SOME academics would consider it an insult to have their
writings likened to journalism. But Murray Weidenbaum's latest
book, "Small Wars, Big Defense," a look at the current state of the
United States military and defense industry, does have the feel of
a lengthy newspaper series or a long magazine article. It is
written clearly. There are plenty of quotes from a multitude of
sources (although, contrary to journalistic style, these are
footnoted). And each chapter is laden with facts and analysis, as
well as a layer of opinion that would be suitable for an op-ed page
article in a newspaper.
Weidenbaum, an economics professor at Washington University, St.
Louis, writes a monthly economics column for this newspaper. So
perhaps he won't mind the journalistic comparison when it is meant
as a compliment.
But Weidenbaum has the disadvantage of a book deadline. The book
is months out of date: It often refers to the Soviet Union, whereas
most journalists now write of the "former Soviet Union," or Russia,
or some other republic. However, the breakup of the Soviet Union
doesn't make much difference to the book's basic purpose - to
provide background and suggestions for what the United States
should do to its military establishment as a result of the dramatic
drop in the military threat with the end of the cold war.
Some say the breakup of the Soviet Union makes possible even
greater shrinkage of the defense forces. Others see a greater risk
of military clashes.
Weidenbaum, who was chairman of President Reagan's Council of
Economic Advisers in 1981-82, is a moderate conservative. He
advocates a strong national defense, but at a much lower cost. He
envisions a minimum role for government in the shift of manpower
and other resources out of the military into the civilian economy.
The policy task facing the American people, he writes, "is how
to gear down the massive military effort that was under way since
the early 1980s, but to do so while maintaining the capability to
conduct demanding military operations. Events following the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait have made it clear that the United States must
continue to be able to respond to rapid and substantial changes in
the international environment - including changes for the worse."
Thus the quality of the smaller military force should be
maintained, he says. But some planned new weapons systems should be
forgone. The cadre necessary to reestablish larger forces, should
that be necessary, must be given priority. A high level of military
research and development and a viable defense industrial base
should be kept. And, he says, renewed attention should be given to
counter the threat resulting from proliferation of nuclear and
other weapons, especially on the part of third-world nations and
If he were writing the book today, Weidenbaum probably would
have expressed concern about the risks from the former Soviet
republics and the nuclear weapons on their territories.
That basic defense philosophy probably won't get much of a