Gulf-Crisis Impact on Arms Progress Less Peace Dividend, Slower Disarmament

Article excerpt

WITH United States and Iraqi forces eyeball to eyeball in the Middle Easterndesert, back in Washington it has become apparent that whatever the outcome, twocasualties of the Persian Gulf confrontation will be the peace dividend andprogress toward arms control and disarmament.

In a toughly worded speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month,President Bush called "unacceptable" the modest but significant 10 percent cutin military spending recommended earlier by the House Armed Services Committee.The president told the veterans that he will "oppose the defense budgetslashers who are out of tune with what America needs to keep freedom secure andsafe."

The largest mobilization of US forces since Vietnam now costs $46 million aday beyond the expenses of normal operations, according to the Pentagon. TheDefense Department has indicated that it will seek a "supplementalappropriation" to this year's military budget.

Added to the tab for transporting troops to Saudi Arabia may be the expenseof formerly endangered weapons systems that could survive due to the perceivedneeds generated by the Gulf confrontation. Among the programs that may benefitare the C-17 transport aircraft, whose production the Senate voted to delay, andthe V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which the Defense Department has tried tostop. New arguments are also being offered to justify costly weapons originallydesigned for nuclear war with the Soviet Union, including the B-2 "stealth"bomber, which a House committee refused to fund beyond the 15 aircraft alreadypaid for, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, which both the House and Senatecut sharply.

The mobilization of forces to the Gulf, however, does not justify rejectingcuts in military spending. The driving forces behind most of the reductionsvoted by Congress - Soviet military retrenchment, political change in EasternEurope, and US budget deficits - are unchanged.

Even if the United States decides to tailor its armed forces for third-world"contingencies," that would not be reason to abandon budget cuts, since themilitary forces needed to meet a Soviet threat in central Europe - whichaccounted for 50 percent or more of annual US military spending - should now bedrastically reduced. Reorienting US military forces toward potential third-worldconflicts should actually intensify the trend toward cuts in strategic weapons,including the MX and Midgetman nuclear missiles and the SSN-21 Seawolf attacksubmarine.

Even as the Gulf confrontation quickens defense spending, it will probablyslacken the already slowed pace of arms control and disarmament talks. Themarathon START negotiations and the Conventional Forces in Europe talks werealready mired in minor but nettlesome disputes between East and West. As thepresident devotes more of his attention to dealing with the military face-off inthe Middle East, rather than on the number of SS-18 flight tests or land-basednaval aircraft to permit the Soviet Union, the chances of completing START andconventional forces treaties by year's end, as both Bush and Gorbachev havepledged, may fade. In addition, efforts to negotiate deeper reductions innuclear and conventional forces in follow-up negotiations will be pushed stillfurther into the future.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Gulf crisis on the chemical disarmament talksin Geneva will be more direct in light of Baghdad's renewed threats to usepoison gas if attacked. Like the START talks, these negotiations were movingslowly before the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, as the US and the Soviet Union -the states with the largest chemical arsenals - were preoccupied with completingprotocols to a separate bilateral agreement signed in June. Concern among MiddleEastern states about whether key nations in the region would adhere to a globalban had also been a persistent complication in the talks. Now those nations maygrow less interested in the negotiations while one of the regional powers isthreatening to use poison gas. …