One of this nation's greatest current challenges is the determination of how, in the wake of our new relationship with the Soviet Union and the current war with Iraq, we should spend our money to defend this nation.

Not long ago, many in Congress were caught up in the euphoria of the Soviet Union's new openness and restructuring and in our new, less threatening relationship with them. To many, it seemed that because the Cold War was apparently over, we could feel free to tear down our military piece by piece.Shouts for massive defense cuts and "peace dividends" were reverberating off Capitol walls. Calls for the systematic dismantling of our military and wholesale elimination of new weapon systems were the battle cries in many political campaigns.

Then, amidst the euphoria came an unnerving shock: Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Some members of Congress and congressional candidates instantly became "military experts," espousing theories about how we had sacrificed our conventional warfare capabilities by concentrating on high-technology weapons for a potential conflict with the Soviet Union.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was among the first targets of anti-defense rhetoric. Claims were made that defending against missiles was a thing of the past, and the money could be better used elsewhere.

My own campaign was a case in point. My opponent "blamed" me for participating in House Armed Service Committee decisions to spend money on sophisticated weaponry such as SDI, cruise missiles and stealth technology. He went on to say, "We should have learned these lessons in Vietnam, that high-tech airpower cannot defeat an enemy force on its home terrain."

But on Jan. 16, 1991, reality impinged upon political rhetoric, and fact met fiction. Since the early stages of the campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, high-tech weapons and aircraft have performed brilliantly.

Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from warships in the Persian Gulf strike with amazing accuracy at military targets in downtown Baghdad. Laser-guided missiles shot from F-117A Stealth fighter bombers have been precisely directed down narrow building air shafts and through the doors of Iraqi bunkers.

High technology weapons give our armed forces the ability to make surgical strikes, eliminating much of the death and destruction among civilians and their property near the targets. This accuracy ultimately saves the lives of our airmen and soldiers by destroying targets with fewer missions and by dramatically reducing Saddam's ability to wage war before we send in ground troops.

This is in stark comparison to Iraq's hopelessly inaccurate SCUD missile, which is fired in the general direction of crowded cities in hope of killing civilians for the sole purpose of terrorism.

Even after Jan. 16, many still suggest that SDI is an enormous waste of money. To them, I would suggest a talk with those in Saudi Arabia and Israel who were spared facing an exploding SCUD missile because a U.S. Patriot missile destroyed it in the air.

To those who suggest that we learn lessons from Vietnam, I submit that we did learn valuable lessons.

We learned that we must support our troops with the best technology, logistical support and power we can muster. We learned that high technology can save lives of our American servicemen and women. And we learned that we must not only provide them with the best weapons, but that we must show them that we vigorously support their efforts.

But there are lessons still to be learned by many. We can no longer ignore the likes of Saddam, Moammar Gadhafi and other dictators known and unknown as potential threats to the security of this nation.

Just one nuclear warhead and one intercontinental ballistic missile in their hands could prove devastating to our homes without a means to defend against it.

President Reagan understood this concept when he took office in 1980. He grabbed the reins of a dated, demoralized and underfunded military and steered it back to a position of strength. He realized that technology could be the answer to keeping the peace, and so we began investing heavily in it.

The results speak for themselves. The Soviet Union found that it faced an implacable opponent in the United States whose technology could ever outpace its own. The Soviets recognized strength and knew that they could no longer spend the sums necessary to keep up.

And now, through the Iraqi crisis, we can see the wisdom of Reagan's (and Bush's) vision that the path to peace is truly through strength.

Let this sobering event teach us that we must not tear down our military capability in the face of a lessened threat from the Soviet Union. Instead, we should carefully and prudently build down while continually developing our technological capabilities, so that we are never caught without a defense adequate against any threat.