The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

ONCE again the world’s political leaders are having to face up to the nuclear facts of life as presented by the seemingly ceaseless progress in the weapons laboratories and testing ranges. This, essentially, is behind the historic British defense white paper, the Adenauer talk of nuclear weapons for West Germany, the Eisenhower attempt to say go slow, the NATO decision to pass out missiles to its various member nations — and the Kremlin’s almost hysterical series of warnings to all and sundry from Norway to Iceland, from Spain to Turkey, not to let American nuclear missiles be stationed on their territories.

It is nearly two years since Eisenhower and the Soviet leaders at the Geneva Summit Conference reached their historic understanding that nuclear weapons are too terrible to permit either of the two great powers to risk a global war. That was the first benchmark of political acceptance of ihe nuclear facts of life.

Now the political leaders, this time not only in Washington and Moscow, are facing and reaching decisions based on the evolution of guided missiles and of the so-called “small” or “tactical” nuclear weapons. Whatever hopes there are for even partial agreement at the London disarmament talks rest fundamentally on the way Moscow and Washington read the meaning of ihe new nuclear weapons.

Budget problems, of course, are deeply involved in the thinking and decisions of the Western governments. The President has publicly noted the need for a healthy British economy as a fundamental reason for the decision to switch Britain’s chief defense dependence from manpower to missiles over the next five years. But the Suez fiasco last fall — the military fiasco, that is — makes it clear in London that Britain would either have to beef up its non-nuclear forces or strip them to the bone while depending on nuclear weapons. The budget made the latter the inevitable choice.

It was not for budget reasons, however, that Eisenhower said he admired the British courage and nerve in taking such a historic decision. It was because the President realizes that it will be a long time before the new weapons — including the intermediate range (1500-mile) ballistic missiles — exist in meaningful numbers. That was the reason for his go-slow admonition.

No one in Washington doubts that the IRBM will be produced and shipped to Britain in due course. The United Stales has created and is stockpiling the most massive thermonuclear bombs which, in the opinion of experts here, could ever be effectively used. The presumption is that the Soviet Union is doing the same. Britain is testing its first H-bombs and will build a limited stockpile, but more for prestige than anything else.

The small nuclears

The real battle inside Washington is over the so-called “small” nuclears. This issue is unresolved for various reasons, chief among them the budget and disagreement on military policy. The outcome is likely to be of vast importance to the security of the United States and the peace of the world.

Thomas E. Murray, the maverick member of the Atomic Energy Commission who will not be reappointed when his term expires this month, has been arguing for “tens of thousands” of small nuclear weapons. He starts from the assumption that not all wars are ruled out because of the Summit understanding. Hence, in his view, America must prepare to light the “little wars" with modern—that is, nuclear weapons, and the smaller the weapons 1 he more it will he possible to limit such wars.

In a good many respects Murray’s views fit with those of Donald Quarles, the new Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and former Air Force Secretary. But the Pentagon has not accepted the Murray thesis to the point of calling on the President to have such small weapons manufactured in vast numbers and varieties. There is a rather widespread public impression that the United States already has such weapons. The facts are otherwise, despite a few in stock of what might be called middle-range size.

One must remember that the now antiquated Abomb which fell on Hiroshima was of the 15-kiloton range, or about 60,000 times more powerful than the largest conventional bomb of World War II. What has happened since is that the H-bomb’s creation has brought weapons in the megaton range (with no upper limit to the size that can be produced) and has vastly improved, via the missiles, the methods of delivery.

When Murray speaks of tens of thousands of small nuclear weapons, he and others are talking of weapons in the one-kiloton range — in other words, a weapon perhaps one fifteenth the size of what was used on Hiroshima but still 4000 times more powerful than any single bomb of World War II vintage.

How far down the scale the nuclear weapons can be made is as yet unknown. The Nevada tests this year are designed in part to find out. Pentagon officials have expressed interest down to about the two-kiloton range. But there is reason to believe that nuclear weapons could be made of only a fraction of such explosive power.

Big enough to do the job

The military naturally likes the most conclusive weapon for any job. This is true especially of ihe Air Force because of the aiming problem. It is certainly true in the case of the IRBM — for example, a hydrogen warhead which landed ten miles outside Moscow could still obliterate that city.

Long ago during the tensions over the Formosa Straits the President said that in any clash with Red China the United States would use nuclear weapons “like bullets.” ‘The simile certainly gives the wrong impression, in view of the state of small weapons development, but the military strategy implied in the remark is doubtless correct, in view of the cuts in our conventional forces these past four years.

According to highly competent sources here, the only way to manufacture large numbers of small nuclear weapons (assuming the tests demonstrate their feasibility) is to build a huge new plutonium plant which would cost approximately $3 billion. Such a figure on top of the present defense budget is something the Administration is not now willing to take on. This spring’s budget-cutting climate in Congress, and the congressional-presidential feuding on the issue, make it clear that only an Eisenhower drive could put over such a request. And that would require a clear statement on the military necessity of a program which many people seem to think already exists.

Armament guessing game

As has occurred in the past in the mannedbomber and the submarine programs, news of Soviet advances may in itself force such a change. There is good evidence that the Soviets are revamping their military forces with the idea of using small nuclear weapons. But how small and how widespread remains a secret from Washington, as far as any outsider can now perceive.

One related issue — the disarmament talks— has a bearing on the problem. Harold Stassen proposed at London that all future nuclear production be channeled exclusively into peaceful uses. Such an agreement would greatly inhibit if not prevent a small weapons program, its advocates say. They point out that while some small weapons could be made from existing plutonium stockpiles (in or out of bomb form) the loss in the charge is very large. And the “bigger bang for the buck” thesis holds true only going up the kiloton-megaton scale, not going down, where the reverse is the fact.

The Soviet threats to our NATO partners and others as well are taken in Washington to be based on Russian fear of the development of intermediaterange missiles which, especially from European bases, could cover much of European Russia if not all of it. But it also may be based on the realization that the smaller weapons could negate the Soviet preponderance of manpower. What this might lead the Kremlin to do about an arms agreement is anyone’s guess.

The net of all these interrelated scientific developments (even putting aside the political issues of which the division of Germany remains the foremost) is to force the world’s political leaders to face up to new decisions. Many do so unwillingly, if only because of the constant public outcry, exclusive of Communist propaganda efforts, against more and more nuclear weapons and nuclear tests, and the overhanging dread of nuclear contamination.

Yet as long as the world remains the collection of mortals it is, the issues will have to be faced and somehow resolved. The process, for Washington at least, is likely to go on for years, unless some new development on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain forces precipitate action. And that is surely not the best way to make national policy on an issue which so vitally affects national survival or even the continuation of the human race.

Apathy in unions

The day that Dave Beck, the Teamsters Union boss, was invoking the Fifth Amendment over and over, the head of one of America’s biggest unions (and one free from such contamination as has become apparent in the Teamsters case) was talking of the changing nature of unions and what the Senate investigation might mean to them.

“When I was a youngster in the mid-thirties helping to organize the union,”he said, “I had a machine gun stuck in my face more than once by some company cop. But today when I recall that to the youngsters in our union, many of them babies twenty years ago, they only say to me: ‘Hell, I fought in Korea.’ ”

This union leader and some of his top AFL-CIO colleagues have since been discussing how to set up a program to “get through,” as they put it, to their rank-and-file membership. They feel that the old contacts do not work any more. Only a handful turn out for most union meetings. Union papers are not too well read. The public press (largely anti-union in the eyes of these leaders) and TV-radio competition is too strong. The present-day members, save for the oldtimers who remember shedding blood for the right to organize, have it all too easy, they feel.

There is a good measure of truth in this kind of thinking, of course.

Even some members of the Indiana legislature elected with strong union support voted for that state’s “right, to work" law, which prohibits the closed shop, the first yet enacted in a state with a sizable industrial base rather than an essentially agricultural one.

As the McClellan Committee probe has gone on, there have been differing opinions in Congress on whether it would (a) bring on restrictive national labor legislation, and (b) create a new political weapon for the Republicans in the 1958 congressional elect ions.

On the first question the prevailing view still is that Congress this year will not pass any really restrictive laws. This does not exclude a lawregulating management of union welfare funds, a measure most unions would in fact welcome if they were sure that would be the only thing in such a bill. But once on the House and Senate floors, they fear, it might be loaded up with amendments which would be otherwise injurious to organized labor.

Political implications

A related issue even more feared both by labor leaders of the non-Beck type and by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in Congress is legislation restricting union financial aid in elections. Democrats say frankly that without such help they would be at an even greater financial disadvantage than in the past, considering the business wealth which flows from individual business leaders into GOP coffers. Yet there is impressive public support for a “clean elections” bill, and it will be hard to beat off the type of amendment which GOP rightwingers such as Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona fully intend to press.

The political results of the Senate inquiry also are in dispute. The GOP high command — that is, the party machinery itself—headed by the new chairman, Meade Alcorn, has adopted a rule of public silence. But privately it is very clear that the Republicans expect to reap considerable political hay next year from the probe. They point out that organized labor is associated in the voters’ minds with the Democratic Party. And they intend to make the most of it.

The Democrats are aware of this and on the defensive. Some even believe that the hitherto bright chances of picking up as many as six to ten Senate seats next fall when the ultraright-wing Republican senators (Malone, Jenner, Gold water, Revercomb) come up for re-election may go glimmering.

Mood of the Capital

Spring came hard to Washington this year, what, with unseasonal storms around the nation and more than usual cold and rainy spells. The weather seemed to fit the Capital’s mood of uncertainly.

Above all, there is continuing uncertainty over the President’s health and thus over his ability to carry on for nearly four more years. Eisenhower’s sincere attempt to resolve the presidential disability issue not only is going nowhere but it prompted a rash of rumors that he would resign in favor of Vice President Nixon. The Eisenhower characterization of this as “rot” ended one spate of rumors but not the concern over the President’s health.

On top of this the budget row set off by George Humphrey’s “haircurling depression” comments has turned the whole session of Congress away from more productive efforts to a high measure of political grandstanding. Up to the Easter recess practically nothing had been accomplished, for many of the budget cuts voted will have to be replaced in later “deficiency” measures.

The continuing uncertainty over the course of the domestic economy and the continuing Middle East crises irritated the city’s edgy nerves. The forthcoming Senate Committee investigation of our Middle East policy just about obliterated any real chance of mending the breakdown in bipartisanship on foreign policy.

In short, the first session of the 85th Congress appears to be less than normally productive. At best it can act on two of the most important domestic issues, a civil rights package and a federal school-building measure, only after a massive public struggle and a Senate filibuster on the race issue. And that is hardly a prospect to gladden the hearts of any but the extremists in a period of our history when extremism is not popular.