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Defense is a difficult, complex subject. But when the President of the United States asks Congress to authorize an astronomical $222 billion for the fiscal 1982 military budget -- at a time of financial squeeze on all other areas of government spending -- the American people ought to take more than a casual interest. In five editorials, which will apear this week, we shall examine some of the issues involved and, we hope, stir discussion.

Let it be said at the outset that the nation's defense is not an area in which to take risks. The armed forces clearly must be adequate to meet security needs, and we doubt any American would begrudge the funds -- and sacrifice -- required to maintain defense at a demonstratively safe level. That the unceasing Soviet military buildup poses new challenges to the West is a matter of general agreement. The question is exactly what should be done about that challenge.

Our major concern is that the subject receive honest analysis and debate within the government.It would be unfortunate if an exaggerated "Russian menace" became the excuse for bloating the US budget with unnecessary arms programs. The miliary services always want more weapons and the temptation to push for them under an assertively prodefense administration must be strong. The defense industry -- that military-industrial complex which President Eisenhower warned about -- is avidly awaiting huge contracts. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger , even before he has had time to study the complicated problems involved, has called for a $33 billion jump in military appropriations over the Carter budgets for 1981 and 1982. Are these requests based on meticulously thought out plans -- or are they designed in large part to set a national tone of toughness vis-a-vis the Soviet Union? And perhaps for domestic political purposes?

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