Budget Glasnost


For years knowledgeable people have made the point that the Soviet practice of publishing one-line defense budgets was a big obstacle to genuine arms control. It’s encouraging that Kremlin-controlled publications are beginning to concede the point.

The American military-industrial complex is politically influential, but at least it is subject to the checks and balances of a democratic society. Each year the President’s budget includes page after page of detail on the weapons that the Pentagon plans to buy and at what cost. These proposals then become the subject of debate not only between the military establishment and its critics but also among defense and arms-control experts who argue the need for individual weapon systems. Congress conducts exhaustive public hearings. Some projects are conducted in great secrecy--the so-called Stealth bomber is the best example at present--but these are exceptions.

Traditionally the Soviet system has worked differently. The Kremlin publishes a total figure for annual defense spending, but has provided no details since the 1940s. Western experts agree that military expenditures are hidden in other parts of the Soviet budget, and that actual defense outlays are several times the official figure.


U.S. intelligence agencies, using material gathered from clandestine sources, spy satellites and sophisticated analysis of economic data, come up with detailed reports on Soviet defense capabilities and programs. This results in a bizarre situation where the average American, if he is interested, has easy access to information about the Soviet military establishment that is highly classified within the Soviet Union itself.

Inevitably, Western intelligence estimates are subjective and controversial because they can-not be confirmed. Not knowing for sure what the Soviets are up to, the American and allied governments frequently are inclined to base their own defense programs on worst-case analyses. This complicates arms-control negotiations and makes it more difficult for Congress to know where the U.S. defense budget can be cut safely.

President Reagan, speaking in Los Angeles in late August, challenged the Soviet Union to “show some glasnost in your military affairs” by publicly disclosing military expenditures and the size of the Soviet armed forces.

There has been no direct response. But last week two influential Soviet journals, the Communist Party journal Kommunist and the literary review Novy Mir, published articles calling for an end to excessive military secrecy.

Stanislav Kondrashov, writing in Kommunist, said that “it is no secret that some of our military secrets . . . have not been a secret for a long time, thanks to foreign space and electronic intelligence.”

Pyotr Cherkasov, writing in Novy Mir, noted that numerous Western publications attempt to give a detailed breakdown of Western and Eastern military forces, but that no similar information is provided in the Soviet Union. In his words, “The absence of openness plays into the hands of opponents of detente in the West, who speculate on the ‘closed nature’ of Soviet society and the ‘unpredictability’ of Soviet foreign and military policy.”


There is no evidence that the Kremlin is indeed preparing to accept more glasnost , or openness, in military affairs. But the fact that such articles were published in influential journals is an encouraging sign that the question has become a subject of debate within the Kremlin.