Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said Wednesday that the United States is making significant moves away from the “mutual suicide pact” that had been the foundation of the nation’s nuclear strategy, shifting instead toward a more determined effort to prevent war.
In some of his most detailed public comments on U.S. defense strategy, Weinberger said President Reagan’s effort to develop “Star Wars,” the space-based missile and laser system, is “a radical rejection of benign acquiescence in mutual assured destruction.”
Under that strategy, which has been the bedrock of the nation’s nuclear policy for more than 30 years, the United States and Soviet Union have each maintained arsenals so powerful that they are confident a surprise nuclear attack by one would be met with a devastating return attack.
But, Weinberger asserted, shifts in international relations have been so profound since the 1950s and 1960s that “many of these concepts are now obsolete.”
In a speech at the National Press Club, the defense secretary said that these shifts in the military balance require major changes in what was the “accepted wisdom” 20 or 30 years ago. “We are doing just that,” he said.
The speech was delivered as a response to critics who contend that the Reagan Administration has failed to develop any defense strategy beyond a plan to build up military forces. It is known to represent a distillation of thoughts that Weinberger began writing down last summer in preparation for his annual report to Congress at the start of 1986.
“Those who continue to mouth the hollow and unspecific criticism that we have no strategy simply oppose what we are doing,” Weinberger declared.
Deterrence Concept Remains
He insisted that deterrence--preventing war by persuading adversaries that they would pay too great a price for any gain achieved by attacking the United States--remains “the central idea of our defense strategy.” And he noted that while mutual assured destruction is a part of that strategy, the Administration’s “Star Wars” program, known formally as the Strategic Defense Initiative, would be a “far safer deterrent.”
Weinberger contended that opponents of the “Star Wars” program--now in a five-year, $26-billion research phase--generally support the strategy of mutual assured destruction.
And he argued that “this mutual suicide pact” has actually existed only recently. He noted that, at first, the United States was the only nation to possess nuclear weapons but said that this country, even after losing its monopoly, was still able to maintain nuclear superiority.
Citing the Soviets’ military move into Afghanistan in 1979, and the deployment of Cuban troops to aid the Marxist government in Angola, Weinberger said: “The Carter Administration appeared to have settled for a strategy that could be labled ‘dangerous deterrence.’ And the bluff was not working.”
He did not note that, despite the objections of the Reagan Administration, Soviet troops remain in Afghanistan and that Cuban units, deployed for 10 years, continue to serve in Angola.
Weinberger also used the speech and a question period that followed to restate his interest in “confidence-building” measures in advance of the summit conference next month between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Among such measures, he said, should be top-level meetings with Soviet Defense and Foreign ministry officials; direct communications links between the Pentagon and Moscow, in addition to the hot line; limits on military maneuvers and multiple-missile launchers, and joint U.S.-Soviet planning of ways to combat terrorism.
“The real concern that we address here is the risk of nuclear war that arises from events getting out of control,” Weinberger said. “Except for agreeing to upgrade the hot line, the Soviets have shown no interest in any of the others.”
A Pentagon official said that the defense secretary had considered extending a specific invitation to the Soviet officials but had decided that the speech was not the proper forum. Weinberger, the official added, “was sending a signal that he is interested in some kind of useful actions with the Soviets.”