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U.S. Defense Commitments

February 08, 1985

People who read your editorial pages with particular interest in national security issues would probably agree that Ernest Conine could be correctly classified (in the simplistic spectrum of ornithological classification with which we seem to be stuck) as a "hawk." All the more credit, therefore, to Conine for this challenging and cogent column (Jan. 28), "Defense Commitments: Is the U.S. Overextended?"

Careful reading of the column reveals convincing evidence that the writer, while far from becoming a "dove," can now be categorized as an "owl"--the bird in the national security aviary we need most of all.

What Conine is asking his readers to consider are questions that have long been off limits for many of the softheaded hard-liners in our country who have seen only one way to solve international problems and secure the safety of our country: just keep throwing money at the Pentagon.

We have behaved like an irrational head of a household who spends so much money on insurance against every conceivable (or inconceivable) catastrophe that there is very little left over for family necessities.

Conine raises a fundamental question: Does a definition of national security so narrow as to see it in military terms alone make sense--or does the long-term safety and well-being of our nation depend as well on economic vitality and other basic aspects of national life that must of necessity atrophy if the body politic is excessively bled by a malady that can be accurately described as military hemophilia?

In calling for a more "hard-headed approach to the U.S. role in the Atlantic Alliance." Conine correctly points out the absurdity of considering 100,000 American troops in Europe less of a deterrent against Soviet invasion of Western Europe than the 325,000 troops we have stationed there now.

A logical extension of his cogent point leads to the realization that it is equally absurd (and far more dangerous) to continue making seven more nuclear weapons each day when a small percentage of our existing arsenal (and that of the Soviet Union as well, of course) is deterrent enough.

I commend Conine for what is clearly a call for fundamental reassessment of military policies and commitments that seem totally disconnected from the "economic and political costs of carrying out those commitments"--in the words of his column. We need a broader, more pragmatic (and less ideological) definition of national security, so we can stop putting our money where our myths are.


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