,” gets translated into interservice rivalry ostensibly about differing weapons specifications. This in turn appears before the public as arguments about strategic doctrine.


We have been admiring the flourishing denizens of this year’s defense budget, vast and voracious consumers of defense funds. But study of the items in the budget that are now mere embryos will show us the shape of things to come. Among strategic programs prospective outlays include development of a new ICBM missile to replace Minuteman 111; development of MaRV technology (a warhead these days can go through several stages of acronymic development: first it is MRVed, then it is MIRVed, then if it has had the additional advantage of being adjusted to home in on its target instead of being merely targeted toward it, it has been MaRVed); research on “an alternate basing mode” (a mobile land-based launcher) and on a facility for firing a second missile from the same launcher—a technique pleasantly referred to as “pop-up”;4 large injections of cash for research and development of ABM technology, and so on.

These programs, rather than those associated with the new targeting doctrines, will form the basis of forthcoming spirals of expenditure on offensive and defensive strategic hardware. “Stabilizing” or “destabilizing,” they will require immense amounts of cash.

It is instructive to dwell in slightly more detail on just one of these embryos5 and the immense penumbra of prospective expenditure which is already enveloping it: namely the navy’s plan to expand the communications station on Diego Garcia, a small island in the Indian Ocean.6 At present this tiny hunk of real estate has 275 US military personnel on it. It will soon have many more. In this year’s two budget requests the Pentagon asks for $32.3 million to construct facilities for the support of US naval and air forces, including carriers and submarines. As is traditional in this stage of embryo development Secretary Schlesinger is at pains to minimize plans for the island. In this year’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee he said,

Our objective here…is simply to acquire this limited facility which will permit some support on an interim basis of naval and air forces if we choose to transit the area or operate there…. We do not consider it as a first step in a tremendous build-up…. It will be much cheaper from a dollar and cents point of view to have an opportunity to use this particular area.

For some time now naval spokesmen have been publicly agitating for a presence in the Indian Ocean. The reason they adduce is of course the famous Soviet naval threat, officially established by calculation of the number of ship days spent by the Russian navy in the Indian Ocean. Such comparisons take no account of the size of the ships: mine sweepers are equated with aircraft carriers. The Russian navy, for instance, has no aircraft carriers (although it just started a carrier building program), no nuclear-powered surface ships, and its support ships are inadequate for large-scale deployment far from home. (The build-up of Soviet nuclear submarines has little to do with the American surface presence. Nuclear submarines are to be countered by deterrence, not defense.) Even Secretary Schlesinger, buttressed by a recent study from the Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation in the DOD, has deplored “alarmist” views of the Soviet naval threat. The Soviet navy has not got any larger since 1958 and its ships are getting older, whereas the US fleet is younger and about to get larger.

US navy lobbying for expanded facilities in the Indian Ocean was powerfully aided by the Yom Kippur war and attendant alarms about the security of oil flows to the US. Excited strategists have been conjuring up visions of Russian battleships dashing through a reopened Suez Canal and converting the Indian Ocean into a Russian pond. Countries in the region would far rather see a demilitarization of the area, and there has been much support for an Indian proposal to maintain “an Indian Ocean peace zone,” which would exclude great power strategic rivalry (even SEATO members such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Indonesia oppose the base on Diego Garcia). Their views did not sit well with Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., chief of naval operations, who said on April 1, 1974, “The Indians primarily, but other nations in the area too, have talked about having a zone of peace in the area. We think this is a very dangerous concept.”

As a navy man Zumwalt has abundant reasons for deploring such dangerous thoughts and for announcing that “a permanent presence is mandatory.” Diego Garcia presents delicious prospects of expense and naval beef-up. First of all construction of the facility will not cost $32.3 million, as requested this year, but will total $183 million. Such a sum, which was cited to the Senate Armed Services Committee by DOD, includes appropriations for the operations and equipment of SEABEES—the navy’s construction battalions.

We must add the cost of the ships enjoying Diego Garcia’s hospitality. Two years ago it was decided—and it is unclear by whom—to reduce the number of aircraft carriers from fifteen to twelve. There were to be no replacements for the World War II vintage aircraft carriers Midway, Hancock, and Oriskany. The retirement of two of these ships has now been delayed. The Pentagon has instead sent them visiting the Indian Ocean for long periods, in the meanwhile deploring their antiquity. The Diego Garcia facility will allow a permanent carrier presence. And since it is generally held that one aircraft carrier in station, i.e., at sea, must be backed up by two more at home, this would mean that three aircraft carriers would have to be reserved for the Indian Ocean. If the three World War II aircraft carriers are replaced by the new Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carriers which will enter service from 1975 onward, then the case for three more new carriers to fill “possible vacuums” in the Pacific and to replace the early Fifties Forrestalclass carriers will appear splendidly overwhelming.

Indeed Schlesinger has authorized a DCP (Development Concept Paper) to define the characteristics of a proposed new carrier and the alternatives available. Naturally he says that this carrier will be “low cost.” But even if we accept his estimate of $500 million per carrier, as opposed to the present cost of $1 billion for Nimitz-class carriers, we should not think that this is the end of the matter. One carrier means a huge panoply of further expense: ships to defend it and aircraft to operate from it. These associated costs are at least $2 billion per carrier.7

Hence, as we contemplate Schlesinger’s boasts of the cheapness of operating from Diego Garcia, we should reckon that the total acquisition costs—excluding maintenance costs—will be at least $7.5 billion. This sum keeps the navy carrier force intact, which in turn keeps the entire navy force structure (constructed pyramidally around carriers) intact, which in turn supports the various naval construction yards. Newport News’s production line for aircraft carriers will now be secured well into the Nineties, and along with it production lines for escorts, destroyers, support ships, and carrier-based aircraft.

Nor does the story of Diego Garcia end there. Since the navy is going to do so well out of it, equivalent satisfaction will have to be given to the air force and army. New carriers and combat ships for the navy will help justify excesses like the B-1 for the air force and combat troops for the army as well as new battle tanks.8


These prospective increases in defense expenditure may seem entirely appropriate to those readers emerging from study of Secretary Schlesinger’s defense budget and also from Admiral Moorer’s statement on the US military posture. The rhetoric of both documents implies that the US is on the verge of being at a serious disadvantage to the Soviet Union in military might and preparedness. Moorer seldom fails to sound the alarm:

The relative military strategic balance is currently in equilibrium, but dynamic and fragile. The essential equivalence necessary to the preservation of peace is, therefore, neither self-perpetuating nor permanent.

Schlesinger broods that in the face of Soviet weapon developments the US “cannot afford to stand idly by” and that “we simply cannot ignore the prospect of a growing disparity between the two major nuclear powers.” The Soviet Union, again according to Moorer, is undertaking “an aggressive modernization program, which could place the US in a position of strategic inferiority in the foreseeable years ahead.” A few pages later in his statement Moorer points out that at the time of the SALT agreement the Administration assured the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it would continue “aggressive improvements and modernization plans”—an assurance on which it has not reneged.

There is no reason for immediate panic. To start with, the Soviet Union cannot afford to match US military capacity. Soviet military expenditure, on conservative estimates, is about two thirds that of the United States. Total NATO defense expenditure in 1973 was around $125 billion; roughly twice that spent by all members of the Warsaw Pact. Moorer’s “aggressive modernization program” has not been reflected in any increases in the Soviet defense budget, which has remained roughly constant in current prices over the last five years: a fact CIA estimates apparently corroborate.

Of course it is possible, as some US military analysts like to propose, that the Soviet Union gets more defense for each ruble than the profligate United States can manage per dollar equivalent. Soviet soldiers, on this scenario, eat nothing but soup and do not need proper socks. This can lead one into agreeable speculation about morale and fighting power: but however thrifty and austere the life of a Soviet soldier may be compared with his pampered opposite number, economies on socks, etc., cannot possibly account for a difference of $20-40 billion between the two defense budgets. Estimates of actual military capacity bear this out.

Both Schlesinger and Moorer make great play with numbers. They point out that the Soviet Union has a substantial numerical advantage in missile launchers and in throw-weight. At present only one missile can be fired from each launcher; thus estimates of the numbers of missiles imply an equal number of launchers.9 According to Admiral Moorer, by mid-1974 the Soviet Union will have 1,587 intercontinental ballistic missile launchers and 666 submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile launchers. (The figures allowed under the SALT interim agreements are 1,618 and 740 respectively.) The Soviet Union also has around 600 intermediate and medium range ballistic missiles. In contrast the US has 1,054 ICBMs and 656 SLBMs. The Soviet advantage in missile launchers and missile throw-weight disappears in the face of the US advantage in strategic bombers, of which it has 500, and also in bomber payload.

More important, both Schlesinger and Moorer play down the differences in numbers of warheads and in accuracy. The Soviet Union has only just started to test MIRVs. The United States is in the process of getting 550 MIRVed Minuteman ICBMs, each with three warheads, and 496 Poseidon SLBMs, each with ten to fourteen warheads. This means that the US has roughly three times the number of warheads as the Soviet Union. If we also take into account the greater accuracy of American warheads it is clear that the US can hit more than three times as many targets as the Soviet Union can.10 This would seem to be a crucial index of comparison, but Schlesinger scarcely mentions it and Moorer obscurely suggests that the Soviet Union’s advantage in throw-weight gives the USSR “the potential eventually to overcome the only remaining quantitative missile lead”—numbers of warheads.

Since 1970, when the US MIRV program got under way, the US has deployed 750 new strategic missiles, carrying about 4,850 nuclear warheads. During the same period the numbers for the Soviet Union are 490 and 570 respectively. The US has also deployed 1,000 SRAM nuclear missiles on its strategic bombers.

This advantage for the US in strategic forces is not offset by Soviet preponderance in conventional forces, even though many hold it as an undying article of faith that such is the case. There is one renowned reason for this fallacy: simply totting up the number of Warsaw Pact divisions versus the number of NATO divisions seems to reveal the enormous superiority of the former. NATO has the equivalent of 83 divisions, and the Warsaw Pact countries have 167. The Systems Analysis Office under McNamara finally corrected the presumed intelligence-gathering efforts of the United States in preceding years and pointed out that a Warsaw Pact country division was roughly half the size of an American one, was generally understrength, and was much less well equipped.

As of 1973, total NATO peacetime forces were estimated at 4,961,200 (Schlesinger gives a figure of 5.6 million) compared to a total Warsaw Pact figure of 4,452,000.11 In spite of the conclusions of the Systems Analysis Office, comparisons on the basis of division numbers continue to be made, although Schlesinger does have the grace to admit in his posture statement that a Warsaw Pact division is smaller than a NATO one.

The Warsaw Pact does have a numerical advantage in battle tanks—37,750 against 10,370 for NATO; in active combat aircraft—10,470 against 9,500; and in combat surface ships—215 against 174. But all of these advantages are offset by other advantages enjoyed by NATO. NATO has a distinct numerical superiority in armored track vehicles other than tanks, in antitank weapons, and in helicopters (13,000-16,000 helicopters for NATO, as against 2,000 for the Warsaw Pact). NATO battle tanks are generally deemed superior to Warsaw Pact ones, and in modern warfare the crucial factor is antitank weapons since these can now destroy any tank. Indeed tanks are virtually obsolete unless deployed in the desert with air cover, where concealment for a soldier bearing an antitank weapon is difficult.

NATO aircraft are generally superior in range, payload, and avionics to their Warsaw Pact counterparts, and their offensive capacity is much greater. Simple numerical comparison between Soviet and American navies conceals the fact that the Soviet Union has a large number of minor combat vessels designed for operation in coastal waters, and fewer sophisticated types than the US. It does, it should be said, have an advantage in ship-to-ship (or “cruise”) missiles. Finally, an important advantage possessed by NATO is its superiority in logistics and support infrastructure: communications, transport, etc.

All this is to omit an element often forgotten in comparison of military strengths. The US maintains some 7,000 tactical nuclear warheads in Europe. There are many more in Asia and on ships in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. At the last known count the Soviet Union was thought to have a total of 3,500 short-range missiles and tactical weapons.

The danger with all these computations of comparative strength is that they might be thought of as advancing some sort of meaningful argument, favoring either the Soviet Union or the United States. Yet a strong case can be made within the assumptions of current military doctrine—and indeed is made by arms controllers of liberal disposition—for saying that parity in numbers is unnecessary and that whatever the size of the Soviet arsenal may be, the US could safely survive with a great deal less than it has at present. In planning for conventional warfare a case can be made out for defense rather than deterrence. Less force is required for defense than for offense, and NATO could probably base an effective defense on small, mobile units equipped with antitank and anti-aircraft missiles—an idea currently being studied by the NATO Secretariat.

In nuclear strategy a case can be made out for so-called “minimal deterrence”: the notion that ten or even five Polaris submarines would be sufficient to deter a Soviet nuclear attack. These submarines are at present undetectable and could always survive limited or all-out nuclear attacks and thus could, in response, also inflict our old chum, “unacceptable damage.” McGeorge Bundy made a tacit bow to this reasoning when he said that

the fact that a very expensive and essentially useless strategic rearmament [has] also emerged in the Soviet Union…is no more than another demonstration of the folly that seems to be a frequent accompaniment of essentially sober national policies.12

Arguments of this kind can never be resolved. They escape the objective test of war, and in peacetime one strategic policy can succeed another with no ultimately convincing criterion of its superiority. The tendency, of course, is for the strategies to spiral upward in expense and baroque elaboration, rather than downward to a cheap simple system to destroy the world. And indeed, if we contemplate the downward spiral, toward minimum deterrence, a joker is at once visible in the pack: the detection of submarines. If, as is now being bruited in defense circles, the US is on the verge of developing the ability to detect submarines with satellite-based lasers, then the minimum deterrence argument collapses. The sky, in every sense, becomes the limit. We are back to assessments of numbers of warheads, defensive missiles, defense against defensive missiles: in other words, more MaRVs, MIRVs, ABMs, pop-ups, anti-ABMs, and so on and so forth.

Such debates and forward perspectives err to the extent that they are conducted in a political vacuum. (After all, despite its overwhelming superiority the US failed to win the war in Vietnam, and the reasons for this were political and not strategic.) It is assumed that two hostile blocs are squared for conflict and on the basis of that assumption an elaborate edifice of strategic arguments can be built and played with.

Amid this industrious construction of scenarios there is little room for serious consideration of the context in which war might actually break out, or of the situations in which the Soviet Union might be in conflict or in consonance with the United States. Strategies are picked to fit the current military preoccupations of the two sides, and for any given level of Soviet military capacity—actual, envisaged, or presumed to be envisaged—different strategies can be pursued by the United States. Specific selection of the appropriate strategy is determined by the exigencies of the year’s defense budget. The only way to admit any sort of realistic rationale for this perpetual and expensive motion is to study, as we have attempted to do above, the actual imperatives of the “military-industrial complex.” Such imperatives also affect the Soviet Union.

Put very schematically, the argument can be outlined as follows: In the United States the power of the defense industry and of the military combine to make arms production the mechanism for maintaining a sufficient level of demand, in that a higher level of federal spending is required to avert the crises of over-capacity which the US experienced before World War II. Schlesinger admitted, both to the Joint Economic Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, that his budget request exceeded minimum military requirements by somewhere between $1 billion and $4 billion, and that this sum was needed to stimulate the economy. In theory such crises could be averted, without recourse to arms expenditure, by the kinds of planning undertaken in the USSR, since central decision making should be able to eliminate the disparities between what people want and what competing individual manufacturers decide to produce.

But the economic policy pursued by the Soviet Union has given preponderant political influence to heavy industry, which is able to claim an enormous share of the yearly surplus. Personal consumption has not increased much, and new markets for heavy industry have to be found. The market for heavy industry in the USSR is the military. Since the war the Soviet economy has grown by 7 percent a year, but almost all of the expansion has been absorbed by heavy industry and has largely gone to the military. Arms production now accounts for 25 percent of Soviet manufacturing output.

Certainly these features of the Soviet economy are affected by ideology, chauvinism, bureaucratic politics, party in-fighting, regional rivalries, etc. The parts played, for example, by Admiral Grechko, or less conspicuously but possibly more significantly by Smirnov and Ustinov,13 the overseers of Soviet military production, clearly have identifiable consequences for the Soviet strategic posture. Equally, the bureaucratic power of institutions such as Strategic Rocket Forces, responsible for the deployment of land-based missiles, has made itself felt in Soviet military doctrine. But such important considerations are consequences as much as causes of the underlying economic factors we have considered here. In short, on the Soviet side the arms race has a momentum as durable as that in the West.


These considerations make us more alert to the epistemological pitfalls which Pentagon strategists and military analysts leave scattered in their wake. They approach the defense budget from the outside in, as it were. They ponder strategic balances, which are impossible to assess objectively in peacetime since the only confirmation of a balance is a war which no one wins. They see the flowering of new missile systems and the busy hum in the armaments factories as somehow the result of their strenuous conclusions about options, about parity, about the Indian Ocean. Yet their conclusions are closely circumscribed by the military build-ups of the past, and their doctrines are conditioned by the atmosphere that the arms build-up has created. Indeed so arduous has the possibility for fruitful discussion about military expenditure become that such efforts have been transferred into the shadow world of Arms Control and SALT.

SALT is the permanently installed lightning conductor to divert attention from questions of actual military expenditure. Public rumination about defense—when it does not coagulate around debates on Flexible Targeting Options—turns toward the topic, seemingly so momentous, of what Nixon will sign in June (always assuming he is in any position to sign anything).

The last SALT agreement awarded the Soviet Union a numerical superiority in missile launchers, and thus allowed politically advantageous expressions of outrage from Senator Henry Jackson and the conservative third of Congress, now so important in the politics of impeachment. Schlesinger has not shrunk from playing to this gallery in his maneuvers over the current budget. In the negotiations leading up to next month’s meeting with the Russians, Kissinger’s attempts to forge an agreement which pays lip service to the notion of numerical equality (whether on launchers, including bombers as well as missiles, or on megatonnage) have met with deadlock on the Soviet side. The politics of the talks are evidently highly complex and the possible outcome will depend heavily on US domestic political considerations as well as on disputes within the Kremlin.

Other candidates for agreement—and potential réclame for Nixon—are: a test ban agreement, or an agreement which bypasses the impasse on strategic weapons. For example, a mutual withdrawal of some forces—say, 20,000 each—from the Central European region could be agreed. Nixon could then shuttle around Europe as a man of peace, attending conferences on security and consorting with phalanxes of government leaders, while impeachment proceedings advance in Washington.

Kissinger has already discussed a “threshold” test ban agreement with Gromyko. This would not prevent any testing.14 An even greater coup would be for Nixon and Kissinger to steal Senator Edward Kennedy’s thunder and negotiate the comprehensive test ban treaty that he has been advocating. Such a treaty is ideally suited to meet the criteria of a good SALT agreement. It does not slow down the arms race, but has the excitement of appearing to do so.15 For years liberals have been calling for such a treaty. Now, when it might become a reality it is no longer necessary. So many underground tests have been carried out in the last few years that it is possible to predict the performance of a new bomb with accuracy sufficient to dispense with testing. Even if the military were unwilling to develop new bombs without tests it is always possible to fit old bombs to new warheads. (The important advances in the arms race—in MIRVs and MaRVs—would only be arrested by a ban on operational flight testing, which is not proposed.)

A comprehensive test ban treaty would affect the new nuclear countries—France, China, and now India—and would therefore be doubly attractive as a superpower maneuver. So were Nixon and Kissinger to bring home such a treaty, they might be under rhetorical assault from the right, but certainly not from the liberals, whose dear dream it is.

The SALT agreements are being negotiated to institutionalize the arms race. So far as military expenditure is concerned SALT is a prop rather than an axe. Indeed SALT opens up an immense vista of bargaining chips to be acquired. The public is supposed to believe—in so far as it can bring itself to read about SALT at all—that the Administration is making progress toward a safer world (or that, per contra, only the vigilance of Scoop Jackson is saving the country from unprotected prostration). Such illusions or disputes do not inflict any damage on the $90 billion defense budget.

“Advances” or “setbacks” in political détente have no effect on the growth of the world’s military arsenals. These have a momentum of their own and keep on growing. The Indian Ocean and NATO defenses keep Newport News and McDonnell Douglas in business. The doctrines build up around the weapons, not the reverse, and military arsenals have more to do with strategy than do the ruminations of the defense analysts.

Schlesinger’s “long haul posture” in the era of peace he doubtfully welcomes is not one to be viewed with any equanimity. His huge budget parallels the great leap forward in defense spending of the early Sixties. Then as now the economy needed stimulation. Under Kennedy there were to be new flexible options. NATO conventional forces were to be reinforced and then as now this reinforcement was seen as an argument for consolidating American hegemony in Western Europe. Forces in the Far East then received the emphasis that the Indian Ocean is getting today. The Sixties ended in the Vietnam war. As a portent, this year’s defense budget does not fill one with much optimism about the end of the Seventies either.

This Issue

June 13, 1974