WASHINGTON -- The MX missile is an indispensible step that will help restore a sense of national will, be able to respond to a Soviet threat and have a life-span of more than the few years its critics give it, Gen. Brent Scowcroft said today.
The chairman of the Commission on Strategic Forces made his comments on ABC's 'Good Morning America' program today, a day after the panel presented its plan for strengthening the backbone of America's nuclear deterrent to President Reagan.
'What we hope is that this proposal ... will attract sufficient consensus to put the divisiveness behind us,' Scowcroft said, 'and let us look forward rather than backward.'
The commission's blueprint assigns the MX missile a 'limited but very important' purpose, while placing longer-term emphasis on smaller, less destructive weapons such as the yet-to-be developed mobile 'Midgetman' missile that would have a single warhead.
After three months of study that included discussions with more than 200 technical experts, the commission recommended what Scowcroft called 'a major new departure' in strategic thinking.
It concluded the path to stability in the nuclear age lies in moving toward smaller weapons of war, a marked change in course from more than two decades of building bigger intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads.
Reagan today denied the report was a repudiation of his claim of an alarming 'window of vulnerability' that MX is needed to close. The commission did not reject the idea, he insisted, but indicated, 'It isn't as big as it was when we got here.'
Scowcroft said today, 'We think it ought to be small in order to open up as widely as possible different basing options hopefully including mobile options. That would provide the survivability of the future. Second, it needs to be a single warhead in order to lower the value of the target.'
Asked to comment on critics' concerns that the MX is a costly proposal that will be outdated in a few years, Scowcroft said, 'We don't think it's only for a few years. We think it's an indispensible step in order to get where it is we think we ought to go in the interests of greater stability.'
And he denied the missile is a bargaining chip at disarmament talks.
'No, I don't like the term bargaining chip,' Scowcroft said. 'It's essential in order to do several things immediately: To restore the sense of national will and cohesion, to be able to respond to the kinds of threats that the Soviets can now pose to the MX missile.'
On Monday, Scowcroft called the commission's report 'a closely reasoned report' that put the MX in perspective. He also acknowledged the commission was in a no-win position in attempting to resolve the furor surrounding the MX.
'Few, if any, will consider our recommendations an optimal solution,' he said. 'If such were available, this commission probably would not have been convened.'
In a report that will serve as the basis of Reagan's recommendations to Congress, the commission outlined a strategic moderization program that, unlike Reagan's, does not hinge on the MX alone.
The commission urged prompt deployment of 100 MX missiles in existing silos to reduce a 'serious imbalance' created by the Soviets' capability to destroy U.S. land-based missiles. Deployment, Scowcroft said, 'is essential to induce the Soviets to negotiate away what is currently a favorable strategic position for them in ICBM forces.'
The panel discarded the more than two dozen basing options -- some esoteric, others simpler -- considered over the last several years as two presidents have tried to move forward with production and deployment of the 195,000-pound, 10-warhead MX.
While the use of existing silos is the most immediate and least costly alternative, it also was rejected by Congress as an interim solution and does nothing to reduce the vulnerability of the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear 'triad.'
With the MX a key element of the commission plan, though in a form different from that proposed by Reagan, opposition emerged quickly on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., said: 'Previous MX deployment schemes ranged from absurd to inane. This proposal is nothing less than mad. If the commission's recommendations are adopted, we might as well also announce that America has adopted a first-strike nuclear strategy.
Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., a presidential contender who opposed the earlier basing mode, said the new plan 'makes no more sense today than it did when the administration proposed it as a temporary solution 16 months ago.'
However, commission member John Deutch stressed the recommendations - deploying the MX, developing the so-called 'Midgetman' and negotiating limits on warheads rather than launchers or missiles -- must be considered together as 'an inseparable approach to the future.'
Looking past the next decade, the commission said a new generation of smaller ICBMs and missile-carrying submarines could lead to reductions in offensive nuclear weapons and a more stable strategic climate.
The premise is that warheads, not delivery vehicles, are the destabilizing element in the strategic balance and the need for multiple-warhead weapons could be lessened by placing greater reliance on less potent missiles.
The vulnerability problem, the commission conceded, would not be resolved until these smaller weapons, which could be better protected from attack, are in place.