Fundamental Requirements for the Common Defense

Nov. 1, 1987

As a strong and proud America commemorates the bicentennial of the Constitution, we must rededicate ourselves to the spirit that gave birth to this nation and reaffirm our will to bear the burdens and pay the price required to maintain peace with freedom. At a time marked by global instabilities and uncertainties, that price can’t be paid on the installment plan or discounted. The need to provide for the common defense commensurate with the threats we face can’t be rationalized out of existence by Potomac politics. We must not “mark down” national security — which has not caused the nation’s economic ills — to subsidize the US Treasury or to balance the federal budget.

Cuts in the defense budget over the past few years may well exact an excessive price in other terms from the American people, especially the members of our armed forces on whom we rely to safeguard the rights and ideals enshrine in the Constitution. In 1986, Congress mandated that defense budget requests be changed from an annual to a biennial basis to facilitate more economical and stable funding policies. However, congressional actions in 1987 were largely at odds with last year’s laudable intentions and failed to meet even the timetable associated with one-year budgeting. The results are continued and increasing uncertainty and instability in terms of when and how much defense money will be authorized and appropriated. The Air Force, along with the other services, is stymied in its programming tasks and hence kept from operating in an optimal fashion.

Defense funding must be keep above the noise level of partisan or parochial politics. Providing for the common defense is government-wide responsibility of pervasive importance that should not be diluted to provide leverage for narrow or unrelated issues. The taxpayers expect USAF to streamline its forces, programs, and contracting and procurement arrangements. But in a funding sense, all services are adrift in unpredictable ebbs and flows that bear no resemblance to the formal guidance that governs the planning functions. This Association urges the legislative and executive branches of government to work together untiringly and resolutely to ensure timely enactment of stable defense budgets that meet the fundamental security requirements of the nation.

This Association believes also that the nation needs to understand clearly that hoped-for future strategic arms-reduction accords or runaway optimism about the “glasnost reformation” of the Kremlin are poor substitutes for a military balance that provides effective deterrence and crisis stability. Glasnost, the Soviet Union’s globally merchandised commitment to “openness,” so far, has produced much rhetoric and little substance. The real meaning of “openness” in the Soviets’ code may be no more than their license to penetrate this country’s innermost diplomatic and military secrets, including our embassy in Moscow. Glasnost hardly denotes progress if the only doors it opens lead to our diplomatic properties, our most sensitive communications systems, the theft of our most advanced and vital defense technologies, and, in the aggregate, to decisive Soviet strategic advantages.

Many members of this Association served in combat and all abhor the horrors of war. All of us would welcome real détente and evidence of a genuine Soviet commitment to peace. But so far, all the evidence suggests that Soviet expansionism remains in force, in spite of Western concessions and attempts to modify Moscow’s behavior by political and economic means. Behind to mask of glasnost, the Soviet Union remains our ideological and geopolitical adversary, spending between fifteen and seventeen percent of its gross national product on military expenditures compared to about six percent by the US. There is no wishing away the fact that the USSR maintains nearly half again as many strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and puts twice the equivalent megatonnage on top of these weapons as does this country. The realities are stark also with regard to Moscow’s intense military activities in Afghanistan, growing Soviet-supported interventionism in the Third World, and the sinister role Moscow plays in fostering worldwide terrorism. In summary, Moscow may have changed the tone but not the substance of its Marxist-Leninist ideology, which seeks to alter the existing international system and establish Soviet global hegemony.

Notwithstanding the nature of the Soviet system, which is intrinsically antagonistic to free-world values, this Association supports efforts to establish a commonality of interests with the USSR, with the objective of avoiding direct confrontation and reducing the threat of nuclear war. The underlying challenge to American statecraft, we believe, is to preserve peace without jeopardizing our national security or abandoning America’s commitment to the cause of freedom.

In this context, the members of this Association continue to support arms-control negotiations as one of several tools to strengthen this country’s national security. Specifically, America’s arms-control objectives must be fully integrated with its defense and foreign policies to enhance deterrence, reduce risk, support alliance relationships, and ensure that the Soviets do not gain unilateral military or political advantages.

We must recognize clearly that while posing as a champion of peace, the Soviet Union frequently advances proposals that are aimed at achieving military as well as propagandistic advantages. It follows that arms-control agreements, with the USSR cannot be simply based on trust. They must not become entangled in US domestic partisan politics. Arms-control agreements that cannot be verified and enforced effectively are worse than no accords at all. Entering into accords that do not meet these standards in the hope that they might lead to advantageous follow-on treaties in the future, this Association fears, would play into Moscow’s hands.

Further, this nation’s arms-control policies must not focus on the threat of nuclear war to the exclusion of the threat of totalitarian imperialism. We must prevent the former while containing the latter. In purely military terms, US arms-reduction objectives need to look beyond simple arithmetical balance and allow for criteria that represent clear-cut deterrence to the Soviets. Most important in the context are weapons that increase the important in the context are weapons that increase the Soviets’ price to attack, such as missiles that can inflict unacceptable damage on the Soviet homeland and war-fighting capacity. At the very least, the members of this Association believe, this nation must not trade US weapons that can reach the USSR for reductions in Soviet weapons that cannot strike US soil without a commitment to compensatory measures that keep the Soviet price to attack at unacceptable levels.

In the view of the Air Force Association, the nation must meet squarely a number of fundamental, pressing requirements to provide for the common defense in the face of severe global threats. In ensuring the nation’s survival and freedom, the bedrock fact is — and always will be — that ultimately people, not inanimate weapon systems, defend America. If the nation falters in its commitment to the men and women in uniform, the Union’s shield of freedom may ultimately falter as a consequence. There is evidence that various, largely unrelated actions — some well-intentioned and others motivated by a sense of false economy or the result of inadequate understanding — create in combination perceptions and conditions that undermine the all-volunteer force and remove vital incentives that make the profession of arms a rewarding career. This Association appeals to Congress to resume its support of strong “people programs” that proved so successful in the first half of this decade. Quality people lead to quality forces. The reverse is equally valid. Congress should grant relief from legislative provisions that hinder recruiting, retaining, and motivating high-quality people. Issues that create serious personnel management problems include crippling arbitrary cuts in officer end-strengths, delays in long overdue pay increases and incentive pay arrangements, Congress’s refusal to grant adequate moving and other allowances, and arithmetically unworkable and damaging aspects of the joint specialty officer (JSO) provisions. This Association fears that if relief is not granted promptly, the military personnel problems, such as the retention of pilots and engineers, will reach epidemic proportions.

In the military hardware sector, modernization remains the overriding, priority. In this context, this Association feels compelled to restate that the Air Force’s strategy of centralized acquisition policy formulation and decentralized execution remains the soundest way for buying the best weapons for the lowest cost. This Association also expresses deep concern about the nation’s defense industrial base. A number of trends, ranging from overregulation to markets lost to foreign suppliers, threatens the ability of US industry to respond to the needs of our armed forces. A healthy and productive defense industry is vital to our security. We must not allow this resource to deteriorate.

This Association sees the potential for drastic long-term modernization in the strategic sector. Over the past four decades, the US sought to preserve the peace through strategic deterrence, in essence as offense-dominated defense posture. To date, deterrence by countervailing power has worked, but always under the shadow of the US having to depend on Soviet restraint and thus ultimately not being in control of its own survival. The Soviets are deterred if they believe that their cost to attack, meaning the assured punishment the US is capable of meting out in response, is in their perception too high. Under this strategy, the US lacks the capability to limit damage to any significant degree. The time has come, this Association believes, to explore vigorously the feasibility of broader strategies that eventually could ensure our national survival under all circumstances. A properly balanced combination of advanced offensive and defensive strategic capabilities would represent an insurance policy even if deterrence failed. In this regard, the research and development effort on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) should be continued.

Over the near- and midterm, the overriding strategic requirement is modernization of the nation’s offensive nuclear forces. That requirement is driven by unrelenting Soviet strategic offensive expansion and modernization. At present, the US has only about half the prompt hard-target kill capability necessary to threaten the most critical targets in the Soviet Union. The USSR’s corresponding capability is at twice the required level. The destabilizing Soviet lead in prompt hard-target kill capability and mobile basin must be corrected without further delay through continued modernization of US ICBM and strategic bomber forces.

While the strategic nuclear sector is of ultimate importance, modernization must proceed in a balanced fashion across the spectrum of all Air Force missions. Without prejudice to other vital requirements, this Association feels compelled to underscore the importance of meeting the joint US Air Force-US Army requirement for close air support (CAS) and battlefield air interdiction (BAI) aircraft. These two crucial Air Force missions must be met by means of flexible, complementary capabilities rather than at the expense or exclusion of one or the other. In general, this Association believes that modernization — which represents “readiness tomorrow” — must be balanced against the demands of today’s readiness. We cannot afford to slight either.

The dedication and professionalism of our armed forces and the effectiveness of their weapons cannot alone provide for the common defense and national security. Our strongest bulwark is, and always will be, America’s will to bear the burdens of freedom. The nation that 200 years ago formed “a more perfect Union” must stand as one in this bicentennial year to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity.