BOOKS

Measuring nuclear might

THE MYTH OF SOVIET MILITARY SUPREMACY By Tom Gervasi

GLEN ALLEN August 11 1986
BOOKS

Measuring nuclear might

THE MYTH OF SOVIET MILITARY SUPREMACY By Tom Gervasi

GLEN ALLEN August 11 1986

Measuring nuclear might

THE MYTH OF SOVIET MILITARY SUPREMACY By Tom Gervasi

BOOKS

(Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 51+5 pages, $38.50)

When the administration of President Ronald Reagan assumed power in 1981, it had, in the words of Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, “one overriding priority: to re-establish the balance of

military power necessary for stable deterrence.” Now, a book that combines an impassioned plea and careful scholarship, The Myth of Soviet Military Supremacy, takes issue with the idea that the Soviets have outstripped the United States. Author Tom Gervasi, one of America’s leading defence policy critics, argues that not only is the notion of “deterrence” morally and strategically bankrupt, but that the balance is, and always has been, in his country’s favor. “Í am a citizen who believes that our nation must always have a strong defence,” writes Gervasi, director of New York’s Center for Military Research and former army counterintelligence officer. “What I have found is that we already have one.”

In two earlier books, Gervasi accused the U.S. government and military of deliberately underestimating the nation’s might. In 1978 he published Arsenal of Democracy, a controversial look at U.S. armaments, and in 1981 he produced a sequel, Arsenal of Democracy II. His latest salvo, which includes 250 pages of appendices and notes from congressional, government and other public sources, is more a study of information and its misuses than of weapons or war. It strongly suggests that the Reagan government has persistently misled the American people—and Gervasi gives many of the gritty details:

In 1982 Reagan talked of an “adverse imbalance” in strike capability and defences and of a consequent “window of vulnerability.” At that time, Gervasi writes, the United States had a “sub-

stantial numerical lead in quantity and an enormous lead in quality” over the Soviet Union. In fact, in that same year public records which Gervasi quotes disclose that the minimum number of warheads that U.S. forces could deliver was 10,733, and the maximum that could be delivered by the Soviets was 6,521. The author contends that the ratios remain roughly the same.

Gervasi’s book reveals how and why the administration communicated its misinformation and what the real costs to the United States have been. Gervasi reaches beyond the homely, nuclear-age acronyms of SALT, START and MIRV to show that the credibility gap between Americans and their government during the Vietnam War was minimal compared to the current chasm of deceit. With almost total control of the public agenda, he writes, Washington has taken “every available step to ensure that the press and the public draw the desired conclusion from these lies.”

Gervasi says further that the government’s obfuscation began as soon as Reagan took office. In 1981 the Defense department, in its annual report, said that the United States had an advantage of 2,000 warheads. The next year, for the first time, there were no figures on nuclear warheads in the report. Measuring comparative strength, the administration excluded from its count U.S. bombers armed with nuclear missiles, because it claimed that they were “outdated.” At about the same time, the congressional budget office estimated that as many as 75 per cent of those aircraft could penetrate Soviet air defences.

When the administration compares the number of aircraft available to NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations, Gervasi says, “it counts on NATO’s side only those aircraft specifically assigned to carry out nuclear strikes while it simply assumes that every aircraft capable of carrying a nuclear bomb for the Warsaw Pact will do so.” He argues that the U.S. defence establishment misled Americans by speaking of the greater weight and explosive power of Soviet missiles, at a time when U.S. weapons designers had gone a step further, making more accurate, lethal, “miniaturized” arms.

Gervasi also says that Reagan has oversold the worth of his Strategic Defence Initiative (SDl). The so-called Star Wars program, says Gervasi, will increase soaring defence costs. And he adds that in the past five years those costs have turned the United States into a debtor nation, forced cutbacks in environmental and social programs, weakened conventional manufacturing, and compromised scientific inquiry outside the burgeoning field of weapons research. As well, he writes, Star | Wars “will not reduce the risks of war, but increase them . . . our children will grow up in fear.”

But Gervasi also at times overstates his message. He argues that Reagan and his officials are venal and cynical , men. In fact, American conservatives appear to believe sincerely that their initiatives deserve credit for keeping global peace. As well, even Democratic leaders have misrepresented the state of the nation’s arsenal—among them John Kennedy, who won the 1960 election partly on his perception of a missile gap at a time when the United States, Gervasi says, already had a nuclear capacity that would be adequate even now.

If half of Gervasi’s well-documented accusations are accurate, the Reagan administration has stoked fear with an exaggerated presentation of Soviet | might. Still, it is a tribute to the United States that the author of this telling indictment—and his publishers—remain at liberty to state their case.

GLEN ALLEN