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The 'new' nuclear doctrine

Now that Defense Secretary Brown has publicly spelled out the "basic premises" of United States strategic policy, the stage is set not only for election-year debate but for the most prayerful and dispassionate thought on how to achieve genuine security.

In a fundamental sense, this security means eliminating the seeds of conflict in individual thinking that burgeon in the attitudes of nations. And to the cynics who say you can't change human nature the rejoinders can reach from biblical examples of regeneration to the more recent history of battlefield enemies turning into fast friends. Is anyone so determinedly hopeless as to deny that if it happened once it can happen again? Suppose each of us utilized the enormous power of doing one more thing each day in the transforming spirit of loving our neighbor, not to mention our enemy or the stranger within our gates.

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This thrusting toward an atmosphere for peace must not be lost as the military quest for security raises specters of war in the very effort to deter it. Coming in the same week as the campaign rhetoric at two American veterans' conventions, Secretary Brown's measured words tended to get narrowed to the political focus of United States national security. But a concern for US national security is quite simply a concern for a world security dependent on the maintenance of US defenses appropriate to meet any challenge. And, since the main current challenge is offered by the Soviet Military buildup, the world as well as the American people need assurance that American defenses are ready to deter any reckless Russian Temptation to try a "winnable" nuclear war -- or to exert political coercion on other countries.

As has been said before, and as Mr. Brown confirmed in his major address at the Naval War College, the reportedly "new" US strategic policy to achieve this deterrence is really not new. It is rather a codified and restated evolution of doctrine over the past decade. the freshly publicized targetting of military as well as urban and industrial sites in something that has been going on and that any self- respecting Soviet strategist would know or presume was going on. When Secretary Brown now speaks of making clear to the Soviets the nature of "our countervailing strategy," he no doubt is offering more news to the American public than to the Kremlin.

It is not what he says so much as what America does that will make the US deterrent more "credible." How can it be made credible in view of Mr. Brown's comments on the present or imminent vulnerability of the submarine and airborne legs of the strategic triad in future years? The administration's answer lies in maintaining the option of "limited" and "selective" nuclear response to Soviet actions -- it being more "credible" that such means might actually be used than the massive immediate retaliation against Soviet cities on which the US originally relied for nuclear deterrence.

The debate about this approach extends out to either side of it.

On the one hand, there is the view that to make the deterrent credible will require quicker means than the administration's huge new MX and its complicated deployment requiring enormous expenditures of time and money. Here enter such arguments as using existing missiles in a simpler "shell game" array of holes, most of them empty but some containing missiles, in order to speedily restore land-based missiles to invulnerability.

On the other hand, there is the view that a policy of nuclear "flexibility" undermines security by making nuclear conflict more "thinkable" and arms control more difficult to achieve. It was good to hear candidate Carter risk campaign points with last week's American Legion audience by asserting a presidential position agaisnt an arms race and in favor of moving ahead on SALT II.

As the debate continues, all sides will need the self-discipline not to exploit security for sheer politics, exaggerating fears or minimizing problems, distorting the situation for partisan reasons. Thus politicians, too, can contribute to the atmosphere for peace in which security lies.

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