Government’s First Responsibility

Nov. 1, 1986

The nation’s fundamental priorities stand in danger of being muddled and distorted. The reasons are too much politics and not enough candor; arithmetic’s that don’t add up; and widespread unwillingness to face hard facts and make tough choices. To hold out the hope that government can be all things to all people – that is, provide for a strong defense, reduce the budget deficit while reducing taxes, and increase social spending – is to trade history and logic for the expediencies of public relations.

A balanced budget is desirable for economic reasons, but is no viable substitute for a balance of military power that deters nuclear holocaust. The preservation and expansion of social entitlements at the expense of national security, over the short term, may be politically attractive, but over the long-term means that government is abdicating its central social function – to keep its citizens alive and free.

The Air Force Association believes that the nation stands at a historic crossroad: We face hard choices in all directions. But America’s requirement of meeting undiminished external threats with undiminished military capabilities is not a matter of choice; it is an imperative that must not be sacrificed for political advantages or compromises.

Mutual, equitable, and fully verifiable arms reductions may well enhance global stability. But paper treaties do not void the requirement for military capabilities that are the bedrock of credible, effective deterrence. Reduced stridency in Moscow’s rhetoric almost certainly is – as it as been in the past – a matter of calculated atmospherics and does not signal the abrogation of the USSR’s long-term global goals. There simply is no tangible evidence that the new Soviet leaders are prepared for changes that could lead to the collapse of Communist ideology and the failure of international socialism.

We and our allies must remember also that the Soviet historic record remained true to the militant philosophies of communism regardless of the USSR’s frequent economic crises and staggering economic burdens imposed on the Soviet people. And that same record points up the folly of judging Soviet leaders by their words rather than by their deeds.

Given the facts clearly and precisely, the American people in times of crisis in the past have been willing to pay the price of essential preparedness. There is not reason to doubt their willingness to respond to candor in the same way now. We, therefore, feel duty bound to put on the public record essential facts.

For one, emasculating already sparse defense budgets through the imposition of “spread-the-pain” spending cuts is likely to cost the nation dearly in the future. The risk of conflict will go up as our ability to deter aggression goes down. The nation will be forced to send its armed forces into harm’s way more – with less.

Further, the Soviet Union continues its comprehensive military buildup and political expansionism without sign of letup. The USSR’s Five-Year Plan enacted by the new Kremlin leadership continues the steady expansion and modernization of Soviet strategic and conventional forces launched more than two decades ago. The cumulative effect of this buildup is so great that the US has only begun to catch up. Backing up the arms buildup are growing Soviet force projection capabilities, proliferating numbers of political as well as military bridgeheads in pro-Soviet countries around the world, and shifting geographic circumstances that bring Soviet and surrogate forces ever closer to strategic areas and chokepoints vital to this nation and its allies.

There is no more urgent task in preserving peace and freedom than the deterrence of nuclear confrontation or war. Our country launched a five-pronged strategic modernization program five years ago designed to restore the military effectiveness and survivability of its nuclear deterrent forces. America can look with pride on the initial successes of this program. The essential feature and greatest strength of the Strategic Modernization Program is its integrated, reinforcing nature. Funding cutbacks and program delays now threaten to squander the progress we have made and the effort – and money – we have invested thus far. We must not falter now. The nation should understand clearly that an effective nuclear deterrent extends well beyond the prevention of nuclear war.

Our strategic programs provide benefits that far outweigh the less than fifteen percent of the defense budget they consume. In calculating what Moscow calls, “the correlation of forces,” Soviet political and military leaders treat the perceived nuclear balance with this country as the overriding factor. A strong US strategic deterrent decreases the threat of any Soviet aggression – nuclear or conventional – against us, our allies, or our interests abroad. Conversely, real or perceived weakness in America’s nuclear deterrent capabilities would invite the Soviet Union to exploit such an advantage by political and military means.

The question of how much nuclear strategic deterrence is enough can’t be answered on the basis of Washington’s perception of sufficiency. America will have enough nuclear deterrence only when the Soviet leaders – given their own values and attitudes – have no doubt as to our capabilities or our will to strike back effectively and deny them success in their military aggression, regardless of the attack scenario they might choose.

This Association believes the first order of business in the strategic arena is to correct lacking US capability to retaliate promptly against hardened Soviet nuclear forces. The essential, rational foundation for an affordable strategic force to deal with the destabilizing Soviet lead in prompt, hard-target capability is to deploy the full complement of 100 Peacekeeper ICBMs. Any other approach would cost more and provide less. Soviet reliance on their massive ICBM capabilities is clear and incontestable. If we fail to restore the strategic equilibrium, nuclear deterrence – the core of our defense policy that has ensured four decades of peace with our primary adversary – is in jeopardy. We must not let this happen.

Nor must we let budgetary and political compromises undermine the readiness, sustainability, modernization imperatives, and force levels in the conventional warfare arena.

It is not enough to contain Soviet expansionism at the highest end of the conflict spectrum. Regional deterrence must augment global deterrence. America’s conventional deterrence capabilities are essential to the preservation of vital US and allied interests abroad. These forces are the backbone of alliances that are elemental to our own security, the maintenance of international order, and the protection of the Free World.

Central to US conventional deterrence is aerospace power. Its responsiveness and “long reach” make it the crucial and most suitable means for projecting force effectively and flexible, including support of troops in battle. Aerospace forces provide the highest return on investment in readiness, sustainability, modernization, and force structure.

In a unique manner, aerospace power capitalizes on one of the nation’s greatest strengths – the development and application of new technology. As in the case of our nuclear forces, our technological edge needs honing in terms of conventional warfare capabilities. Slowing down or halting the modernization of our tactical air warfare and airlift capabilities at a time when essential military revitalization programs have not yet reached the production stage would mean losing the momentum at the starting line. And it would provide exploitable military advantages to our adversaries. This Association believes that the nation can no more afford to slacken in ensuring US tactical air warfare superiority or improving air mobility than to acquiesce to Soviet strategic superiority. In short, it is both unrealistic and dangerous to expect the Air Force – and the other services – to go on doing more with less.

Lastly, our overarching concern remains people. While weapons and hardware are critical to deterrence or the conduct of war, the final determinant of success or failure, of victory or defeat, are those who fight. The fabric of confidence in the profession of arms that became frayed in the 1970s has been strengthened over the past few years. The men and women of the armed forces have regained confidence in their country’s commitment to them. And the nation strengthened its confidence in the military’s commitment to provide for its freedom and its peace.

Here, above all else, we must not let budgetary expediency cause an erosion of hard-won gains. We must not revert to treating our armed forces as “a sometime thing.” Neglected materially and in other ways most of the time, yet relied on in crisis or war to ensure national survival. We have made progress in improving the quality of life for the men and women in uniform. But more needs to be done.

As we strive for a more perfect Union in this, the bicentennial yea of America’s Constitution, we must remember that in order to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity we must provide for the common defense. If we default on this pivotal priority, eventually we may forfeit the very blessings granted us by the Constitution, the essence of America.