Chapter 10 - Reagan Combines U.S. Defense and Arms Control Strategies

3. Defense: Initial U.S. Defense Assessments and Supplemental Requests—March 1981

Within seven weeks of Reagan’s inauguration, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger provided the President’s initial official statement to the Congress on priority defense requirements and budget revisions. The presentation was based on a range of studies undertaken over the past months by Reagan and his advisory bodies, including his Presidential and Defense Department Transition teams, the NSC, Congress, intelligence agencies, and independent Washington policy institutes. Weinberger’s statement and an associated press release addressed major shortfalls, required remedies, and revised budget increases to begin with an FY 1981 Supplemental request and extending over the next five fiscal years through FY 1986.

Weinberger Statement to Senate—March 1981. Secretary Weinberger Statement to Senate Armed Services Committee on March 4, 1981 opens with a statement on the dual importance of revitalizing the economy—as also addressed separately by Reagan’s Message to Congress Reporting Budget Rescissions and Deferrals on February 13, 1981—and American military strength required to preserve peace and freedom. According to Weinberger:

I come before you with the second half of the Administration’s program to revitalize America. The first half was presented to you by President Reagan on February 18th, and was directed to the revitalization of American economic strength. Today, I want to discuss the revitalization of American military strength.

The two are inseparable. Without an adequate defense, we cannot meet our responsibilities and protect our interests around the world.

The President has determined that our defense budget must be increased if we are to preserve peace and freedom.

Today, the budget is not sufficient for our strategic needs. It is clearly inadequate to support our widespread commitments in peacetime. Further, it constrains our ability to meet challenges to our interests in time of crisis. The result has been a diminution of confidence in the United States among our partners in the Western Alliance and elsewhere. The perception of our inability to respond adequately and promptly has served to encourage Soviet and Soviet-inspired exploitation of areas of instability.4

Weinberger on Soviet Military Momentum and U.S. Defense Revitalization. Weinberger next describes specifics of the Soviet build-up and corresponding U.S. defense shortfalls; perceptions that “the Soviets and their proxies can act with impunity;” and the requirement for a rapid strengthening of U.S. ability to respond to the Soviet threat at all levels of conflict. He seeks assurance for rebuilding such damaged U.S. capabilities as readiness, quality of personnel, new weapons for the military services, and across-the-board increases in major categories of the defense budget. He cites CIA estimates of Soviet weapons investment programs as 90% larger than equivalent programs in the U.S. (i.e., $50 billion more a year); describes Soviet subversive activities, areas of contention in Southwest Asia, the Persian Gulf, Central America, and elsewhere; and references Soviet objectives to deny global energy resources to the West and other dangers requiring a strong U.S. forward presence. He cites new U.S. capabilities and efficiencies required in the face of the developing U.S.-Soviet asymmetries in theater and strategic nuclear arms and conventional forces, and notes the damaging impact of unrealistic approaches to arms control.

Weinberger’s Initial DOD Budget and Program Revisions. Weinberger’s statement was supported by a data-filled Department of Defense News Release on FY 1981 and FY 1982 Department of Defense Budget Revisions dated March 4, 1981 with pages of text and charts on the overall increases requested and concerning specific defense categories, including the following:

[Net Supplemental Request] There is a supplemental request of $6.8 billion requested for FY 1981. . . . for FY 1981 bringing the total Defense requirement to $178.0 billion for total obligational authority (TOA). The FY 1982 Budget request is being increased to a level of $222.2 billion. FY 1981 outlays are estimated at $158.6 billion and FY 1982 at $184.8 billion, an increase of about 17 percent. . . .

[Fact of Life] The FY 1981 supplemental includes $2.3 billion in “fact-of-life” changes. These cover such items as fuel cost increases, underpricing of civilian pay, procurement cost growth, force deployments and operations.

[Quality of Life] Changes to improve the quality-of-life of our military personnel total $.7 billion in FY 1981 and $2.8 billion in FY 1982.

[Book pg. 222]