The Numbers Game

By Barry Stevens

The Soviet Union has used détente to build the largest military force the world has ever seen. It outnumbers the U.S. in missiles, ships, men under arms -- indeed, In almost every category. The Russians will soon be In a position to use their armed might either In a direct confrontation with the U.S. or as a means of pursuing their expansionist goals with no fear of opposition.

THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IS NOT A QUOTE, BUT anyone old enough to read a paper, it has a familiar ring. Statements like it are pervasive -- a repetitive song whose words change but whose theme remains the same.

The theme has two pants: Russia is Bad; and Russia is Bigger than Our Side. Taken together, they constitute the Soviet threat. Exposed to this theme, day after day and in a variety of ways, reasonable people are likely to conclude that our existence, national and personal, is threatened by an enemy that is unrelenting in its desire to destroy us, and that will soon have the means to do so.

Very few of us ire pacifists. When faced with a present violent threat to ourselves or to those we love, we may respond with a threat of our own or, if necessary, actual violence. We count on the presence of an armed force -- the police -- to deter dangers such as rape, theft, and assault, and we expect the police to respond with an appropriate level of violence, should that deterrence fail.

Given this willingness to be violent in defence, and given the belief that we are faced with an enemy that is out to get us and is stronger than we are, few reasonable people would want to reduce our level of protection. Many would oppose freezing production of the weapons that hold the enemy at bay, and would support politicians who were determined to upgrade our strength to a level that would make the aggressor think twice about trying anything.

This, obviously, is the political situation that exists in the West today. Enough people are convinced that Russia is Bad and that Russia is Bigger Than Our Side to support the current arms buildup.

The belief that Russia is Bad has become ingrained in our society, although the media continue to reinforce it (as does, from time to time, the behavior of the Soviet Union). But by itself, this conviction is not enough to sustain the arms buildup. If Russia were Bad, but Weak, we would ignore it, much as we do Albania. And if we perceived it as Bad, but equal to us in strength, we would be more willing to discuss the Soviet offer of a weapons freeze. But if Russia is Bigger Than Our Side, we must get stronger.

Is Russia, indeed, Bigger Than "Our Side"? Accurate information on the relative strength of the two sides is not easy to come by. Most data originate with the military -- not the most impartial of sources -- so the picture that emerges is all the more surprising. Some analysts do indeed emphasize areas of Soviet superiority. Others argue that since neither side can defend against its opponent's ability to strike back with nuclear weapons after it has been attacked, both sides are in a position of "mutual inferiority." But one also finds plenty of evidence that Russia is not Bigger Than Our Side, but militarily inferior.

Saying Makes it So?

One would think this view would be part of a public debate but instead, it is rarely expressed at all in the mainstream media. We hear only that Russia is Bigger Than Our Side. Row do the media maintain this impression?

Just the place for a snark! I have said it twice.
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a snark! I have said it thrice.
What I tell you three times is true.
-Lewis Carroll

The idea that there is Soviet military superiority is so often repeated that it is accepted as given. Thus Newsweek reported in October 1981

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1986, page 12. Some rights reserved.

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