12. SOVIET'S "LAUNCH-ON-WARNING" DEFENSE POLICY

Soviet responses to President Reagan's various defense policies appear to receive selective treatment in the U.S. press.

Yuri Andropov's attack on President Reagan's proposal for a sophisticated space-age anti-missile system as "insane" and "extremely perilous" was well publicized.

However, Soviet response to other U.S. defense decisions sometimes receive little or no media coverage.

For example, in a critical article which appeared in MediaFile this past February, author Hiram Torres charged that the U.S. press appeared to have "missed one of the biggest nuclear warfare stories of 1982: how and why by December of 1983 the fate of humanity may be left in the hands of a Soviet computer, radar, and satellite system."

It started on July 13, 1982, when Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov strongly hinted, in an unusual full-page article in Pravda with translation made available immediately to the Western press, that the Soviet Union would adopt a policy of launch-on-warning in response to the U.S. weapons build-up, particularly the Pershing 2.

Torres said the media's failure in covering the story were threefold: "First, the Pershing 2 has not been linked in the press to launch-on-warning, which in turn has not been linked to the Euro-missiles debate. Second, the press has failed to connected leaked reports of the new U.S. Strategic Master Plan "decapitation strategy" to the Pershing 2. And third, press reports appeared not to have grasped the implications for world security of a launch-on-warning policy."

Considering the number of computer-radar-satellite malfunctions that are possible -- there were 147 serious false alarms in the U.S. strategic warning system between January 1979 and June 1980 (an average of one every four days) -- the implications of the Soviet "launch-on-warning response" are most serious.

Whether designed to scare the American public or to signal a serious policy shift, such Soviet responses to American military strategy would seem to warrant more news media coverage.

SOURCE:

MediaFile, February, 1983, "Has Press Misfired in Coverage of Nuclear Missile Debate?" by Hiram Torres.