Moscow's troubles in Afghanistan and Poland have bought time for Washington. Don't fritter it away. This is the kind of useful warning heard in current American discussions of strategy, which Secretary of he Navy John Lehman recently called "the trendiest subject of the season."
Last month's series of Monitor editorials, "the military budget," went into many of the details for maintaining the readiness of the American armed forces to fulfill their strategic responsibilities. Since then practically every day's news has touched on strategic considerations -- whether the proposed MX basing mode can be simplified while serving its strategic purpose, for example, or whether the technological preparations for possible future wars as short nuclear conflicts should be combined with fuller manpower and equipment preparations for possible long conventional wars.
Yes, strategy is an "idea whose time has come," as Secretary Lehman told a Naval War College audience. He wryly noted the new experience of selling such an idea, when in his previous jobs he had such tasks as selling SALT I to hawkish Senator Jackson and balanced force reduction in Europe to the Russians. Now the Navy is setting up a new strategic think tank, the Center for Naval Warfare.
But, to judge from some European and American voices, arms control is not really an idea whose time has gone. Indeed, some Europeans would make deployment of more US nuclear arms on European soil contingent upon pursuit of talks with Moscow to limit such arms.
Some have given up on US arms control efforts and resist dependency on the US for reducing nuclear dangers in Europe. As a representative of European Nuclear Disarmament has said, "If we wish to get anything done, then our statemen must go to Warsaw, Budapest and Moscow, not to Washington."
And there is the view that a start on disarmamentm must be the goal, not merely arms control that limits some weapons while permitting others to threaten humanity by burgeoning in their place.
So all the talk about strategy for preserving national interests and world peace must not ignore the goal of limiting arms as well as ensuring that proper and sufficient arms are available. There is not only a political need for such limits, as on the European scene, but an economic need -- as the unproductive drain on national resources is noted in both of the superpowers, let alone the smaller countries contributing to the world's enormous arms market.
Being armed to the teeth cannot buy security and stability for a bankrupt nation. Economic models show the great gains for economic development that might be achieved through the investments made possible by small cuts in the level of arms or even the rate of arms growth.
In the case of the United States, arms control would be part of a strategic policy to enhance and maintain US strength and effectiveness as a defender of peace as well as of its own security and that of its allies. The present focus on strategy stems from concern about Moscow's huge arms buildup and the need for the US not only to be a match for it but to be perceivedm as such. Thus Moscow would not be tempted to test American ability or resolve by some rash act that could set off nuclear Armageddon.
The US must be prepared not only to protect its homeland but to project its power to various places around the world where Western interests might be threatened -- perhaps more than one place at the same time. This capability is one thing that must be increased, according to Pentagon planners. The Navy, for example, already is responsible for more tasks with fewer ships than at the time of the Vietnam war.
A prime example of the need for strategic wisdom is Southest Asia, including the Gulf oil fields and the Indian Ocean, in which much of the Navy's added duty occurs. Here one argument is that US forces should be stationed in the region, though there is the political question of what countries would accept them. the reasoning is that ideally the nations there should take care of themselves, but they are too weak to do so. Such a presence might deter a thrust into the Gulf by a Moscow reluctant to risk the consequences of shedding American blood.
The so-called rapid deployment force might be an alternative, though it has been estimated to take more than 40 days to deliver 100,000 troops and equipment the necessary distance. One strategic question is whether such a force, as opposed to an on-site US presence, might tempt the Soviet Union to try to "get there first" if there were unstable circumstances to be taken advantage of in the region.
The questions are many and difficult. The grapping with them is essential. But, beyond all the prudent measures to be devised in response to them, Americans must guard their thoughts as well as their shores. The need to think about strategy must not lapse into accepting a likelihood of war; it must be accompanied by the peacemaking outlook, by the enlightened views of God and man, t o resolve conflicts without resort to arms.