The START Treaty
To the Editor:
Patrick Glynn’s article, “Reagan’s Rush to Disarm” [March], deserves serious comment.
Let me begin with the title. It correctly describes the thrust of the article, but the article, in important respects, deviates from the facts and comes to what I consider to be unwise conclusions.
The article assumes with regret that the INF treaty will be ratified. It directs its heavy artillery against the START treaty which is still in the process of being negotiated. It strongly urges that the process be halted or slowed down (a) because reductions in START weapons could be destabilizing rather than stabilizing, and (b) because arms-control agreements and even the process of negotiating them instill euphoria, decrease American willingness to endure sacrifices for sufficient defenses and security, and divide us from our allies.
I would suggest, first, that the President is not “rushing” toward a START agreement. The U.S. began bilateral discussions looking toward the limitation of offensive strategic nuclear systems in the Johnson administration twenty years ago. I have personally been involved in that effort for much of those twenty years. The START negotiations began in 1982; they were broken off in 1982 and then resumed in 1985. The stakes are serious, the results have been slow in coming, but I would contend that we have learned much and made significant progress as a result of that persistent effort. Nothing has happened recently which would justify a decision now to reverse gears or to call it off.
And, second, the President’s intent is not that a START treaty cause the sides to “disarm” (which suggests unilateral reductions). On the contrary, his consistent goal has been to achieve stabilizing and verifiable reductions on both sides which will reduce the dangers of a military confrontation with the USSR to the benefit of both sides, while maintaining a more stable nuclear deterrent as the bottom line of our defense.
Let me now turn to the substance of the article. It begins by asserting that in the last few months the “precarious balance between realistic interests and idealistic impulses that determines the direction of American foreign policy has been seriously upset.” In the next paragraph we find out what Mr. Glynn means by that assertion. It is “the surprising transmutation of U.S. proposals for ‘deep reductions’ in nuclear weapons from a widely discounted propaganda initiative into an imminent strategic reality.”
I have long doubted the wisdom and judgment of those who believe they are smart enough to hide their true intentions behind propaganda ploys. There may have been those who thought the zero option could be used merely as such a ploy to defeat arms control. I thought this wrong in 1981; I thought that the zero option was the optimum framework from which to conduct an INF negotiation even if we could not fully achieve a zero outcome. As it turned out, it was possible.
In other instances there have been those who thought it wise to hide behind the difficulty of verifying compliance with a particular measure rather than relying on other sound reasons for opposing the measure in the first place. This notion embarrassed us for a time in explaining our position on a comprehensive test ban when we put too much weight on verification arguments. We eventually straightened this out by correctly stating our position that, as long as we had to rely upon nuclear weapons for the bottom line of our defense, we would need to continue nuclear testing at some appropriate level, whether or not such tests could be detected and verified.
Similarly with START, some have incorrectly put the emphasis upon reductions per se. But the President’s position is that the reductions must be stabilizing reductions. We have already gone some distance toward assuring that this will be the result of a START treaty. The 50-percent reductions in warheads on Soviet heavy missiles and the 50-percent reduction in Soviet throw-weight move strongly in that direction; we have no heavy missiles and the Soviet level of throw-weight is today more than double ours.
As a result, those reductions would go far toward reducing the Soviets’ advantage in the aggregate power of their ballistic missiles. But some of the most difficult negotiations are still before us. We need to work out further provisions—particularly, effective verification provisions—to assure that we will achieve enhanced stability. We must also actually deploy those improvements to our forces that will provide the required stability, and this may well take greater budgetary authority for strategic systems than is now authorized by Congress.
National security cannot be obtained on the cheap. Mr. Glynn is correct in emphasizing that stabilizing arms-control measures are not a means to save money; to make them work to our advantage will require continued improvement and modernization of our remaining strategic forces.
Some estimate that 20 percent or more of the Soviet Gross National Product is devoted to the military. United States budgeted defense expenditures for 1988 amount to 5.7 percent of our GNP as opposed to 7 to 9 percent during the Eisenhower administration. It is not a relative increase in U.S. defense expenditures that created the U.S. budget deficit.
Nor is it arms control that brought about the inadequate U.S. appropriations for defense purposes. Mr. Glynn suggests that the ABM treaty caused the demise of our ABM program. That is the reverse of the facts. Congress was about to cancel our ABM program before the ABM treaty negotiations began. We were able to assure continuance of the ABM program in 1969 only because some of the Senators saw that without an ABM program of our own, we would never be able to negotiate limitations of the Soviet ABM program which had gotten under way well before ours.
Similarly, we would never have been able to deploy our INF missiles in Europe unless the decision to do so had been coupled with the concurrent decision to enter into the INF arms-control negotiations with the Soviets. And we would never have been able to succeed in obtaining the elimination of the Soviet SS-20s unless we had earlier done both those things.
In the West, arms control has long been a necessary component of our national-security policy and of the West generally. Our security policy will not be successful if we fight that fact as Mr. Glynn would have us do. We must keep the U.S. objectives in arms control clearly before us. They are not reductions for reductions’ sake or agreement for agreement’s sake; they are to achieve stabilizing limitations and reductions which will enable us to reduce the risk of war.
In Section III of his article, Mr. Glynn says that a START agreement fails to deliver what it purportedly promises to deliver—namely, an increase in “crisis stability.” He quotes General Brent Scowcroft, James Woolsey, and John Deutsch as saying that the “fast-moving strategic-arms negotiations” are leading to results that could “decrease stability and damage our allies’ confidence in our deterrent.”
The word “could” is a rubbery word. A good agreement has not been assured; therefore, a bad agreement is theoretically possible. But the President and those working for an agreement are determined that it shall not be a bad agreement. The President has made it clear he will reject a bad agreement. The question, then, is not whether a START agreement could be a bad agreement but whether it can be a good agreement; specifically, the question is: can a good agreement improve the prospects for “crisis” stability over what they would be in the absence of an agreement?
There are obvious limits to what an agreement, or a treaty, can do. It can assure that specified reductions in Soviet forces are to take place; it can assure the U.S. the right to maintain survivable forces sufficient in number and in quality for us to have high confidence in deterrence, even in a crisis where the stakes may be high. Actually to maintain such forces requires executive-branch leadership and congressional and allied understanding and support; an agreement can permit such forces but by itself cannot provide them. But neither can the absence of an agreement provide them; without an agreement, the task can become more difficult.
I believe an agreement will be seen as a good agreement if it reduces the imbalance in the destabilizing forces arrayed against us and makes it more feasible for us to assure and to maintain deterrence. INF is such an agreement; START can be an even more important step. But agreements can only establish a framework for forces and force levels that can enhance stability and reduce the risk of war. It is up to the United States and its allies to maintain the resolve and expend the necessary efforts to deploy those force improvements that will make it happen.
Paul H. Nitze
Ambassador at Large
Department of State
Patrick Glynn writes:
I would begin by drawing attention to what Ambassador Nitze’s letter does not contain—namely, substantive responses to virtually any of the criticisms raised in my article.
First, and perhaps most conspicuously, the letter does not provide a shred of evidence to support the administration’s central and oft-repeated contention that the START agreement would be stabilizing. It is not enough to point out, as Ambassador Nitze does, that the START limits would reduce Soviet throw-weight and heavy missiles by 50 percent—however such reductions may narrow, on paper or in fact, the Soviet advantages in throw-weight or heavy missiles. The real problem at issue, as Ambassador Nitze well knows, is not Soviet capabilities per se, but U.S. vulnerability. The fact is that under START, U.S. strategic vulnerability would not improve; it would worsen. That is because, as I pointed out in the article, cuts in Soviet forces would be matched—indeed, more than matched—by cuts in U.S. forces. Ambassador Nitze is at pains to remind us that the START reductions would not be unilateral. But his observation cuts both ways. True, the Soviets would have less throw-weight under START. But because of steep reductions in U.S. land-based missiles, they would also need less throw-weight to accomplish the same mission—i.e., destroying U.S. ICBMs preemptively. To show that START increases “crisis stability,” Ambassador Nitze must show either (1) a reduction in the vulnerability of our land-based forces, or perhaps (2) an increase in the survivable portion of our sea-based retaliatory forces. He is unable to show either outcome because START would not produce either outcome. On the contrary, START would do virtually the opposite—marginally increasing the vulnerability of our land-based forces while sharply reducing that element of our deterrent—ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs)—which today remains invulnerable.
One cannot lay claim to stability simply by invoking the term again and again; one must demonstrate its existence by hard analysis. The absence of such analysis from Ambassador Nitze—whose grasp of, and interest in, the technical minutiae of arms control is legendary in the strategic community—is striking.
There are a host of other serious criticisms to which Ambassador Nitze, in a 1,500-word letter, offers no answer at all: for example, the significant problem, raised in the article, of uncontrolled weapons—the fact that our fleet of SSBNs would be cut from 37 to perhaps 18, while (as Scowcroft and company remind us) the 100-strong Soviet fleet of attack submarines designed to track and destroy these would be completely unaffected by the treaty; or again, the fact that U.S. bombers and missiles would be cut back without any parallel cutbacks in Soviet air defenses or ABM capabilities designed to defeat these U.S. retaliatory forces.
Ambassador Nitze is also silent on the problem of START’S potentially debilitating effect on our future conventional capabilities. As I pointed out, difficulties in distinguishing between nuclear and conventional weapons for purposes of verification may well lead in START, as they led in the INF treaty, to acceptance of sharp limits on conventionally-armed cruise or ballistic missiles, thereby undermining our ability to take advantage of precision-guidance conventional technologies crucial to lessening our future dependence on nuclear weapons.
Finally, Ambassador Nitze makes no effort whatever to dispute the contention of the article that the START agreement would effectively mean an end to the possibility of strategic defenses—a prospect about which I should think this administration would be more concerned.
His response on verification is likewise wholly unsatisfactory. It is not sufficient to reiterate again and again that President Reagan is committed to achieving effective verification: eventually, one must give some concrete hint as to how this worthy goal is to be achieved. For example, Ambassador Nitze refers to the need for “continued improvement and modernization of our remaining strategic forces” under START. But will those remaining forces include mobile missiles? This is a rather important question. Ambassador Nitze does not answer it, presumably because he does not yet know the answer. Yet while mobile missiles might help alleviate some of the instabilities resulting from START, the presence of such missiles—as the government, in effect, has admitted—would render a START agreement unverifiable. (The very fact that so critical a feature of the agreement as the U.S.-proposed ban on mobile missiles is still up in the air in interagency disputes at this late hour is suggestive of the administration’s paralysis and confusion on vital issues.)
I agree with Ambassador Nitze’s point that verification has sometimes been used disingenuously by conservative critics of arms control as an argument against treaties that were really being opposed for other reasons. In my view, for example, some recent conservative criticism of INF verification has been too categorical. (The real problems with that treaty, in my opinion, are military-political.) While I do not view the INF verification as terribly foolproof, and while I would hardly be surprised to discover that the Soviets have concealed a substantial secret reserve of INF missiles, I believe the treaty’s ban on flight-testing—assuming it is actually enforced—would gradually diminish the military value of such a secret reserve. More crucially, in the absence of a START treaty, such a secret reserve would probably not pose a very significant threat—since the SS-20 has essentially become a redundant system for the Soviets anyway. (If we sign on to START, that is another matter.)
But is anyone seriously prepared to argue that the same low standard of confidence can be applied to an agreement halving and restricting for all time our central strategic arsenal, effectively the core guarantee of Western security? Imagine an intelligence dispute, under a START treaty, over the size of a substantial secret Soviet reserve of strategic missiles. The possibility of such a reserve could easily unsettle Western public confidence in basic nuclear deterrence and in American power to resist Soviet aggression.
And yet what is to prevent such a dispute from arising? The administration may sincerely desire effective verification; but it seems to overlook the rather obvious problem that the persistently closed nature of Soviet society simply forecloses verification adequate to monitor radical disarmament on this scale—the fact that there probably is no solution to verifying an agreement like START, short of a truly fundamental change in the nature of the Soviet regime. The tools are simply unequal to the task. Not only are satellites at a disadvantage in monitoring modern mobile weapons, but even on-site inspection is extremely limited as a method of tracking compliance. Nor should we forget that inspection rights in the Soviet Union can be purchased only at the heavy cost of exposing our own sensitive facilities to Soviet penetration—not a trivial price to pay.
This does not even touch on the deeply troubling issue of noncompliance: the already proven Soviet willingness to violate arms treaties, sometimes very seriously, and the proven unwillingness of Congress to respond effectively to, or at times even to recognize, such cheating—yet another problem which Ambassador Nitze fails to address.
At the same time, Ambassador Nitze’s letter includes a rather striking admission—namely, that the START agreement will not save money. Indeed, Ambassador Nitze does not appear to dispute my contention that START is likely to cost money—that defense with START will prove more expensive than defense without it.
The obvious question, then, is why? If it is clear from hard strategic analysis that the START agreement will not add to but rather detract from stability; if the agreement cannot be verified with anything approaching a reassuring level of confidence; if it will not save but rather cost money—billions of dollars—and effectively end the possibility of strategic defenses, then why is the Reagan administration in such a hurry to conclude it? And hurry is the word. When the Secretary of State returns from a Moscow ministerial meeting in late February and gives a harried bureaucracy a month’s deadline to resolve a host of interagency disputes that have been years in the making; when it is only reportedly in response to behind-the-scenes congressional objections that the President publicly acknowledges a few days afterward that “common sense” dictates it might not be possible, after all, to conclude the START treaty by a spring summit; when three weeks later the White House reverts to the formula that it is “hopeful” the treaty might indeed be concluded by the meeting, the sense of urgency (not to say internal confusion) seems to me self-evident.
Indeed, Ambassador Nitze’s protestations on this score might be more credible if he were not in the forefront of those publicly hurrying the process forward. Notably, on the December 11 edition of the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, he flatly rejected Henry Kissinger’s prudent suggestion that the United States make some beginning on serious conventional arms negotiations before rushing to conclude a START treaty, contending that Kissinger’s approach would require waiting “too long.” In Ambassador Nitze’s words: “I believe that the time framework in which it is possible to get a START agreement is not that long. I think if we don’t get it . . . worked out during the first six months of ′88, I think it will be difficult for a new administration, of either party, to come in and really get cracking on this thing in less than a year or two. And that will be three years from today. And I think that time gap is too long.”
Is this not impatience? Is this not urgency? The START treaty would involve the physical destruction of roughly half our strategic arsenal, including thousands of our most effective and invulnerable weapons; the administration is seeking to conclude the agreement in a matter of months or weeks during a presidential election year. Under the circumstances, I believe the words “rush” and “disarm” are entirely appropriate.
And the question persists: why? If Ambassador Nitze’s letter suggests an answer, it would seem to be Congress. The reason the administration is proceeding with START, his letter implies, is to help maintain congressional support for defense spending. Now that might seem like a reasonable argument. But here again logic and history fail utterly to sustain Ambassador Nitze’s position. While one might fairly argue that a willingness to engage in negotiations and even arms-control negotiations may be necessary to maintain support for our defense effort, it by no means follows that these negotiations must be aimed at achieving the most radical reductions, much less that an agreement must be concluded within a matter of months to sustain congressional support. I submit that few on Capitol Hill, Democrats or Republicans, will be found weeping if President Reagan fails to conclude a START agreement before January 1989. To achieve such an agreement will require nothing less than an extraordinary effort on the part of the executive branch during the final months of an administration; yet Ambassador Nitze has been among those publicly urging such an effort.
Nor is there any basis whatsoever, historical or otherwise, to believe that conclusion of the treaty would reinforce congressional support for defense. Indeed, historical experience suggests just the opposite. Ambassador Nitze’s contention that the arms-control talks saved the Safeguard ABM system in 1969 is fundamentally misleading. On the contrary, it was precisely the prospect of upcoming strategic-arms talks that led many to question the need for the United States to deploy an ABM system in 1969. The opponents of ABM were precisely those who believed that the SALT talks held out an alternative which would eliminate the need for a U.S. counterdeployment. Many congressional liberals, then as now, were eager to win Soviet good will with a preliminary gesture of unilateral restraint by killing Safeguard. The Nixon administration countered (also in terms familiar today) that congressional support of Safeguard would be needed to strengthen the President’s hand on the eve of the talks. (That this was seen as a weak argument is shown by the closeness of the vote: 51 to 50.) At any rate, however the Nixon administration may have tried to use the “bargaining-chip” argument to support Safeguard, it was the prospect of the upcoming SALT talks that offered opponents of ABM the strongest argument against deployment.
And the fact of the matter is that Congress has a rather poor record when it comes to making the compensating deployments called for by an administration after an arms treaty is concluded. In the mid-1970′s, as I noted, Congress imprudently slashed funding for ABM research, needed as a hedge against continuing Soviet ABM activity under the ABM treaty. In the 1980′s it failed to approve even half of the requested complement of MX missiles—designed as the main compensating deployment for SALT II. (For this I suppose President Reagan, in abandoning the Carter administration’s multiple-point basing system, deserves at least part of the blame.)
No doubt there are many reasons why officials of this government may be pursuing START. But one hopes to heaven that this risky and ill-advised effort is not being undertaken in the absurd hope that an agreement slashing strategic arsenals by 50 percent will stiffen congressional resolve to spend more for our national defense. This is Alice-in-Wonderland political logic, unworthy of the principal author of NSC-68.
Let me close with a suggestion: let the administration begin to publicize on Capitol Hill and among the public at large the newly acknowledged fact that the START agreement will not save the American taxpayer a dime, that indeed it will cost money and in all likelihood make our defense effort on the whole more expensive. Let the administration begin to spell out in detail for Congress the costly changes to our forces and the new weapons systems that must be deployed to recapture what amounts to a diminished level of strategic stability under START. Let it do this without even going into the serious problems of verifying the agreement or enforcing compliance when Soviet violations are discovered. Then we shall see, even more clearly than we do today, whence the real pressure for an agreement is coming—whether from Capitol Hill, as Ambassador Nitze implies, or, as seems more obvious, from the White House and the Department of State.
That the administration can offer no better justification for its policies at this late hour I find almost a little surprising. At any rate, the intellectual and strategic bankruptcy of this approach to our security should be plain.