The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

NEARLY three years after the shock of Sputnik I, Americans have reason to think better of our own effort in space. Exploits such as the recovery of a capsule from Discoverer XIII and the successful launching of the Echo I balloon satellite demonstrate that the U.S. space program is moving ahead. The successful launchings of the Polaris submarine missile and the tests of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile are evidence of increasing competence.

The Republicans will make use of these and other achievements to knock down the Democratic claims that the Eisenhower-Nixon Administration has failed the nation in defense and space. From what is known in the Capital, the only conclusion to be drawn is that both political parties are looking only at the facts which seem to offer political benefits in the presidential campaign.

The space problem, like defense, has been a question not so much of what the military and the scientists call “hardware” as of how to use that hardware — weapons and space vehicles and equipment. Once firm decisions are made on a program, the scientists and the engineers generally turn out a first-rate product, often enough so that the United States has nothing to be ashamed of in this regard and a great deal to be proud of.

Basically, the real problems have been two: first, whether the space program should be divided into military and scientific compartments; and, second, what the roles and missions of the respective military services should be, and therefore what weapons they should have. In the first case, the Vanguard satellite fiasco was in large part the result of a strict division of effort in which the civilianscientific space effort was given second place; whereas in the Soviet Union the total resources of the nation were placed behind the Sputnik effort. To this day there is too much of a civilian-military division, chiefly because of President Eisenhower’s insistence.

Failures in judgment

In the military missile field, a vast amount of money and effort has been wasted because the Administration made no clear judgments on the future role of missiles in national security, including the necessary decisions on which services should be assigned which missiles.

The record in the missile field is illuminating, especially so in view of the political cross fire. One has only to remember what the Republican convention keynoter, Representative Walter Judd, had to say: “The Truman Administration in eight years had put seventeen times more into price supports for peanuts than for long-range missiles.” And: “It took the Soviet Union twelve years to develop its long-range missiles. It took this Administration six years to get ours operational. Anything wrong with that?” The convention delegates, of course, roared “No.”

The fact is that, just before Christmas in 1946, barely a year after the end of World War II, President Truman approved a drastic cut in the Pentagon’s research and development funds. From what we now know, it was around this time that the Soviets began their missile effort, making good use of German scientists, whereas we were not to do the same for a long time.

The result of the budget stringencies of the Truman Administration — for which there was adequate reason in terms of public attitudes — was an Air Force priority, not on long-range missiles, but on air-to-surface missiles to permit stand-off bombing by aircraft. Indeed, the man who now heads the Strategic Air Command in the Air Force, General Thomas S. Power, predicted in June, 1947, that surface-to-surface missiles probably would not be operational for ten years, a startlingly correct estimate.

In 1950, after the first Soviet A-bomb, some of those high in the Pentagon thought that the Soviets had embarked on a crash missile program. But the reaction to the Soviet A-bomb was not an American missile program but a boost to our air defense program. It was not until after the explosion of the American H-bomb in November, 1952, that the scientists decided it would be possible to pack enough punch into a missile warhead to compensate for the inaccuracy of the weapon. This was the turning point.

What had gone before, however, was not so much a failure of American ingenuity as of American judgment. Nor was this confined to the Truman Administration. The American missile program really got under way in 1953, after the Von Neumann committee, working for the new Eisenhower Administration, became convinced that the Soviets had an effective, full-steam-ahead ballistic missile program in progress and that the United States had no alternative but to match it. Once a decision was made, things began to move. Within a few months three to four hundred scientists were at work, and before long some twenty to thirty thousand people were involved in the program, which turned out to be vastly successful.

Yet the Soviet missile claim, so dramatized by Sputnik I, overshadowed, both at home and abroad, the American effort. In part, this was because of the subsequent Vanguard failures, as well as because the Soviets were boosting into orbit far larger satellites. The later American rocketry successes have wiped out some of the shame, but the simple fact is that the Soviet combination of ingenuity and judgment has been better thus far than our own.

The question of priority

Some American insiders feel that the United States was badly led astray by estimates of the Soviet long-range bomber force. They feel that this was overestimated to the point that Washington put far too much money in both air defense and retaliatory bomber forces, more than was justified. It now appears, they say, that, whereas our government estimated that the Soviets were attempting to build a force capable of a massive surprise attack on the United States, they were in fact building only what they considered to be a force sufficient to deter an American surprise attack on the Soviet Union.

From all of this, it is evident enough that neither the Truman nor the Eisenhower Administration has been blameless. The Judd comparison of missile money and funds to support the price of peanuts is political demagoguery, but it may be effective as a counter to Democratic charges.

Furthermore, Vice President Nixon, in his first political excursion, the one to Hawaii, discovered that it is not a popular thing to downgrade this nation to its citizens. Americans may be disturbed and uneasy about the nature of the nation’s defenses and its efforts in space, but they do not like to have it rubbed in. Nixon found a good audience response when he said that “some people have said” that the United States is “second best.” Often there were loud shouts of “No.”

Mr. K and the election

What Nixon can hope is that the balance, since Sputnik, has been sufficiently righted to rob the Democrats of at least part of the defense and space issue. Yet he cannot be sure that some new Soviet exploit — a man in space, or the revelation of the “fantastic” new weapon about which Nikita Khrushchev boasted some months ago — may not create a new sensation, sending down America’s stock, at home and abroad. Certainly the Administration is not going to leave unrevealed any military or space achievement of our own between now and election day.

It will be difficult for Nixon to explain the successful use to which Khrushchev has put his defense and space accomplishments — his brandishing of missiles in the Cuban situation just off our shores, for example. The Democratic task here is to exploit the voters’ alarm.

The unhappy fact is that neither party is a free agent, that a great deal may depend on what Khrushchev says and does before election day. Each candidate observes with mixed emotions what the Soviet leader has to say about him. So far, Nixon has been the recipient of the more nasty remarks, something that causes no pain in GOP political circles.

Space for peace — or war

After the Discoverer XIII success, President Eisenhower issued an optimistic statement that the “United States leads the world in the activities in the space field that promise real benefits to mankind.” All the recent successes, he contended, were the results of a ‘’well-planned and determined attack” on the exploration and utilization of space. What the President said was geared entirely to so-called peaceful uses of space, the “conquest of the frontiers of science and technology.”

A great deal of the early delays and frustrations in the space field were the direct result of the President’s belief that there is a clear line between space for peaceful, scientific purposes and the military use of space. Most informed Washington opinion does not agree. There is a wide belief that, despite all sorts of coordinating mechanisms, the two costly realms of the national effort are not sufficiently closely related in planning or in programing. It is difficult to make definitive judgments, because so much of what is being done in the defense field is shrouded in secrecy.

One instance, however, will show the relationship between the two aspects of the space program. The Discoverer capsule recovery was among the events listed by the President in his statement praising the nonmilitary aspects of the American effort. Yet, in fact, the real reason this event is important to the United States is strictly military: the development of two important satellite programs. One is the Midas early-warning satellite, designed to give notice of the firing of enemy intercontinental missiles where no alarm is now possible. The other is the Samos reconnaissance satellite, which is the only means now envisioned for replacing the picture-taking capabilities of the U-2 program.

Incidentally, both the Pentagon and the State Department have been bracing themselves for a Soviet attack on the reconnaissance satellite plan. The best information in Washington is that in only a few years this vehicle should produce highly important intelligence pictures of both the Soviet Union and Red China. So far there have been only occasional Communist references to the “spy in the sky,” but there has been no challenge to the right of any nation to put a satellite in the sky over another nation.

The United States thinks that, since the Soviets put up the first satellite and since no nation has complained that its sovereignty has been violated, the Russians will have a hard time making a case against either Midas or Samos.

Mood of the Capital

Just how much either Nixon or Kennedy would alter the plans and programs of the Eisenhower Administration in space and defense is not at all clear. Both men have a number of brain-trusters at work in the campaign. Kennedy has asked Senator Stuart Symington, a former Air Force Secretary, to do a study on reorganization of the Pentagon, and Nixon is likely to make a parallel effort, for he also knows that the present setup is not satisfactory.

Both candidates have wisely taken the position that they should not propose any Cabinet appointments until after the election. Politically, it is taken as too arrogant a move to name Cabinet members in advance of election.

Certainly Kennedy would make use of Adlai Stevenson, perhaps as a successor to Henry Cabot Lodge at the United Nations, if not as Secretary of State. He likewise would make use of Chester Bowles, perhaps as an ambassador. Nixon’s choice for Seci’etary of State might very well be Undersecretary of State C. Douglas Dillon. Dillon has wide respect within the department and is among the current Nixon advisers on foreign policy.

Either Nixon or Kennedy as President, by all the signs now evident, would be far more his own Secretary of State — perhaps even his own Secretary of Defense — than Eisenhower has been, even since Dulles’ death. Either would be more in the F.D.R. tradition of running foreign defense policy from the White House. Neither would bow to the professionals in cither Foggy Bottom or in the Pentagon to the extent that Eisenhower has done.