• U.S.

Nation: Getting Tougher

3 minute read

End of a Viet Nam hangover

Iran was weighing on the mind of the President last week when he announced that he would ask Congress for an increase in defense spending of close to 5% a year, adjusted for inflation. Speaking to the U.S. Business Council in the White House East Room, Carter left no doubt that keeping up with the Soviets was the main motive for revising his thinking, but he cited the crisis in Iran as a “vivid reminder of the need for a strong and united America … which need not bluff or posture in the quiet exercise of its strength.”

The decision to boost defense spending was one of the most dramatic changes in the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who once vowed to reduce the Pentagon’s bud get. Said Carter: “Regardless of other disagreements, we are united in the belief that we must have a strong defense.” By increasing military spending, he simulta-neously improved chances for the passage of SALT II.

Carter also said that the U.S. has learned from the “mistake of military intervention in the internal affairs of an other country when our own vital interests were not involved.” But then, in the most significant sentence of his speech, he added, “We must understand that not every instance of the firm application of power is a potential Viet Nam.” He thus signaled, clearly enough, that the era of the Viet Nam complex in American foreign policy had come to an end.

Calling for $157.5 billion in defense spending authority in fiscal 1981, the President announced the creation of a new force that could respond quickly to emergencies anywhere in the world. The Rapid Deployment Force, or RDF, will have no units specifically assigned to it; but the commander, a lieutenant general, will be able to draw on all the services, including the Marines and the Army’s paratroopers, to form units tailored to meet any emergency. They might be as small as a battalion, or as large as several divisions. To transport the force, the U.S. will deploy intercontinental jumbo jets capable of landing on short runways almost anywhere in the world. By 1983 the Navy will have in service the first two of a fleet of 15 new ships especially designed to carry tanks, howitzers and other heavy equipment. Loaded and ready to go, they will be positioned at key points around the world, waiting for Marines to be flown in.

Briefing Senators on the new strategy, Defense Secretary Harold Brown emphasized the growing need for the U.S. to be able, should it choose, to bring military power to bear rapidly overseas. “In some cases,” said Brown, “that might be to turn the tide of battle. In other cases —we would hope in most cases—that would be to deter the outbreak of fighting in the first place.”

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