PENTAGON SHOOTS ITSELF IN THE FOOT

The annals of self-injurious fanaticism have now been enriched by an expert account of the Pentagon's success in wiping out 190,000 U.S. jobs and $9 billion in export sales - all in a hallucinatory drive to deny the Soviets high-tech goods that they easily purchase from our grateful allies and other nations.

The documented tale of this economic perversity has been denounced by the Defense Department's pre-eminent hawk, Assistant Secretary Richard N. Perle, as "predominantly representative of the outlook of the business community" - a peculiar allegation, given the Reagan administration's reverence for the business community.But the main difficulty with Mr. Perle's peevish criticism is that the dour report on export controls was written by a 21-member panel that included not only career businessmen and academics but also a core of blue-blooded national security Brahmin with impeccable records of service to the nation.

Commissioned in 1984 by the high temple of U.S. science, the National Academy of Sciences, the panel was chaired by Lew Allen Jr., former Air Force chief of staff and director of the National Security Agency and now director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Serving with him were retired Admiral Bobby R. Inman, former No. 2 at the Central Intelligence Agency; Melvin R. Laird, secretary of defense from 1969-73, and John S. Foster, a vice president of TRW Inc., who administered nuclear weapons research for many years before serving as the Pentagon's chief of research from 1965 to 1973. Hardly a pinkish bunch or inexperienced in the subject matter.

The tale they tell indicates that the Pentagon's coagulating effect on U.S. trade has been immense and possibly constitutes the greatest threat to cargo movement since formerlongshoreman boss Harry Bridges ruled the docks. They don't credit export controls as a major cause of the gargantuan U.S. trade deficit, but they conclude that it has contributed substantially by discouraging U.S. firms from seeking foreign sales.

The object of the export study was the Pentagon's ham-handed, indiscriminate campaign to block sales of many U.S. high-tech goods to the Soviet bloc regardless of military value or availability from other nations.

According to Gen. Allen's panel, the impact reverberates throughout the U.S. economy, not only from lost sales of non-strategic goods to the Soviets, but also from the unwillingness of buyers in non-Communist nations to accept U.S. restrictions on resale to suspect parties. The panel's estimates of

dollars and jobs lost are conservative, since they do not reflect the ''multiplier" effect of export manufacturing and sales.

The export regulations, numbering 600 pages, "are not generally perceived as rational, credible, and predictable" by the businesses and nations they affect, the panel reported. It added that the licensing process is so cumbersome and uncertain that 52 percent of exporters surveyed for the study said the export rules cost them sales to foreign competitors.

The report strongly supported strict controls over exports of goods that would distinctly contribute to Soviet strategic power, citing in particular advanced machinery that can be used for producing high-tech military equipment. But as the controls are administered, it concluded, they "fail to promote both economic security and military vitality" and have "an increasingly corrosive effect" on relations with friendly nations unsympathetic to U.S. ideological zeal.

While the Pentagon embroiders its calls for even stricter controls with claims that the Soviet military thrives on stolen and purchased Western technology, Gen. Allen's committee concluded that the United States and NATO hold a five-year to 10-year technological advantage over the Soviets. The way to keep it, they recommended, is to maintain a vigorous pace in research and development - a process that depends on the prosperity to which export sales contribute.

An illuminating sidelight to the export study is in the mean-spirited attitude that the Pentagon displayed toward its progress over the past two years. The Defense Department originally agreed to provide information and to join with other federal agencies in financing the study, which ranged to Europe and Asia to gather data.

Toward a budget of $855,000, Defense agreed to provide $200,000 and actually paid in $100,000 at the outset. However, the agreement and authorization for the down payment were made by a high official who resigned last year, Undersecretary Richard D. DeLauer.

Authority for the contract then passed to Assistant Secretary Perle, who promptly canceled all Defense cooperation with the study. Mr. Perle recently said, "We had misgivings about the report from the very beginning." The Pentagon's promised final installment of $100,000 has not been paid, nor, for over a year, has Mr. Perle's office responded to requests for the money.

Export controls will continue, he insists, thus verifying the philosopher Santayana's rule: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim."

Copyright 1987, Daniel S. Greenberg

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