To the Editor:
. . . A few years ago, when COMMENTARY published articles by Daniel P. Moynihan and others suggesting that we respond openly and seriously to those countries which incited opposition to us by propagating lies about us, . . . a rush of criticism came from certain organs of the media . . . which condemned such thinking as only so much cold-war rhetoric.
It is now sadly ironic that in February, the month Eugene V. Rostow’s article, “The Case Against SALT II,” appeared—as the U.S. was being chased out of Iran, as Khomeini was embracing Arafat, as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan was cold-bloodedly murdered, as China and Vietnam went to war, and as Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Libya raised their oil prices to intolerable levels—these same critics began to wonder, in panic-stricken tones, why the U.S. could not do anything about any of this. Indeed, an editorial in the New York Post of February 20 seemed to endorse the ideas the paper had previously condemned: “We have many weapons, many responses at our disposal in the fight against the excesses of the Khomeinis, the Arafats, and the OPEC blackmailers. All we need is the will.”
In every single one of the events mentioned the Soviet Union was in some way involved. News dispatches coming out of Iran told of Soviet-authored radio broadcasts which stirred the Iranians against us. . . . The words were so heated and inflammatory, so passionately anti-American, and so palpably false, that any rational person who took the time to read what was being said about us would find it impossible to believe that we were currently involved in treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union. . . .
The probable answer is that the SALT treaty is not as important to the Soviets as it is to us, or more to the point, as it is to Jimmy Carter. As Mr. Rostow points out, the essential problem with SALT II is the politically coercive power it gives to the Soviets. Actually, some inkling of this is already evident in the talks themselves, for it is common knowledge that President Carter wants this treaty as an accomplishment he can point to in his bid for reelection. . . .
It was, therefore, important that Mr. Rostow’s analysis appeared when it did, for it proved that SALT II is not the key to peace. If the Soviets are interested in détente, let them prove their intentions by halting the enormous arms build-up they are presently undertaking, by ending their support of such racists as Qaddafi and Arafat, . . . and by terminating their attempts to incite others against us. If these conditions are not met, then we should get up and leave the table, not necessarily with the understanding that we will never return, but with the understanding that we do not take lightly what is presently being pulled on us, and until it stops, the American people see no reason to pretend that these are peaceful times.
John J. Cox
Flushing, New York
To the Editor:
. . . Strategic nuclear weapons must be the most inflexible tools of war since the use of metal body armor in the Middle Ages. The very enormity of their destructive power has made them useless in any international crisis to date. Our vast nuclear superiority did not prevent Berlin, Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, or Vietnam from happening. Nor did it end any of them. Rather, it was resolute use of conventional weapons by one side or the other which brought each of these crises to a conclusion.
It follows, then, that our strategic nuclear forces—and those of the other side—cannot deter much of anything except the final “Big Bang.” This conclusion assumes that the U.S. and the Soviet Union are in a situation of parity. If this is so, then the SALT II treaty can be argued for without linkage to anything else.
We can verify Soviet compliance with the terms of SALT II, at least for five years or so. I do not possess the knowledge to make an independent judgment, but I rely instead on Congressman Les Aspin’s persuasive article about this country’s ability to monitor the activities of the other side.
Our allies had better not count on the “nuclear umbrella” for their security, if indeed they ever did. Let us suppose that the Soviet Union has overrun Western Europe, including the British Isles, by using conventional weapons, despite the best efforts of the United States. Does anybody seriously think that the President of the United States would put 1 million American lives at risk by launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union to force its retreat from Europe? This points to the need for us to enlarge and strengthen our conventional forces, so that we can have some options on those few occasions when force is necessary. Strong conventional forces and the will to use them would be a deterrent.
Finally, it does not make any difference whether SALT II is ratified. I oversimplify, but only to emphasize two much more important matters. First, we must develop a coherent foreign policy, the thrust of which is to insure the security of the United States. We must define those areas which are essential to our security (one would think that Western Europe, the Middle East, Japan, and our own hemisphere might do for starters) and make plans to defend them. And we must have the will to use all means necessary to protect our security. If we have the will, then we will see to it that we will always have nuclear parity with the Soviet Union, with or without SALT II. If we have the will, we can build up our conventional military forces consistent with our security goals. If we have the will, we will be able to end our embarrassing impotence. . . .
To the Editor:
Eugene V. Rostow does his cause a disservice by the approach he uses in “The Case Against SALT II.” While I recognize that proponents of the second round of SALT have often resorted to emotional appeals and the use of a highly selective melange of facts, assertions, and wishful thinking in promoting their cause, this ought not to result in the adoption of similar tactics by the opponents of SALT II. . . . Even without becoming emotionally involved, it is easy to have serious doubts about certain provisions of SALT II and the assumptions from which they stem, as they have been revealed at this writing. When discussing these in a sophisticated forum such as COMMENTARY, however, sweeping assertions, misstatements, and flights of fancy masquerading as logic tend to detract from the effectiveness of the arguments. . . .
- It is specious to argue, as Mr. Rostow does, that the Soviets violated U.S. unilateral interpretations made in connection with the 1972 Interim Agreement, since the USSR had not agreed to them. One can complain about the lack of U.S. domestic reactions to these “breaches,” although the existence of such Soviet actions has never been satisfactorily demonstrated.
- I am puzzled by Mr. Rostow’s equating “hard” targets with “defended” targets. Clearly, hard targets are more difficult to damage or destroy than are soft targets, and one reason for increasing the number of U.S. strategic warheads is to counteract the hardening of Soviet targets. Whether this move by itself is sufficient may be open to question, but this matter can be discussed without raising the specter of a “hard-target gap.” The ACDA study which is being criticized may make inadequate allowance for anti-aircraft defenses, but one need not become overly concerned about the current Soviet anti-missile defenses. If there is evidence that these exceed the 100 ABM launchers of the type allowed by the ABM Treaty of SALT I, then the U.S. should view this as cause for abrogation of the treaty. At present, such evidence does not appear to exist.
- I am also puzzled by the linking of Soviet anti-satellite capacity with our verification methods. Certainly the Soviet capacity to destroy our satellites can create serious problems in the event of hostilities. At such a point, however, there should no longer be any concern about verifying provisions of an arms-limitation treaty. It is in the context of war-waging and not treaty verification that the U.S. needs to take measures to protect its satellites against Soviet anti-satellite systems.
- To say that the Soviets’ SS-16 ICBM’s are indistinguishable from their SS-20 IRBM’s is to say that a tractor-trailer is indistinguishable from a tractor with no trailer attached. I am puzzled by the great concern expressed over the Soviets’ reserve missiles or their capability to break out of the treaty limits rapidly, in light of the earlier statement that the number of our hard targets is not increasing. If the Soviets are indeed stockpiling missiles for reloading their launchers, it would imply that their initial load may not be able to destroy the targets assigned to it.
- Were one to accept the statement that Soviet expenditures for strategic weapons have been increasing at the rate of 8 per cent annually in real terms for a period of sixteen years, then one would come to the indeed startling conclusion that the Soviet Union is now spending almost 3½ times (3.426 times) as much money on them as it did in 1963! Were this true, the Soviet Union would be wasting money at a prodigious rate, for the results of these expenditures surely do not match their costs.
- The disparity over casualties which would result from a nuclear exchange has been the subject of much analysis and even more agonizing. I agree that it is not inconceivable that a Soviet leadership would be willing to risk 10 or even 20 or 30 million casualities in return for inflicting 100 million on us. Certainly, their taking advantage of such a perceived disparity in casualties for political purposes is much more conceivable, and therefore the prospect is alarming. Redressing such a perceived imbalance is something the U.S. should not neglect to do. It can be done within the framework of SALT II, provided the Executive Branch, Congress, and the public are willing to go through with it.
- I agree that disarmament by example is not an effective way to achieve bilateral reductions of forces. In this regard, cancellation of the B-l and slowing down the work on MX and Trident do not appear to have succeeded in eliciting Soviet restraint. It is misleading to try to link the deferral of the neutron bomb to the expectation of a similar Soviet concession in SALT; the neutron warhead is primarily designed for artillery shells, which are not covered by SALT negotiations.
- It is not clear what additional naval forces are required to fulfill our security treaties. Rapid replenishment of American forces in Europe in time of war can be better accomplished without the need for additional naval forces, if equipment pre-positioning and airlift capacity were increased. The Soviet navy in other parts of the world can be countered with assets which do not have to be naval forces. If indeed there is a lack of willingness on the part of the administration to counter Soviet expansionism, then there is plenty of cause for concern. However, the administration’s refusal to ask for naval forces in the amount Mr. Rostow considers adequate is not necessarily cause for concern. . . .
To repeat, SALT II should not be considered in isolation, but in the context of overall U.S. foreign and military policy, as Mr. Rostow rightly suggests. But let this be done in a thorough, dispassionate, in short, scholarly manner.
Robert I. Widder
Chevy Chase, Maryland
To the Editor:
. . . The format of a letter to the editor limits the effective criticism one can make of an article as complex and formidable as Eugene V. Rostow’s. But I would like to take issue with at least some of his assumptions, interpretations, and conclusions.
Mr. Rostow asserts that the driving force behind the Soviet Union’s military build-up is its push for superiority which, if achieved, would result in an ability to force American acquiescence in Soviet political demands. This is certainly a plausible interpretation but hardly one that can or should be treated as axiomatic. Daniel Yergin, a noted student of strategic relations, has asserted that there are numerous interpretations of the Soviet Union’s military build-up, including: the attempt to establish a credible deterrent; bureaucratic momentum (with which we are well acquainted in this country); a feeling of vulnerability vis-à-vis the West and China (and, indirectly, as a result of growing instability in East Europe); and the self-perpetuating momentum of the arms race. In fact, it is quite possible that the Soviet military buildup is indicative of genuine fear of a nuclear conflagration and not evidence that the Soviet Union is planning to launch one.
Why is Mr. Rostow justified in focusing only upon the most insidious interpretation? He claims two arguments in support of his thesis: the first is that Soviet strategic doctrine asserts that strategic superiority can be achieved and that strategic wars can, in fact, be won (and should not be rejected out of hand as unthinkable). The second justification is that the Soviet Union’s build-up is unprecedented and beyond the scope of what is necessary for the establishment of stable deterrence.
Neither argument is entirely convincing. Regarding the first, analysts are hardly in agreement when discussion involves the attitudes of Soviet political leaders and general-staff members on strategic war. While some analysts . . . concur with Mr. Rostow’s conclusions, other equally noted scholars do not. The current Ambassador to Bulgaria, Raymond Garthoff (International Security, Summer 1978), cites the late Major General Nikolai Talenski, former editor of the Soviet military-theoretical journal, Military Thought: “In our days there is no more dangerous illusion than the idea that thermonuclear war can still serve as an instrument of politics, that it is possible to achieve political aims by using nuclear weapons and still survive. . . .” Garthoff marshals this and numerous other recent citations from key political figures and military leaders to support his contention that the Soviets recognize the utility and necessity of a stable strategic balance and that a strong Soviet military is necessary to protect the Soviets from the capricious and counterrevolutionary use of Western military power. . . .
Mr. Rostow’s characterization of the Soviet Union’s military buildup as “without parallel in modern history” is similarly open to alternative interpretation. The current Soviet build-up is no more striking than the U.S. build-up during the 50′s and 60′s. Furthermore, in an article specifically addressing the question, “What Are the Russians Up To?” (International Security, Summer 1978), Congressman Les Aspin, former Pentagon economist and current member of the House Armed Services Committee, argues that the Soviet build-up is far less drastic than those engaged in by the Nazis prior to World War II, the Arabs and Israelis prior to the 1973 war, and the North Koreans prior to their invasion of South Korea. Furthermore, he demonstrates with fourteen different tests that the Soviets’ build-up is far from dramatic; that, in fact, they have not been adding to their forces at rates much greater than those needed to replace aging equipment.
Mr. Rostow’s Soviet-military-build-up thesis can also be questioned on other grounds. Mr. Rostow and members of the Committee on the Present Danger never tire of comparing Soviet and American defense-spending levels in dollars and concluding that we are being outspent; they see this as evidence of the Soviets’ intentions to surpass us militarily. What they do not tell us is that dollar comparisons exaggerate Soviet defense expenditures relative to our own. According to Franklyn Holzman, professor of economics at Tufts University and author of Financial Checks on Soviet Defense Expenditures, if the same expenditure comparisons were made in Soviet rubles, they would exaggerate American defense expenditures relative to those of the Soviet Union! Certainly, the impact of different data on the question at hand deserves some attention from Mr. Rostow.
One must also remember that the research-and-development decisions regarding the weapons systems that are coming on line today were made eight and twelve years ago, before the establishment of détente. It is unrealistic, then, to damn current Soviet behavior for decisions made during less amicable times. . . .
Finally, Professor George Kistiakowsky, a member of the Manhattan Project and special assistant to President Eisenhower for science and technology, has recently suggested that many of the Soviets’ deployments of new ICBM’s were due to problems in efficiently controlling their own military-industrial complex. The fact that the Soviets tested at least thirteen ICBM designs to our six . . . bespeaks terrible waste and inefficiency as much as it does a relentless quest for superiority.
A second major assumption in “The Case Against SALT II” is that the size of American strategic forces must quantitatively correspond to comparable elements in the Soviet establishment. However, General Maxwell Taylor recently advocated, in the American Enterprise Institute’s Defense Review, that a superior criterion for establishing the size of our forces is how many weapons we need (irrespective of the Soviet Union’s forces) to destroy specific Soviet target systems. At this point we return to the fundamental question about SALT II: namely, whether SALT II would deny the U.S. this capability. Professor Kistiakowsky thinks not. In the first place, American land-based ICBM’s carry less than 25 per cent of our strategic warheads; the rest are deployed upon strategic bombers and submarines. And in the next few years, the percentage of warheads carried by submarines and aircraft is likely to increase. On the other hand, a far greater percentage of the Soviets’ warheads is land-based. Since it is generally held that land-based systems are the most vulnerable components of the nuclear triad, the Soviets appear to be in a far more tenuous situation than the U.S.
Furthermore, one must also consider the following: (1) the U.S. has more bombers (B-52′s and FB-111′s) than the Soviet Union and we keep 30-40 per cent on constant alert (as opposed to a Soviet percentage of zero); (2) the Pentagon, other nongovernmental institutions such as the Center for Defense Information, and individuals such as Kistiakowsky estimate that 80-85 per cent of the aging B-52′s pooh-pooed by Mr. Rostow could penetrate Soviet air defenses (using short-range attack missiles, electronic counter-measures, and cruise missiles); (3) the U.S. maintains more submarines (with more warheads) at sea than the Soviets; and (4) our submarines are quieter and therefore relatively invulnerable to Soviet anti-submarine warfare (and are expected to remain so for at least 7-10 years according to the Center for Defense Information). When all these factors are taken into consideration, there is no doubt that the U.S. could destroy the Soviet Union as a functioning society, the latter’s crude and impractical civil-defense program notwithstanding. In fact, the CDI . . . estimates that even in the event of a Soviet first strike against the United States, we would still be able to destroy (depending on various scenarios) 70-95 per cent of all Soviet industry and 30 to 94 million Soviet citizens immediately (not to mention the millions of subsequent deaths due to radiation sickness, starvation, etc.). . . .
From my comments above, one might draw a conclusion about the Soviet-American strategic relation that is very different from Mr. Rostow’s. This is not to say that SALT II has no weaknesses. . . . Nevertheless, to argue against the treaty on the basis of tenuous assumptions and questionable interpretations presented as gospel truths is not a service to the American public. . . .
John M. Weinstein
Eugene V. Rostow writes:
1. I can only say “Thank you” to John J. Cox for his thoughtful letter, and “Amen” to his reflections on the relationship between ideas and events.
2. I agree with parts of Sam Adkins’s letter, and disagree with others. He is surely right in urging the United States to adopt a coherent foreign policy, and assemble the conventional and nuclear forces required to make it good. We have lacked anything which might be called a strategy—an understood notion of what we are doing abroad and why—since the collapse of our policy in Vietnam.
Mr. Adkins and I part company, however, at the next stage of his argument. He seems to believe that we can define our national interests on a static geographical basis, and establish spheres of influence which the Soviet Union can be persuaded (or forced) to respect: “Western Europe, the Middle East, Japan, and our own hemisphere might do for starters,” he writes. But the Soviet leaders have never accepted any such notion; on the contrary, they really believe in “inevitable conflict,” “the victory of socialism,” and all the rest of it. Even more important, they act on that belief. The Soviet Union is pursuing a flexible and wide-ranging strategy intended to transform the balance of power, and assure Soviet domination of world politics: to cut the ties among the United States, Europe, Japan, and China, and to bring these enormous centers of power under Soviet control. In the perspective of Soviet strategy, it is clear that while it will always be in our interest to assure the independence of the major constellations of power, no region of the world can be excluded a priori from the range of our concern. Even the Carter administration has noticed the dynamic quality of the world political process: it has decided that in the context of the Soviet thrust for control of the Middle East, we must act to prevent a Soviet takeover of North Yemen.
Secondly, Mr. Adkins contends that nuclear weapons are useless except to deter the “final ‘Big Bang’ ”; that the nuclear balance between the Soviet Union and the United States has no relationship to the conduct of diplomacy or the use of conventional forces in limited war; and that our allies cannot rely on “our nuclear umbrella.” Here, too, I disagree. Thus far, only our nuclear umbrella has protected Europe, Japan, and many other places from being overrun or brought to heel; the state of the nuclear balance has been the ultimate element in all the Soviet-American confrontations since 1945. The “linkage” between the nuclear balance and conflicts conducted by other means cannot be dismissed, as President Carter is now trying to do. That linkage, and not the “final ‘Big Bang,’ ” is what the battle over SALT II is all about. Our second-strike nuclear capacity, which served us well in the crises over Berlin, Korea, Cuba, and many other places, is now threatened by the prodigious Soviet nuclear build-up since SALT I. The loss of our credible second-strike capability, which is the implicit premise of SALT II, would expose the United States both to military defeat and to political coercion based on the threat of defeat.
Finally, I disagree with Mr. Adkins that the verifiability of SALT II is no problem “for five years or so.” In reaching his judgment, Mr. Adkins relies on an article by Congressman Aspin, which has been devastatingly analyzed by Dr. Amrom H. Katz in a recent monograph.
The question of SALT verification is a bizarre fantasy. Since the Soviet Union has only recently agreed to provide us with any figures at all about their programs, the negotiations have been conducted on the basis of American figures: our statistics about our own activities and our intelligence estimates of what the Soviets are doing. In short, we have been negotiating with ourselves. Therefore, the Soviets know (as we do not) how good or bad our intelligence is—a factor of immense importance in crisis management.
The SALT II treaty purports to regulate the number of deployed launchers, not the number of missiles: the treaty was negotiated only with reference to elements of the problem which could be observed by “national means”—i.e., by satellites or electronic surveillance.
But no one can be killed by a launcher. Missiles, not launchers, are weapons. Secretary of Defense Brown has publicly announced that the Soviet Union continues to manufacture hundreds of missiles which are not deployed, but stored in buildings where we cannot photograph them or “hear” them on our electronic devices. Other estimates of continuing Soviet missile production are even higher.
In short, the treaty cannot be verified at all. Missiles located in buildings can be fired just as well as missiles in deployed launchers. The treaty deals with the wrong things, as Paul Nitze has been pointing out for some three years. It may have been reasonable in 1972, given the long American lead in the art of MIRVing, and the then state of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, to make deployed launchers a rough index of nuclear power. This is no longer possible.
There are other aspects of the problem of monitoring and verification—the loss of our surveillance stations in Iran, the encrypting of Soviet signals, etc. Important as they are, they are all secondary to the basic fact that SALT II is unverifiable.
It should be noted, of course, that verification is not the principal difficulty with SALT II. It is a bad treaty for the United States, and a bad treaty is bad even if verifiable.
3. Robert I. Widder’s letter is an essay in contradictions. He takes both sides of most critical issues, and ignores others.
Mr. Widder accuses me of “arguing speciously” that the Soviets violated unilateral American interpretations of the 1972 Interim Agreement, since the USSR had not agreed to them. But I did not “argue” on the subject, speciously or otherwise. All I did was to point out what had happened. Mr. Widder also contends, inconsistently: (a) that the existence of such Soviet actions has never been demonstrated, and (b) that we should have reacted to them “domestically.”
Here, it would appear, Mr. Widder is confusing alleged violations of the Interim Agreement itself, about which a contentious literature exists, and Soviet violations of the American unilateral interpretations, about which there is complete agreement.
The background of our decision to announce “unilateral interpretations” of SALT I was an important aspect of the Non-Proliferation Treaty ratification a few years earlier. During the NPT negotiations and ratification debate, we took the position that if a European political entity were to develop, it would “succeed” to the nuclear position of Britain and France. The Soviet Union would not accept this view. The administration then testified before the Senate that this was what the Non-Proliferation Treaty meant, and that if the Soviet Union ever took a different position, we should regard the treaty as abrogated. The Soviets have been silent on the subject—so far.
The problem of our unilateral interpretations of SALT I cannot be dismissed so airily as Mr. Widder does. Our unilateral interpretations of the 1972 Interim Agreement, like the comparable unilateral interpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, were the basis on which the SALT I agreements were presented to the American people and ratified by Congress.
The U.S. Unilateral Statement on heavy missiles and the subsequent Soviet deployment of “heavy” missiles offer a classic example of the confusion surrounding Soviet “compliance” with SALT I. On May 26, 1972, the U.S. delegation made the following statement:
The U.S. delegation regrets that the Soviet delegation has not been willing to agree on a common definition of a heavy missile. Under these circumstances, the U.S. delegation believes it necessary to state the following: The United States would consider any ICBM having a volume significantly greater than that of the largest light ICBM now operational on either side to be a heavy ICBM. The U.S. proceeds on the premise that the Soviet side will give due account to this consideration.
On June 15, 1972, Dr. Kissinger stated:
Now with respect to the definition of heavy missiles, this was the subject of extensive discussions at Vienna and Helsinki and finally Moscow. No doubt one of the reasons for the Soviet reluctance to specify a precise characteristic is because undoubtedly they are planning to modernize within the existing framework some of the weapons they now possess. The agreement specifically permits the modernization of weapons. There are, however, a number of safeguards. First, there is the safeguard that no missile larger than the heaviest light missile that now exists can be substituted. Secondly, there is the provision that the silo configuration cannot be changed in a significant way and then the agreed interpretive statement or the interpretive statement which we made, which the other side stated reflected its views also, that this meant that it could not be increased by more than 10 to 15 per cent. We believe that these two statements, taken in conjunction, give us an adequate safeguard against a substantial substitution of heavy missiles for light missiles. . . . As far as the break between the light and heavy missiles is concerned, we believe that we have assurances through the two safeguards that I have mentioned to you (emphasis added).
Thus, the Nixon administration described and explained the SALT I agreements as if the Common Understandings and Unilateral Statements were binding. The failure of the United States to enforce Soviet compliance with what we claimed was a restriction on heavy missiles was therefore politically and militarily damaging.
Politically, it forced the United States to retreat from its initial definition of the SALT I agreements. That experience throws a cloud over many features of the SALT II treaty, particularly its exclusion of the Backfire bomber. And it constitutes a poor precedent for dealing with verification problems under SALT II. Since compliance with SALT II cannot be fully verified, the administration now talks of “adequate verifiability.” It is not difficult to foresee endless controversy over the significance and adequacy of non-verifiable events. If the history of SALT I comes to represent the pattern, those controversies will all be settled by American acquiescence in the Soviet position, based on our reluctance to denounce the treaty.
Militarily, under the terms of SALT II, the Soviet Union’s ballistic-missile force will consist largely of “heavy missiles”—the most capable and threatening first-strike weapons in their arsenal.
Mr. Widder’s second point eludes me. I cannot find evidence to indicate that my article confused “hard” targets and “defended” targets. I was pointing out one of the many deficiencies of the ACDA attempt to compare Soviet and American nuclear power on the basis of unrealistic assumptions and stressing the significance of Soviet active and passive defenses for the purposes of the ACDA comparison. Mr. Widder concedes that the ACDA study makes “inadequate allowance” for Soviet antiaircraft defenses. It would be equally true to add that it makes inadequate allowance for antimissile and civil-defense measures in reducing the effectiveness of our second-strike capability. And the Department of Defense has recently announced that its earlier optimism about the invulnerability of cruise missiles was unjustified.
With regard to the vulnerability of our satellites, I disagree with Mr. Widder that the issue could be significant only in the context of full-fledged war. Surely the destruction of our satellites would be a hostile act. But the Soviets could say it had been an unfortunate accident. And there would be Americans to echo the claim—with relief. But even if the deliberate destruction of our satellites were admitted, what could we do? Invade East Germany, Poland, or Czechoslovakia, facing huge Soviet conventional-force superiority? Blow up Moscow, in the face of the present Soviet nuclear arsenal? The Committee on the Present Danger has been calling the attention of the public to this growing imbalance and its political consequences since 1976. The implacable arithmetic of the nuclear balance is the key to the entire Soviet-American relationship.
I did say that the Soviet SS-16 ICBM’s are “indistinguishable” from their mobile SS-20 IRBM’S, as Mr. Widder charges. I also pointed out that the SS-20′s could be quickly converted into SS-16′s by adding a stage, thus altering the strategic balance. The two missiles use the same transporters, erectors, and launchers. If an SS-20 is placed in an SS-16 canister, the two missiles are totally indistinguishable. If not, it becomes a sticky problem for the experts in satellite photography, like that of attempting to distinguish the various series of MIG’s. The differences are not nearly so clear as those used in Mr. Widder’s vivid metaphor.
But, Mr. Widder says, why should we worry about Soviet missiles in reserve or the capacity to break out of treaty limits quickly? The fact that the Soviets are stockpiling missiles, in his view, indicates only that they are not sure of their first-strike capacity. But Mr. Widder assumes that the Soviet Union is stockpiling missiles only to reload their deployed launchers. I have not found any reference in his letter to the Soviet capacity to launch missiles from factories or other buildings. One of the most fundamental flaws of SALT II is that it deals in this area only with certain types of launchers, which are ill-defined in any case. There is no law of physics which says that missiles can be fired only from a hardened silo visible to satellite photography.
The Soviet purpose in stockpiling missiles on a large and continuing scale therefore is fundamental to their basic strategy. With overwhelming power in hand, they could realistically hope to corece and paralyze our foreign policy, and force us to retreat into isolation and impotence.
Mr. Widder questions the figures I used for Soviet expenditures on nuclear weapons. A recent CIA study, “A Dollar Cost Comparison of Soviet and U.S. Defense Activities, 1968-78,” states that, excluding research and development, “the level of Soviet activity for strategic forces measured in dollars was two and a half times that of the United States. . . . In 1978, the Soviet level was about three times that of the United States.” Soviet expenditures for research and development are also higher.
But Mr. Widder’s letter then takes a wholly inconsistent course. Having dismissed the Soviet drive toward nuclear superiority as a waste of money, a chimera, or both, he suddenly accepts it as an ominous threat. We should, he says, act effectively to prevent the Soviet Union from achieving a position of strength like that we had during the Cuban missile crisis—that is, a position from which they could inflict 100 million casualties on us, while we could in return inflict only 10, 20, or 30 million casualties on them. The Soviet leadership would be willing to risk such an exchange, Mr. Widder believes, and, even more clearly, they would be willing to exploit “such a perceived disparity” for political purposes. He believes that SALT II would not keep us from preventing the development of such an “alarming” imbalance. In my article, I contend the contrary. Mr. Widder does not address my argument on this crucial point.
Mr. Widder agrees also that unilateral disarmament on our part in the hope of inducing the Soviet Union to follow suit has not worked and will not work. But he wonders why we need more naval forces if, as the President says, our treaty commitments will be honored, and the Middle East protected. Pre-positioning supplies and airlift, important as they are, are simply not yet a substitute for sea-lift in modern warfare, as experience in the Middle East war of October 1973, and since, amply demonstrates.
The CIA study states that “evidence on weapon systems currently in production and development, continuing capital construction at major defense industries’ plants, and the increasing costs of modern weapons indicates that the long-term growth trend in Soviet defense activities will probably continue into the 1980′s.” And General David C. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that SALT II will not cause a decrease in the Soviet military effort and that with or without SALT, the U.S. is going to have to increase spending by the same amount to assure our security. Secretary of Defense Brown testified before the Senate Budget Committee that the Soviet Union will have military superiority over the United States in five years if current spending trends continue. It is clear that the prodigious Soviet spending for defense has placed the Soviet Union on the threshold of military superiority.
I agree with Mr. Widder that SALT II should not be considered in isolation but in the context of overall U.S. foreign and military policy. I should, however, go one step further—SALT II must be considered in relation to Soviet objectives. When this is done, it is easy to see why the soft bargain of SALT II is now a hard sell.
4. John M. Weinstein’s letter raises the fundamental question—how should we judge what the Soviets are up to? He asks whether one could not consider hypotheses less negative than mine about Soviet intentions. In principle, there is an infinite number of hypotheses which could explain a given set of events. But one empirical fact inconsistent with a hypothesis requires the hypothesis to be discarded as a possible explanation of what is happening. It is simply too late in the day, in view of what the Soviet Union is doing and what its leaders are saying, to consider the soothing explanations offered by Congressman Aspin, Ambassador Garthoff, Professor Kistiakowsky, Daniel Yergin, and other apologists for Soviet policy.
Mr. Weinstein refers to “détente” as a political fact—an “amicable” one, too. Here I completely disagree. Détente is a political myth, propagated by President Nixon. It has no objective reality, save in the travels of ballet companies. Soviet behavior since 1972 has been decidedly more aggressive and more threatening than at any earlier stage of the cold war.
I agree with Mr. Weinstein that our forces should not be the mirror image of Soviet forces, since their missions are different. An analysis of the two forces was published by the Committee on the Present Danger in 1978. It concludes, taking differences of mission fully into account, that we are very close indeed to the edge of strategic and tactical inferiority.