Commentary Magazine

Reagan's Rush to Disarm

Whether to his most passionate traditional supporters or to his bitterest long-time critics, President Reagan’s unreserved embrace of arms control in the final months of his administration has come as a considerable surprise. Hardly five years ago extreme critics of the President were prepared to accuse him of wishing to fight a nuclear war. Now it is clear that a host of assumptions held by both his critics and his supporters were fundamentally mistaken. Indeed, since the Reykjavik summit of October 1986, this avowedly most conservative of recent American Presidents has emerged as a champion of nuclear-disarmament measures far more radical and sweeping than even many arms-control proponents deem advisable. Moreover, hand in hand with his public shift on arms control has come a startling reversal of his personal views on the Soviet Union. During the December Washington summit, he affirmed his new opinion that the members of the Soviet leadership “no longer feel,” as he put it, an “obligation” to achieve “a one-world Communist state.”

Whatever the complex personal reasons for this shift in outlook, the implications of the transformation extend far beyond the Republican party or the President himself. In a matter of a few months, the change in President Reagan’s public posture has altered the whole configuration of the Western arms-control debate. Long-held positions have been reversed. Many commentators who once pressed the Reagan administration for progress in arms control now anxiously urge caution. Others who have gained public reputations as opponents of the arms-control process have become conspicuous defenders of treaties, current and prospective, embodying the most radical arms cuts. In the process, the ever precarious balance between realistic interests and idealistic impulses that determines the direction of American foreign policy has been seriously upset. On issues vitally affecting the future of the nation, a new and strange paralysis has set in.

At the root of our present predicament lie three unforeseen developments: first, the apparent transformation of President Reagan from the chief spokesman for realism in defense issues into a quixotic advocate of total nuclear disarmament; second, the emergence of a new Soviet leader capable of making daring and unexpected tactical concessions in the service of broader Soviet global strategic aims; and finally, the surprising transmutation of U.S. proposals for “deep reductions” in nuclear weapons from a widely discounted propaganda initiative into an imminent strategic reality.

This last circumstance has proved especially troublesome for those in the United States who traditionally urge realism in defense matters. Two groups in particular have been adversely affected. First, and most seriously hampered, have been the defense conservatives currently or formerly affiliated with the Reagan administration itself. Most of these foreign-policy realists initially advocated radical arms reductions largely as a way of discrediting previous arms treaties and slowing down the arms-negotiating process. The foundation of their strategy was the expectation that the Soviets would resist real arms cuts. Now that this expectation has been invalidated and the Soviets have embraced the American-sponsored program of radical disarmament, such conservatives find themselves in an awkward situation, forced to choose between preserving their personal credibility, on the one hand, and stating, on the other, what they doubtless know to be the case—namely, that radical arms cuts, whether in theater or strategic nuclear weapons, will not help and could severely damage Western security and stability. Most such figures appear to have opted thus far to save face. In this way, some of the most effective opponents of rash and ill-advised arms-control measures have been all but silenced.

The second and larger group consists of a variety of sober analysts and former officials affiliated with past Republican and Democratic administrations. In contrast to the Reagan group, these commentators long ago made their political peace with the arms-control process. Never openly critical of arms control in principle, such officials have nonetheless striven to ensure by their advice and commentary that arms-control measures do not adversely affect the U.S. force structure or close off critical future options for U.S. defense policy, at least in the realm of offensive nuclear arms. In line with this approach, such analysts have sought refuge in the “moderate” offensive arms control of the SALT era—in marginal limits that do not really inhibit either side in any fundamental way. However, now that arms control has become equated under Reagan with radical arms cuts, such commentators find themselves in a quandary. On the one hand, these analysts are perfectly capable of recognizing the potentially quite grave strategic problems posed by current and contemplated arms treaties. On the other hand, to pinpoint and show the way out of these problems would be to violate the political taboo against criticizing the arms-control process itself.



All this might be dismissed as an academic dispute were it not for the fact that in the coming months the United States confronts a series of critical, indeed fateful, choices on arms control. More is at stake than the drawbacks inherent in the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, whose ratification now seems, in any case, a foregone conclusion. In the wake of the INF treaty the West will almost certainly be faced with a series of alluring but dangerous Soviet initiatives on chemical, conventional, and short-range nuclear weapons. Not only is the West psychologically ill-prepared to meet this challenge, but in a number of cases (e.g., the unverifiable American proposal for a ban on chemical weapons), U.S. positions themselves would lead to agreements seriously damaging to Western interests.

Most important and urgent, however, is the imminent strategic-arms-reductions (START) accord. By its own report the administration is committed to negotiate such a treaty by the end of President Reagan’s term—indeed, if possible, in time for a Moscow summit this summer. The treaty is enormously complex, and there is no guarantee it will be completed. However, even in the absence of a treaty, the President could well choose to commit the country to a “framework” or “in-principle” agreement with the Soviets that could prove almost as binding—and even less verifiable and enforceable-—than the START agreement itself. Mere anticipation of a new treaty may cause Congress to slow or cut back key programs. And even now the clear possibility remains that the signing of a finished START agreement could be months or even weeks away.

Aimed at the very core of the U.S. and Soviet arsenals, the prospective START treaty has about it a decisiveness and finality unequaled by that of any previous arms agreement. If signed, it will require us to destroy nearly half of our existing strategic arsenal—large numbers of existing ICBMs, bombers, and ballistic-missile submarines. It will also almost certainly require fundamental revisions in our plans for future weapons—particularly sea-based systems. It will place our arsenal under unprecedentedly close control and supervision by the Soviet Union. At the same time, it will pose entirely novel—and almost certainly insurmountable—problems of verifying compliance on the Soviet side. Because of the radical nature of its provisions, it will raise truly grave risks should the Soviets opt, as they have on past agreements, to cheat. And finally, despite the President’s apparent conviction to the contrary, the START treaty will end forever the possibility of deploying effective defenses against Soviet ballistic missiles. The Soviets have made clear that they reserve the right to cease scheduled reductions or even to increase their offensive forces should the United States attempt to proceed with space-testing of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Indeed, the possibility arises that a Soviet threat of cessation of reductions under a START agreement could be employed as a wider tool of political blackmail, affecting a host of decisions about our force structure and our foreign policy.

But what is perhaps most remarkable is that the START agreement will do all this without in any way enhancing strategic stability. That is the paradox, indeed the scandal, at the center of the process. Long advertised by the administration as a method of enhancing stability and “reducing the risk of war,” the treaty will in fact do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, the agreement as currently designed promises to deepen our vulnerability by significantly reducing our ability to retaliate against a Soviet preemptive attack.

How is it that we have arrived at such a juncture? How is it that an administration which set itself the historical task of repairing the nation’s strategic vulnerability is prepared at the end of seven years to sign an agreement which—as is obvious from the sheer arithmetic of its provisions—will not only deepen our vulnerability but seal it for all time? The answer lies largely in the mischievous nature of the arms-control process itself—a process which, despite our best intentions, has operated time and again over the past two decades to inhibit the United States, psychologically if not legally, from taking common-sense measures on behalf of its own defense while both veiling and facilitating an enormous expansion of Soviet military power vis-à-vis the West.




The irony is that all this comes at a time when developments outside the realm of arms control might seem in key respects to favor the West, if only they were permitted to run their natural course. Partly thanks to the restoration of American self-confidence and economic growth, the 1980’s have witnessed a resurgence of worldwide faith in the cause of liberal democracy. In recent years, several new democracies have sprouted up around the globe. In many parts of the Third World, Communism today is no longer the fashionable cause it once was. Indeed, one of the most important developments of recent times has been the emergence of national-liberation movements against Communism. Aided by U.S. arms, these movements have recently dealt unprecedented defeats to totalitarian forces—particularly in Southern Africa and Afghanistan. At a number of points on the periphery of the Soviet empire, the correlation of forces seems to be shifting decisively in favor of the West.

At the same time, Moscow confronts a systemic crisis of historic proportions. So deep has this crisis proved that the Soviet leadership has apparently been led to the extreme exigency of overhauling certain public themes of Communist ideology in an effort to rebuild the shattered morale of a populace dispirited by decades of grinding totalitarian rule.

At the core of the Soviet crisis is the emerging realization—unsettling for the Soviet leadership—that totalitarian repression is proving incompatible with the efficient operations of a modern economy. From the early days of the Soviet regime, the Soviet Communist party has counted on forced economic development, often at great human cost, to create an infrastructure capable of supporting its quest for military power and influence around the globe. In the first stages of development, totalitarianism may have even proved an asset to rapid economic development, particularly in the industrial sector. But as recent years have shown, totalitarian societies are by and large incapable of fostering or even permitting the individual creativity and initiative so vital to the development of the new generation of modern technologies.

Democracies, in contrast, have proved an extremely fertile soil for such technological inventiveness. In addition to giving the democracies an enormous economic advantage over more repressive states, many of the new technologies will have direct military applications. In particular, the new precision-guidance technologies hold out solutions to two key strategic problems that have dogged the West—Western overreliance on nuclear weapons and Western strategic vulnerability.

While it is absurd to hope that new conventional weapons will make nuclear weapons “obsolete” (as nuclear weapons were once foolishly believed by some to make conventional weapons obsolete), precision conventional weapons will add new flexibility to Western strategy and may, in selected applications, perform missions once assigned to nuclear arms. Moreover, even in the near future, precision-guidance technologies applied to the problem of strategic defense could decisively strengthen the U.S. nuclear deterrent by protecting our strategic forces against massive or selective preemption and by affording some limited, and psychologically welcome, protection to the American population in the event of small-scale nuclear attack.

Yet the START agreement will decisively hamper both developments. Because of the difficulty of distinguishing between nuclear- and conventionally-armed weapons for purposes of arms-control verification, the START agreement could well place severe constraints on conventionally-as well as nuclear-armed cruise and ballistic missiles. There is precedent for this already in the INF treaty, which, to almost everybody’s surprise, resulted in a permanent ban on the conventionally-armed ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM)—because of an inability to distinguish it from the nuclear version. Rather than being reduced, therefore, reliance on nuclear weapons is likely to be heightened by strategic arms control. And, of course, because of the capacity of the Soviets to hold SDI testing hostage to a cessation in scheduled arms reductions, the START agreement will mean the effective end to chances for deploying strategic defenses.

In other words, at the very point when we are in a position to begin to alleviate our vulnerability, the effect of arms control will be to seal it forever. This is clearly the Soviet aim. In the guise of moving us away from nuclear weapons and reducing the risk of nuclear war, the strategic-arms-control agreement we are now negotiating will have the opposite effect. The impact of a START agreement would not only be to rivet our attention on the threat of nuclear holocaust by permanently ensuring U.S. vulnerability to missile attack. It will also rescue the Soviet drive for military hegemony at the very point when the Soviets might otherwise be forced, by historical trends and the decline of their own economy, into a reduced military effort.



Ironically, in the absence of arms control, disarmament is likely to occur of its own accord. Our own military spending is already being cut back for budgetary reasons. More important, given their economic problems, the Soviets will be forced in the near future to choose between seriously holding back on their military effort or losing further vital ground in the economic sphere and thus being forced to reduce military power in the future. It is even conceivable that the Communist party will be forced to permit a measure of autonomy in private life in order to facilitate the Soviet economic recovery (though it should be noted that many of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms are actually headed in the opposite direction—toward tightening social discipline, reducing alcohol consumption, and so forth). For the Soviets, the alternative to reviving their economy may be to abdicate superpower status. From the Communist party’s viewpoint, the need to reform the economy is most pressing precisely because a weak economy erodes the base for the party’s military power and world influence. However, START—whose dislocating effect on our strategic forces will be much greater than on the forces of the Soviet Union—will largely relieve the Soviets of the need to make such hard choices. By curbing our own military effort we will be relaxing much of the pressure for reform.

In addition, the wider détente that is destined to accompany a strategic-arms agreement will enrich the Soviets with Western capital and Western technology. The crowning irony is that the Soviet leaders will be able to exploit Western wealth and Western inventiveness to rebuild their own economic and military strength, only to renew at a higher level the challenge they pose to our survival and interests and the barrier they pose to their own people’s liberation.

Powerful psychological forces are preventing our own country from grasping these realities or perceiving with clarity the strategic alternatives before us. The utopianism of the President, the myopia and strategic incomprehension of the State Department professionals who guide Secretary of State George Shultz, the naked arms-control advocacy of the Establishment media, the partisan anti-defense feeling in Congress, and the intellectual paralysis of the strategic community itself—all these influences are conspiring to blind us to the nature of the critical choices that confront us.




It would be one thing if the START agreement were capable of delivering, even in the narrowest sense, what it purportedly promises to deliver—namely, an increase in “crisis stability,” or a meaningful reduction in Soviet first-strike potential and a strengthening of the second-strike retaliatory forces on both sides. Yet the provisions of the agreement fail to accomplish even this. Hence, the anxiety, even alarm, emerging among what are usually regarded as more moderate strategic analysts.

Take, for example, retired General Brent Scow-croft, National Security Adviser to President Ford and chairman of the prestigious Scowcroft Commission on strategic forces in 1983, who writes with two Democratic colleagues, former Carter administration officials R. James Woolsey and John Deutsch. The Scowcroft group fears that the “fast-moving strategic arms negotiations” are leading to results that could “decrease stability and damage our allies’ confidence in our deterrent.” The authors warn of “dramatic consequences” in the absence of changes in policy.

The problem, as an increasing number of analysts have come to recognize, lies in the crucial START “sublimits”—the restrictions covering specific specific kinds of weapons. Sublimits make all the difference in determining whether an agreement could add to, or will undermine, stability. In START two such sublimits are particularly important. First is the sublimit, or restriction, on the number of ICBM warheads. At the presently proposed level of 3,300, this sublimit will do nothing, as Scowcroft and his colleagues recognize, to cut the power of the Soviets to use their own land-based warheads to strike preemptively at ours.

More critical is the sublimit covering “heavy missiles”—the SS-18 and its successor—whose mission is to destroy our land-based retaliatory force before it gets off the ground. The Soviets have agreed to cut their SS-18 missiles in half—from 308 to 154. This may seem a remarkable development. But it will still leave them with 1,540-plus warheads (i.e., 10-plus warheads per missile) capable of striking our land-based missiles. Since our land-based missiles (now numbering 1,000) will also be cut—in all likelihood by more than half—the vulnerability of land-based forces remains unaffected.

Moreover, as Scowcroft and his colleagues stress, soon our vulnerability will deepen. With the advent of more accurate submarine-launched ballistic missiles—which the Soviets are now developing—they will have the capacity to strike our ICBMs and bombers in a single coordinated attack. It was partly the lack of such a capability that caused the Scowcroft Commission to play down the importance of the “window of vulnerability” in 1983. Now the feared development is around the corner.

To add to the problem, the START agreement will significantly cut our comparatively invulnerable force of ballistic missiles at sea. At present we have approximately 5,600 such warheads on 37 ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). Given the necessary rationing of warheads among ICBMs, bombers, and submarines, and under the “counting rules” agreed to at the Washington summit for the Trident missile of 8 warheads, the START treaty will cut that SSBN force to about 18, of which normally only 10 or 11 submarines can be kept at sea at any one time.

But the START treaty does nothing to cut or restrict the Soviet attack submarines—now numbering 100—whose mission is to track and destroy our SSBNs. The ratio of Soviet attack submarines to U.S. SSBNs at sea will thus increase. Result: the least vulnerable leg of the triad is suddenly more vulnerable.



Indeed, one of the major unrecognized problems with the START accord is that it cuts our retaliatory forces without affecting the Soviet weapons—e.g., attack submarines and air defenses—designed to defeat our retaliatory forces. Such an inconsistency was bearable under SALT, which permitted vast increases in the number of deliverable warheads. When warheads are being reduced by approximately 50 percent, however, the effect of uncontrolled weapons on the strategic balance becomes vastly greater. At present the Soviets have extensive air defenses (we have nothing comparable) and an operational ABM system (we have none).

The solution to this quandary? Scowcroft and his colleagues renew the Scowcroft Commission recommendation to proceed with the deployment of the Midgetman or small mobile ICBM. This, however, would necessitate lifting the present ban in the U.S. START proposal on mobile missiles. It would also provide only a few hundred survivable warheads to replace thousands that we are losing under the treaty, either because of the reductions themselves or because of increased vulnerability.

Moreover, this solution, such as it is, entails several problems of its own.

First, the inclusion of mobile missiles in a START treaty will probably render unverifiable a treaty already marked by serious verification problems. In the Soviet Union, a heavily forested, frequently overcast country eleven time zones wide, mobile missiles pose verification problems on a wholly different scale from those encountered in SALT, where verification chiefly involved counting fixed missile silos, or concrete holes in the ground. (Note that the INF agreement does not attempt to limit mobile missiles, but to ban them. Bans are generally easier to verify than limitations, but even here there may be problems.) The inclusion of mobile missiles might well add to stability, but it can do so only at the price of radically undercutting the verifiability of the agreement—an especially serious problem when arsenals are being cut by approximately 50 percent, and incentives to cheat are high.

Second, it is not clear that road mobile missiles can be dispersed widely enough in the United States to render them effectively invulnerable to preemptive attack. The Soviet Union can move missiles around its vast territory at will. In a democracy, one faces what the Pentagon calls the “public-interface” problem: namely, the fact that people do not like the idea of nuclear-armed ICBMs cruising down the highways at night. Protesters are likely both to monitor and to block the travel of such missiles.

Finally, setting aside the issue of Midgetman’s effectiveness, there is a crucial problem of timing. If the Reagan administration has its way, the START agreement will be signed this year. However, even if everything goes as planned, the Midgetman will not be ready for initial deployment (i.e., the first few missiles) until 1992. Nor is it inconceivable that there could be delays in reaching this schedule or serious problems after deployment—such as those which reportedly render the MX missile ineffective today.



The same problem is present in even more glaring form in the suggestion of another leading commentator, former Carter administration Defense Secretary Harold Brown, for solving the equally perplexing problem of increased submarine vulnerability under START. Brown, a supporter of the START agreement, nonetheless shares the Scowcroft group’s concern with increasing vulnerability and advocates the Midgetman as a solution. His recommendation for submarines? That we cease producing our newest submarine, the Trident, and begin designing a smaller submarine so as to disperse our SLBMs among more vessels.

But this is hardly a minor adjustment to the American arsenal. To produce a new ballistic-missile submarine will take at least a decade. Under Brown’s logic, we would sign on to START reductions in 1988 and hope by perhaps 1998 to 2000 to have systems available to offset the huge vulnerability that will open as a result of the agreement. All of which assumes the new system arrives without significant bugs.

This to say nothing of the cost of the new submarine (or for that matter Midgetman, with a price tag of $50 billion) and the enormous resources wasted by discarding the Trident. Readers may remember that once upon a time a goal of strategic arms control was to save money. However, by the time one computes the costs of START—the costs of destroying weapons, of paying on-site inspection teams, of improving our satellite capability to address new problems of verification as well as the costs for new weapons to replace perfectly effective weapons that have become excessively vulnerable under the terms of the agreement—it is quite possible that defense with START will prove more expensive than defense without START. At a time when our resources are diminishing and the INF agreement necessitates an increasing focus on conventional weapons, this hardly seems a prudent course.

From all this it should be apparent that even some of our best strategic analysts are not thinking terribly logically these days about our most important strategic problems. Note the two common strains running through these commentaries.

First, the projected improvements in our security are coming, mysteriously enough, not from the weapons reductions, but from weapons increases—new deployments which the agreement will necessitate. (This should not surprise us; such has unfortunately always been the case under arms control.)

Second, with remarkable consistency, these commentators overlook the most logical and obvious solution to the problems they identify—namely, to refrain from making the reductions in the first place. If in fact deep arms reductions under START are going to raise the prospect of all these grave instabilities and dislocations, if in fact deep reductions are not going to reduce but rather to increase our vulnerability, if in fact deep reductions cannot be effectively verified, then why, in heaven’s name, embark on them in the first place?

The obviousness of the question is almost overwhelming; and yet there is a huge reluctance to ask it. Why? Some are apparently blinded by the illusory belief that parchment guarantees peace. Others may see the real drawbacks of START clearly enough but are all too keenly aware of the political price to be paid for raising questions about the logic and desirability of arms control.




Yet it cannot be entirely accidental that after nearly twenty years of strategic-arms-control negotiations the United States has failed to achieve the central goal of using arms limitations to improve “crisis stability” by curtailing first-strike forces. On the contrary, it is precisely under strategic arms control that the Soviets have developed their capability to destroy U.S. ICBMs preemptively. A strong case can be made that arms-control agreements—in particular, the limits on strategic defenses in the 1972 ABM treaty—facilitated this development by leaving our ICBMs undefended. At any rate, arms-control negotiations did nothing to prevent it. To the degree that we have prevented ICBM vulnerability from becoming a catastrophic problem thus far, it is not through any negotiated arms limitations but through our own technology and deployments—in particular, our superior force of ballistic-missile submarines. And now the START treaty promises sharply to reduce that.

The reason that arms-control negotiations have failed to achieve their avowed main purpose is plain enough: the Soviets, whatever their public professions, have never shared it. Arms control was based on a scientific theory. The theory said that if both sides agreed to keep their countries undefended and their strategic arsenals invulnerable to each other’s strategic weapons, there would be a condition of strategic stability. Each side would be able to retaliate against the other; neither could gain a decisive advantage by striking first. This could be shown to be true on paper with some mathematical precision. But achieving arms control was a matter not of proving theorems but of engaging in politics. Politically the Soviets never embraced—indeed, it is not clear they really understood or at least cared about—the Western concept of “crisis stability.” (Of course they understand and write about it now, but that is partly a matter of their propaganda becoming more sophisticated.)

The Soviets have been operating under a different paradigm. Long after references to the idea of winning nuclear war disappeared all too systematically from their public statements, their actions have demonstrated that they continue to maintain a belief in the traditional military calculus of superiority and inferiority, winning and losing, even in the nuclear age. There is such a thing—this too can be shown on paper, horrendous as such a calculation might seem—as superiority and inferiority once nuclear weapons are brought into play. Such military superiority might not be readily usable in a military sense; but as the Soviets have realized, long before it is usable on the battlefield, it can begin to have effects in the political sphere. In sharp contrast to Americans, who tend to approach arms control in a spirit of pragmatic idealism, the Soviets, schooled by Lenin, have always viewed the arms-control process as merely one sphere in a broader, life-and-death political struggle with the West. The West regards arms control as a deliverance from power politics; the Soviet Union regards arms control as a tool of the political struggle.

So when the United States, after SALT I, exercised unilateral restraint on counterforce capability—deliberately refraining from the deployment of counterforce warheads in sufficient numbers to threaten Soviet land-based missiles with preemption—the Soviets predictably failed to reciprocate. Instead, they moved as rapidly as possible to develop and deploy weapons capable of destroying U.S. Minuteman and Titan missiles in their silos.

Oddly, often enough it has not been so much the actual provisions of the agreements as the asymmetrical fashion in which the two nations have responded to them that has led to the present imbalances between the two sides. In general, the United States has exercised considerably more self-restraint under arms agreements than has been strictly required. The Soviet Union has exercised demonstrably less. To put it somewhat differently, the United States habitually “overcomplies” with its arms-control obligations; the Soviet Union, by contrast, nearly always “undercomplies.” The net effect is that the balance of forces under arms control has shifted to the Soviet side.

Such a pattern has been apparent in the two powers’ behavior under the unratified SALT II agreement. The agreement permitted each side to test one “new type” of ICBM. The United States tested its one new type—the MX—but failed to deploy the full complement of such missiles (at present only 50 out of an originally proposed total of 200 have been deployed). The Soviet Union, in contrast, violated the treaty by testing and subsequently deploying two new types—the SS-24 and the SS-25. Since the agreement expired and the United States disavowed it in response to Soviet violations, the Soviets have tested what appears to be yet a third new type—their planned replacement for the SS-18 missile.

Coupled with this, the United States has proved incapable of responding to these serious violations. When President Reagan decided in response to Soviet violations to end unilateral U.S. compliance with the unratified and expired SALT II agreement, there was a huge outcry, Congress voted to restrict U.S. defense modernization in order to keep the U.S. in compliance with those provisions of the agreement that the Soviets had not yet managed to breach.



Nowhere has the contrast between the two nations’ approaches been more striking than in behavior under the ABM treaty. After the 1974 protocol to the ABM treaty was signed, Congress rapidly moved, at the urging of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, an ideological opponent of ABM, to close the one permitted U.S. ABM site at Grand Forks, North Dakota. A prudent nation would have preserved Grand Forks as a hedge against Soviet ABM developments; this would have made SDI less of a thorny, ideological issue today. However, in the era of détente and arms control, not even a Republican administration was prepared to fight for maintaining the site. The broad assumption was that the world was moving toward a “no-defense” environment. Research and development for ABM in the United States, excluding money for Grand Forks, dropped between 1971 and 1975 by a factor of seven.

Once again the Soviets failed to follow suit. In the 1970’s, the pace of Soviet research and development for strategic defense steadily increased. They did not close down their permitted Moscow ABM site but eventually expanded and upgraded it. Hardly was the ink dry on the treaty, moreover, before the Soviets were violating the agreement, testing SA-2 and SA-5 surface-to-air missiles in an illegal “ABM mode.” (In conformity with the spirit of the age, these violations were quietly “resolved” in the U.S.-USSR Standing Consultative Commission without public controversy or even charges of violations—but only after the Soviets had performed over 50 such tests and gleaned whatever results were to be had from them. Moreover, despite “resolution” of the issue in the SCC, the Soviets, as Brian D. Dailey has noted in a recent study, resumed testing of the SA-5 in an ABM mode in 1980.) Since then there has been an emerging pattern of further probable or actual violations, including construction of a huge phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk and more recently movement of “Flat Twin” and “Pawn Shop” radars to prohibited locations.

At the very least, this does not present the picture of a nation that has abandoned the idea of strategic defenses. SDI might easily be seen as a prudent and indeed legitimate response to Soviet ABM violations. Once again, however, Congress has voted to prevent SDI testing under an interpretation of the ABM treaty apparently more narrow than the Soviets themselves embraced in 1972.

If the original advocates of the ABM treaty proved wrong about the Soviets’ acceptance of the “no-defense” principle, they also proved wrong about the offensive side of the equation. The ABM treaty was originally designed to stabilize the offensive arms race. That was its chief rationale. At the time of its signing, the Soviets had approximately 2,500 strategic warheads. They now have in excess of 10,000.

At the same time, advocates of the arms-control process have attempted to shield it from an appearance of failure by continually redefining what constitutes success. At first we were going to convince the Soviets of the virtues of a “no-defense world” and “mutual assured destruction” (MAD)—i.e., get them to accept Western conceptions. Then when the Soviets failed to adopt such conceptions (as evidenced by their deployments), we were told their state of mind didn’t matter: MAD was a “fact of life.” By the same token, originally the arms-control process was aimed at concretely improving stability. Now that such stabilizing limits have eluded us for nearly twenty years, the goal has become notably vaguer and less concrete: we now seek “predictability,” “easing of tensions,” and so forth. We even seek reductions for their own sake, apparently, though they demonstrably fail to add to stability.

In the meantime, by various concrete indicators of military strength, the strategic balance has steadily shifted against us. Indeed, the notion that we have been reducing the “risk of war” through arms control is hardly more than a dream. What we have been steadily reducing is the likelihood that the United States will respond effectively to various Soviet initiatives in the military sphere.




The Reagan program of deep reductions was originally designed to highlight and rectify some of these problems. At bottom, the administration’s proposals for “deep reductions” were essentially an attempt to call the bluff of arms control—to determine whether arms negotiations could indeed finally deliver what they had always promised: genuinely stabilizing, militarily significant limits and cuts. However, because the Soviets had historically shown themselves resistant to meaningful arms reductions (as in their rejection of President Carter’s deep-cuts proposals in March 1977), there was also a high probability that bargaining positions like the “zero option” for INF missiles and “deep reductions” for strategic arms would lead to no agreement at all.

For administration conservatives who advocated this approach, such an outcome was not unwelcome. This is not to say that the strategy was entirely disingenuous. Standing at the threshold of the Reagan era, one could easily convince oneself that if the Soviets did indeed accept “deep reductions” and agree to such radical alterations in the strategic balance at Western behest, then arms control would be operating (mirabile dictu) in a beneficial fashion. At bottom, however, the call for “deep reductions” was a kind of metaphor for what arms control really ought to do, what it had so far failed to do, and what it was in fact unlikely to do in the future, given the nature and aims of of the Soviet regime.

For a time the metaphor operated as predicted. The Soviets fiercely resisted the zero option and strategic-arms reductions. Moscow tried to blackmail and bludgeon the United States into turning back NATO’s plan to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe in 1983 in response to its own deployment of the SS-20 beginning in 1977. In essence the conflict over INF was a test of wills, an effort by the Soviet Union to determine whether it could veto a NATO deployment and force Washington into a renewal of détente on Moscow’s terms. The attempt failed. For a time, indeed, the United States seemed to have captured the moral high ground. For a change, arms-control rhetoric mirrored reality. The power more dedicated to peace—the United States—also had the more daring arms proposals, while the power threatening the peace eventually walked out of arms negotiations. The breakdown of negotiations also led to a fresh and healthy interest in unilateral means of strengthening defense—in particular, the investigation of new defensive technologies through the SDI program.

Yet once the tactics of open blackmail had failed, the Soviets reverted to their accustomed tactical flexibility. “They will try every door in the house,” said Winston Churchill in 1946, “enter all rooms which are not locked, and when they come to one that is barred, if they are unsuccessful in breaking through it, they will withdraw and invite you to dine genially that same evening.” Not long after the SDI program was given a director and a budget in the spring of 1984 came the inevitable invitations to dine. But more surprising, under Gorbachev the leadership proved willing to take tactical flexibility a step further: to sacrifice something quite tangible, namely, operational SS-20 missiles, in exchange for a broad intangible gain—a resurgence of arms control, a momentum toward nuclear disarmament, and, crucially, an end to the Strategic Defense Initiative.

As surprising as the Soviet embrace of reductions may have been, it does not seem illogical in retrospect. The inherent asymmetry of the arms-control process; the fact that arms reductions will now tend to intensify, rather than alleviate, American vulnerabilities; the fact that Congress, in its moralism and legalism, can be counted upon to overcomply with almost any negotiated limitation; and finally the fact that the U.S. media will tend to play down, and Congress will resist responding to, serious Soviet violations of an agreement—all this makes a continuation and expansion of arms control extremely desirable, not to say vital, from the Soviet point of view.

In the meantime, those who believe they hear in Gorbachev’s public utterances a fundamentally new Soviet approach to the problem of peace are missing another, equally pronounced, strain in the current Soviet rhetoric: the menacing undercurrent of intimidation. It was apparent in Gorbachev’s September 1985 interview with the editors of Time: “[The] situation today is highly complex, very tense. . . . I would even go so far as to say it is explosive.” It was apparent after Reykjavik: “America is probably very nostalgic for the old times when it was militarily superior to us—for we emerged from the war weakened economically. . . . Nevertheless, we will wish our American partners to be aware of today’s realities” (emphasis added). It was apparent even amid the euphoria of the Washington summit. As Valentin Falin, head of the Novosti Press Agency, told New York Times columnist Flora Lewis, if America failed to accommodate to the Soviet Union, especially on SDI, Gorbachev would “draw the consequences”:

We won’t copy you any more, making planes to catch up with your planes, missiles to catch up with your missiles. We’ll take asymmetrical means with new scientific principles available to us. Genetic engineering could be a hypothetical example. Things can be done for which neither side could find defenses or countermeasures, with very dangerous results.

If you develop something in space, we could develop something on earth. These are not just words. I know what I’m saying. [Emphasis added]

To be contemplating 50-percent arms cuts with a power whose public officials threaten us openly in our own capital with the prospect of biological warfare based on the new technologies of genetic engineering (mere development of the weapons constituting a gross violation of the binding but unenforceable and unverifiable Biological Weapons Convention of 1972) is remarkable, to say the least. Yet intimidation, by word and action, has been the constant accompaniment of the arms-control process.

Note too that Soviet internal reforms and shifts in rhetoric (perestroika, glasnost), whatever their nature or limitations, have been carefully repackaged for Western consumption in the service of encouraging Western concessions on arms control. Gorbachev the reformer is a self-confessed admirer of Lenin, whom he praises for “lofty moral strength.” Lenin, who looked with contempt on pacifist feeling in all its forms, explicitly taught his followers to use disarmament to divide and inhibit the West while Soviet military and economic power grew. Gorbachev’s approach, whatever novelty or flexibility it demonstrates as to concrete details, is clearly in this mold.

However, Gorbachev’s tactical shift has revealed another fact—that for President Reagan, arms reductions apparently never were the complicated metaphor that they constituted for the conservative intellectuals within his administration. For the President, reductions had apparently always been a literal goal.



Today, as a result of all this, we are rushing toward radical disarmament at an incredible speed. A dangerous START treaty, an almost equally dangerous and clearly unverifiable chemical-weapons ban, possible cuts in conventional forces that would worsen rather than improve the existing imbalance—all these possibilities wait in the wings while Senate attention is engrossed with INF.

The INF agreement is problematic enough. But the INF agreement, whatever its deleterious effects on NATO’s strategy or its potentially depressing impact on Western public support for nuclear deterrence, does not reshape the core of our strategic arsenal. Responsible experts differ on the merits of the INF treaty. Where most sober analysts agree is that the administration’s manner of negotiating the agreement from the Reykjavik summit onward damaged, possibly irreparably, the morale and cohesion of the Western alliance. This has implications for START. Indeed, one of the most troubling aspects of the INF agreement is what it says about the resistance with which the Reagan administration can be expected to greet even the soundest and most moderate criticism of the prospective START accord.

As is true of START today, months before the United States signed the INF agreement a chorus of distinguished voices emerged questioning the advisability of the treaty—voices ranging from Brent Scowcroft to former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to Henry Kissinger to General Bernard Rogers, the NATO commander himself. Not only were the warnings deflected; the Secretary of State characterized the NATO commander’s reservations as—it is incredible to say—“ridiculous.” Not only was the administration willing to dismiss authoritative criticism out of hand, but it was also willing to defend an indefensible outcome.

Today we have an INF agreement embodying a double-zero option. But when Gorbachev first made clear, at the height of the Iran-contra controversy in February 1987, his willingness to sign an INF treaty, the agreement at issue was not the “true zero” solution but the “0-100” solution with which the administration emerged from Reykjavik. In the manifold confusions of that meeting, the United States had actually agreed to a formula that would have permitted the Soviets to retain 100 INF warheads in Soviet Asia while requiring the U.S. to withdraw its residual 100 warheads to the United States. Yet repeatedly, the administration publicly affirmed its willingness to sign such an agreement—even though the agreement was patently inequitable and even though it posed possibly insurmountable problems of verification.

Eventually, the Soviets took the administration’s chestnuts out of the fire by agreeing to “true zero”—probably because the Soviets themselves recognized that even if such an agreement had been signed, it would not have passed the Senate. But the fact remains that, apparently to save its own credibility, the administration charged ahead heedlessly toward a demonstrably bad result, prodding and hurrying our reluctant allies—especially West Germany—along the way.

As sorry a spectacle as this may have been, in START the stakes are far higher. Unfortunately, the administration can be expected to prove equally impervious to criticism, even from the most credible and authoritative sources. Ronald Reagan bent on disarmament has become an almost unstoppable force. Certainly, he will not be restrained by a Secretary of State whose strategic comprehension is open to question, even if his commitment to arms control is not. And in too many cases, the natural opponents of rashness in arms control are implicated as authors or longtime supporters of the U.S. proposals at issue.

Yet the process must be halted. It simply makes no sense to halve our nuclear arsenal until we have witnessed a commensurate decline in the threat posed by the Soviet Union. A broad and clearly demonstrable improvement in Soviet behavior should not be the goal but rather the prerequisite of arms control on this scale. Thus far we have had many tantalizing hints from Moscow, many symbolic actions on human rights and regional conflict. At the same time few would argue that the underlying realities of Soviet foreign policy or domestic power have in any fundamental way altered. What we have seen instead is what Jean-François Revel has called “the manic Soviet penchant for seeking always to collect in advance the strategic and diplomatic dividends of changes that are either entirely hypothetical, or at best no more than rudimentary.” And amid all this, we continue to hear ominous threats.

It is not enough to attempt, as Henry Kissinger and others have done, to link strategic reductions to conventional reductions (though if that is what it takes to persuade the administration to delay a START signing, then so be it). In conventional arms control our bargaining position is hardly better than in nuclear systems; indeed, it is worse. To expect conventional reductions of the sort we actually require from the Soviets is essentially to expect the Soviets to solve our strategic problems for us. It is to say that the Soviets have ceased competing with us in a military sense. If that occurs, we shall all rejoice, but there will be other signs of it than a willingness to talk about conventional arms cuts. For too long strategic analysts of Kissinger’s stature have paid lip-service to the illusory premise of arms control—the assumption that the Soviets will act in negotiations positively to enhance Western security—which, after all, their whole military effort is designed to undermine.



Those, meanwhile, who apparently see this as a moment that must be seized for arms control or lost forever are simply succumbing to the cart-before-the-horse logic of the arms-control process. If indeed the Soviet Union needs to redirect spending away from defense, if there is downward pressure on Soviet defense spending, then disarmament is going to happen without U.S. help. If at a time when its military strength far exceeds any requirement of sufficiency, the Soviet Union is unwilling to make such a reallocation on its own without fresh concessions from the United States, then it is plainly not committed to peace.

Similarly, if there is a genuine opportunity for improved relations, the opportunity will be there next year, and the year after and the year after that. If the opportunity is so momentary and tenuous that it will disappear if it is not seized today, at great risk to our national security, then the opportunity is not authentic but illusory. An opportunity so fragile should give us pause. If the present alleged trend toward peaceableness in Soviet behavior is capable so quickly of being reversed, then we should worry even more deeply about the new vulnerabilities and instabilities to which a START agreement will inevitably expose us. We shall surely be in a worse position to respond to such a reversal after the treaty is signed.

This is not a partisan or ideological point, but a matter of common sense. Sensible people of the Right and sensible people of the Left, Republicans and Democrats who have the nation’s security at heart, should be willing to agree on a program of delay and reappraisal in arms control. Given the enormous changes we have seen in the very premises of the process just in the past few months, nothing else makes sense. Above all, it would greatly serve the national interest if the Senate leadership were to make clear to the President that it would not look favorably on a START treaty before the end of his term. This alone might persuade the executive branch to relent and take stock. And yet it is only reasonable. If disarmament on this scale can be achieved, and achieved safely, then it should be left, at the least, to a new President, and to an administration with a more balanced sense of the process’s opportunities and risks.

Finally, the burden of proof must be shifted to those who advocate arms cuts, particularly on this radical a scale, to demonstrate concretely how these cuts will improve our security, to show precisely how they will be verified, and to explain exactly what basis we have to believe that the Soviets will comply with them or that the United States would be in a position to respond effectively if they do not. In the absence of proof on all these counts, reductions should be avoided.

Forget for a moment public relations. Forget the “moral high ground.” A nation that lacks the moral self-confidence to pursue the measures necessary for its defense in the face of criticism from misguided idealists on the one hand and its mortal enemy on the other has lost the capacity to survive. Public relations cannot be the measure of our success in preserving peace and freedom. Public-relations successes and public-relations failures daily come and go. But the concrete guarantees of our security are irretrievable, once they have been bargained away.

The risk if we say no to the present program of radical arms control is at most some embarrassment—and yet another setback in the long history of disappointments in disarmament. The risk if we say yes is the loss of our basic security, and ultimately—can anyone doubt it?—the relinquishment of freedom itself.



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