A recent news analysis began: ``More bad news for the defense industry: Peace is breaking out in Eastern Europe.''
We're led to believe that reform movements in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and even the Soviet Union could represent a major reduction of the communist threat. Coming on the heels of Defense Secretary Richard Cheney's proposal to cut $180 billion from the Pentagon budget, these and other recent developments suggest that tight defense budgets may get even tighter. And that's good, within reason, of course.
The defense portion of the Gross National Product, which reached a high of 6 percent in some of the Reagan years, could drop as low as 3 percent, according to Joseph Campbell, an analyst for PaineWebber Inc. ``I told my successor that your major task will be the restructuring of the defense industry,'' said Robert B. Costello, who served as undersecretary of defense from 1987 until last May.
But that should be no disaster. The defense budget has needed a stern, thorough and practical redoing for a long, long time, and what better excuse could there be than peace? Granted, there could be difficult times for firms involved with Pentagon expenditures, but that could work to the advantage of taxpayers who for so long have subsidized boondoggling, fraud and needless overruns.
There is, however, something important to keep in mind. Does anyone really believe that what is happening in Eastern Europe would have come about if the United States had not remained militarily strong, with its potent deterrent capability, since World War II? Suppose Uncle Sam and his allies had played the role of pushover the past 45 years, allowing the Soviet Union and its communist compatriots to do just as they chose. Had America not remained a leader in ``the battle of freedom'' which has made so many heavy inroads on communism of late, the Berlin Wall's notorious 22-year existence would have looked tame beside what might have occurred. There might have been an even greater ``wall'' around many an area that is now free or at least is on the verge of becoming freer.
And that brings us back to our defense and national security expenditures. True, it would seem the communists' problems in their own bailiwicks are now sufficient to quell most of their imperialistic tendencies. It is well for our leaders to scale back our strength accordingly, and use the money for better purposes.
But we should not let ourselves become so hypnotized by the dream of broader freedom and democracy that we allow the nation to grow weak and vulnerable. A strong, flexible, but perhaps smaller, defense posture is still in order because there is a lot more to the world than Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
We need to constantly assess how our ongoing strength has helped bring about what we perceive as desirable for other nations, and to be sure we remain powerful and alert enough to remain in the forefront of humanity's struggle for self-determination.