Commentary Magazine

Why an American Arms Build-up Is Morally Necessary

That the Reagan administration has so far won most of the policy battles in the nuclear debate seems remarkable in light of the fact that it has lost virtually all the moral ones. Even as its defense programs have gradually gained approval in Congress, an enormous array of moral forces has mobilized against it. The press, the universities, even the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church—from nearly every institution vested with moral authority, powerful voices have been raised in opposition to the administration’s plans.

The ethical debate over nuclear arms has compassed a broad range of themes, but at its heart the moral case against the administration rests on two charges. First, and most important, is the claim that under Ronald Reagan, American nuclear strategy has been moving from an essentially defensive posture to an essentially offensive one. It is this impression that has proved perhaps most dismaying to ordinary citizens. Occasionally the charge has shaded into the accusation that the administration actually “has come to plan,” in the words of one anti-nuclear writer, “for waging and winning a nuclear war against the Soviet Union.” On the whole, however, few people seriously suspect the President of harboring the wish to launch a premeditated attack. What is more generally thought is that through a combination of factors—fervent anti-Communism, militarism, folly, incompetence—the administration, left to its own devices, could conceivably blunder into a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets.

The second charge, closely related to the first, is that the administration’s program will inevitably spark a new round of the arms race. The arms race is deplored on the grounds both that it is wasteful, diverting resources that could be applied to more humane programs, and that it is provocative, increasing the risk of nuclear war.

Against these charges the administration has mounted only the most ineffectual defense, failing again and again to dispel the impression that it is significantly more willing than its predecessors actually to risk nuclear war. Even its active attempts to engage the opposition have tended to turn to its own disadvantage. Indeed, so badly has the administration generally put its case that it has often appeared to gain more from silence than from its own maladroit efforts to persuade.

Yet in fairness to the administration, it must be acknowledged that the suspicions it has encountered do not spring solely from its policy formulations or even from its rhetorical ineptitude. The nuclear debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of deep distrust and mutual suspicion, and opposition to the administration’s policies has come from two somewhat separate camps. The broad appeal of the anti-nuclear position has tended to obscure important differences between the moral perspectives of the two groups: while the grievances of one party might be said to find their root primarily in the “new” morality, the objections raised by the other party reach back to a much older moral consensus.

It is the first group that has formed the vanguard of the anti-nuclear campaign proper. Whatever concern nuclear weapons themselves may have provoked, the anti-nuclear movement has emerged partly as the product of a much broader sense of moral and political disillusionment. Critical to the movement’s formation has been the experience of “demythologization” that touched so many lives in the 1960’s and 1970’s. For whole sectors of our culture, it should be recognized, moral thinking now finds its starting point in the rejection of received moral and political values. This loss of faith has had a profound effect on the perspective that many people bring to the problem of national defense. In particular, it has undermined in many minds the idea that the United States, at least as a political entity, is something basically good and worth preserving. Thus while protest is inevitably directed against the weapons, for many people it is the United States government that is the real object of distrust. At its roots, the contention of these people is not that the administration has a bad defense policy, but that in the end the United States, or at least the United States government, is hardly worth defending.

The strength of this view should not be underestimated, for among the young and educated it enjoys extremely wide, if usually tacit, acceptance. Moreover, it has entered respectable discourse. Traces of this outlook can even be found in the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace. “To pretend that as a nation we have lived up to our ideals,” write the bishops, “would be patently dishonest.” Such moral judgments, whether warranted or not, cannot help but influence our thinking on the subject of our own self-preservation. It would be no exaggeration to say that our sense of guilt has in recent years tended to prejudice us against the cause of our own political survival.



Still, the most serious and powerful moral criticism of the Reagan administration’s policies has come from people who believe strongly in our right to survive but who contend that the administration’s policies far exceed any merely defensive requirement. The moral thinking behind this assertion is by no means new. The general conviction that Western nuclear strategy ought to remain defensive flows from a long-standing moral and strategic consensus, grounded in the doctrine of “containment” and forged in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis. This consensus has influenced both public feeling and government policy concerning nuclear weapons for upward of twenty years. The most prestigious public figures who have risen in recent months to oppose the administration—including a number of famous men from the Kennedy administration—have done so largely in defense of this older outlook.

The convictions that constitute this older consensus are now very familiar: that nuclear war, once begun, will unleash a catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions, resulting, effectively, in the end of the world; that consequently nuclear weapons can have no conceivable military use; that we already possess many more times the weapons that we need utterly to annihilate the Soviet Union and even to obliterate the world as a whole. To most Americans these propositions have become nothing less than axiomatic. Indeed, so basic are these ideas to public understanding of nuclear weapons that their origins in actual strategic theories about nuclear war are now generally forgotten. It is widely assumed that they spring from the simplest common sense. But in fact the reigning public consensus on nuclear policy has its roots in a very specific theory of nuclear strategy, first articulated by the Defense Department under Robert S. McNamara in the early 1960’s: the doctrine known as “assured destruction” or (as it eventually became) “mutual assured destruction” (MAD). The public moral consensus on nuclear armaments is in large measure a somewhat simplified version of “mutual assured destruction.”

The outlines of this strategy are by now well-known. In its original formulation, the theory of assured destruction stipulated that a deliberate nuclear attack on the United States could be deterred so long as the U.S. maintained the clear ability to inflict upon the attacker an “unacceptable” retaliatory blow. Deterrence depended, in the words of two of McNamara’s civilian strategists, on “maintaining at all times a clear and unmistakable ability to inflict an unacceptable degree of damage upon any aggressor, or combination of aggressors—even after absorbing a surprise first strike.” “Stability” in the conflict between the nuclear superpowers would thus spring from the reciprocal vulnerability of their two societies—meaning chiefly their cities—to devastating nuclear attack.

From these simple premises followed a number of important consequences. First, the attainment by the Soviet Union of a similar assured-destruction capability was to be encouraged rather than opposed, since “deterrence” to be “stable” must be “mutual.” Second, the United States would gain nothing from the attempt to acquire “superiority” in nuclear weapons, both because any effort to gain an advantage would be countered by the Soviet Union and because in the presence of assured destruction no real advantage can exist. Finally, defensive weapons such as an anti-ballistic-missile system—especially when designed to protect civilian populations—were not to be sought but rather shunned as dangerous, for by threatening to rob one’s adversary of an assured-destruction capability they would “destabilize” the nuclear “balance.”

From the standpoint of traditional military reasoning, these propositions have always appeared highly paradoxical, which may explain in part why over the years MAD has failed to find much support among the professional military. As Lawrence Freedman notes, it is among civilian strategists in the West that the doctrine of assured destruction has found its strongest adherents. Yet the challenge that MAD posed from the beginning to traditional military thought was made credible by the radically novel nature of the weapons at issue. Writing of nuclear weapons in 1959, Bernard Brodie expressed an idea that has since become commonplace: “The basic fact is that the soldier has been handed a problem that extends far beyond the expertise of his own profession.”

Moreover, whatever doubts may have been raised concerning its military validity, particularly in the past few years, MAD has persisted as a vision of imposing moral authority. This authority derives chiefly from two considerations: the inherent defensiveness of the doctrine, and its compatibility with the process of arms control. The strongest military argument against MAD—that it offers no guidance, in Benjamin Lambeth’s phrase, “at the edge of war,” that it is not in any operational sense a “strategy”—has tended to be the strongest moral argument in its favor. Precisely because it would be useless in war, the doctrine of assured destruction has seemed to many to strengthen the cause of peace. Even more important, MAD establishes a theoretical upper limit to forces necessary for deterrence and in doing so provides the strategic logic that permits arms control. It allows us to stop building even if the Soviets continue—so long, it would seem, as our assured-destruction capability is indeed assured. MAD is valued in great measure because it seems to leave open a path to disarmament.



Nonetheless, it is fair to say that the doctrine of assured destruction has exerted a more enduring hold on public thinking concerning nuclear war than on government policy. Even in the mid-1960’s, when assured destruction was the official declaratory policy of the U.S. government, actual military-targeting priorities remained at odds with MAD. Declaratory policy emphasized that nuclear weapons would be used to make punishing strikes against enemy civilian centers; but the Air Force continued to give priority in its targeting to military sites.

From the mid-1970’s onward, moreover, U.S. policy began gradually to move away from MAD. Contrary to the common conception, the Reagan administration is by no means the first to frame its defense policy on premises at odds with assured-destruction thinking. In 1974, in response both to changes in missile technology and to new testing and deployments by the Soviet Union, the Defense Department under Defense Secretary James Schlesinger moved away from an assured-destruction posture toward a policy of “flexible response,” or “flexible targeting.” At issue were two concerns: first, Schlesinger claimed that the threat that any Soviet attack, however limited, would be met with retaliation on a massive scale was losing credibility and no longer provided an adequate foundation for deterrence; second, he argued, it was necessary to envision in more detail what might actually occur in the event of Soviet nuclear aggression. Assured destruction offered no guidance in the event that deterrence “failed.”

The so-called “Schlesinger Doctrine” emphasized the need to develop “sufficient options” between the “massive response” of assured destruction and “doing nothing.” The goal was to limit escalation in the event of nuclear conflict by preparing to “hit meaningful [i.e., military] targets with a sufficient accuracy-yield combination to destroy only the intended target and to avoid widespread collateral damage.” This strategic evolution was continued under the Carter administration with the issuance of Presidential Directive 59 (PD-59) under Defense Secretary Harold Brown, which sought to extend the emphasis on military targets and on increasing possible options for responses in the event of nuclear attack. Both the Schlesinger Doctrine and PD-59 were attacked as departures from assured destruction; the latter policy statement aroused particularly vociferous opposition. In this sense, the current debate is merely a continuation of a dispute that originated in the mid-1970’s.



But while the basic issues of the debate have not altered, its shape has been critically affected by the emergence of the popular anti-nuclear campaign. A kind of fissure has opened between the moral and strategic issues in the conflict, with one side in the debate (the administration) resorting instinctively to strategic arguments, while the other side (the peace movement) resorts habitually to moral ones. In the process, the complicated relation between these two kinds of issues has been obscured.

The chief beneficiaries of this development have been the advocates of MAD, for the view of nuclear deterrence based on assured destruction has come to be understood by many as, in effect, the middle position of the conflict. There is irony in this development, since for most of the 1970’s MAD was not the center but rather one side in the controversy over nuclear policy. Yet in comparison with the more extreme anti-nuclear activists, with their unilateralist sympathies, their suspicions of the United States, and their ambitious dreams of a utopian future, the adherents of MAD, once seen as the “doves” in the debate, have tended to appear more and more as hardened realists. After all, next to outright nuclear pacifism, any form of belief in deterrence tends to appear tough-minded. Thus over the past year numerous articles have appeared “in defense of deterrence”—by which is usually meant a view of deterrence based on MAD. It is this outlook that to many seems to combine best the moral concerns raised by the peace movement and the strategic concerns articulated by the administration. One writer expressing this view has tersely divided the debate into three camps: a “party of peace” (the anti-nuclear movement), a “party of war” (the administration), and, in the center, a “party of deterrence” (the advocates of MAD).

Thus in the name of MAD the specter of unilateral disarmament has been vanquished again and again, but in the process the deeper relation between the moral and strategic issues has tended to be lost to view. The relation between these two concerns is not merely additive; a strategy that existed merely as an ill-conceived compromise between our strategic necessities and our moral ideals would hardly provide an adequate foundation for our defense. Moreover, what would be true of any other strategic doctrine is also true of MAD: its moral value depends entirely on its prior claim to practical, strategic validity. It may well be desirable to prevent the unstinted growth of nuclear arsenals and to avoid the costs and risks entailed by a U.S. military build-up. It may well be desirable to leave open a clear path to disarmament. But it is moral to attempt this only if it can be safely done—that is, only if by taking this course we do not embrace the greater risk of weakening deterrence to the point where a nuclear war becomes more likely as the result of our well-meaning efforts.

Whether MAD offers intrinsically a more or less moral outlook on the nuclear problem, then, depends on whether it is strategically valid; for any moral claim the doctrine may have rests in the first place on the assumption that it will work. To answer the moral questions raised by the conflict between assured destruction and its alternatives, it is therefore necessary to grasp with some precision the strategic realities at issue.



Critical, above all, is the significance of the imposing military build-up undertaken by the Soviet Union over the past decade. That the Soviets have added massively to their military strength in the last ten years hardly any knowledgeable person will dispute. Indeed, the administration’s strongest moral and strategic argument on its own behalf has been that its actions constitute nothing more than a necessary response to measures taken by the Soviet Union. Yet the force of this argument has been constantly undermined by the repeated denial on the part of prestigious figures in public debate that the Soviet build-up poses any real threat to the security of the United States—or at least a threat strong enough to merit the administration’s response.

What is not widely understood is that this denial is based not on any factual dispute with the administration, but rather on a certain conceptual understanding of nuclear strategy: on the MAD hypothesis. Thus the whole moral argument hinges critically on this fundamental strategic assumption, and it is simply impossible to make an informed moral judgment on the debate until its merits and demerits are sorted out.

At the heart of MAD, in its initial formulation, was a promise of convergence—in technology, in strategic doctrine, in military behavior—between the two superpowers. It is this convergence that opponents of MAD, including members of the Reagan administration, argue has entirely failed to come to pass. As envisioned by the framers of the doctrine, the rationale for convergence lay in the unprecedented nature of nuclear weapons. The weapons had only to exist, it was felt, for new laws of strategy to obtain—the laws of assured destruction. In the nuclear age, strategy and politics would be shaped ultimately by imperatives embodied in the technology. As one group of analysts wrote in the mid-1960’s: “Technology seems to have a leveling effect which subsumes political, ideological, and social differences in various political systems.” Whether or not the rather radical changes these analysts predicted would come about, it was felt generally that nuclear weapons forced certain necessary choices on the leaders of countries that possessed them.

One of the critical difficulties that proponents of MAD confronted from the beginning was the overwhelming evidence that Soviet strategists had no such view of nuclear technology; on the contrary, the Soviets seemed to assume even a central nuclear war to be “winnable.” This is not to be confused, as it occasionally has been, with the implausible claim that Soviet leaders or military men approach the prospect of nuclear war in a spirit of light-heartedness. The Soviets presumably recognize as well as anybody else the horrors that nuclear war would entail. But this has not prevented Soviet strategists from persisting in the conviction that in practice there would be a difference between “winners” and “losers” in such a war, and that this outcome would not necessarily be random but could be affected by the weapons, the defensive preparations, and the strategies of the two sides.

While public statements of Soviet leaders were gradually adjusted to take account of Western thinking on nuclear war, behind this façade of apparent agreement, Soviet military thinking remained extremely hostile to the prevailing Western notion that nuclear war would mean “the end of the world.” “There is profound error and harm,” in the words of the Soviet strategist General Major A. S. Milovidov, “in the disorienting claim of bourgeois ideologues that there could be no victor in a thermonuclear world war. The peoples of the world will put an end to imperialism, which is causing mankind incalculable suffering.” Whereas in the West the emergence of nuclear weapons led to the radical break with traditional military thinking defined by MAD, in the Soviet Union nuclear weapons were assimilated to the traditional military understanding of operations in war: the ordering concept was, and still is, that of “victory.”

As a result, Soviet strategy has retained two emphases that for some time dropped out of Western military doctrine and certainly from public understanding concerning nuclear war: the primacy of military (as opposed to civilian) targets, and the utility of civil defense. Thus even when discussing massive nuclear salvos, Soviet strategists envision the strikes aimed not at civilians but at military and economic facilities. Civil defense is also seen to play an important role, as explained in this passage from a 1970 article in a Soviet military journal: “Obviously there will be a mass evacuation of the population from densely populated cities, major industrial and administrative centers.” Some preparations would be made in peacetime (for example, the Soviets currently possess hardened shelters to accommodate 100,000 key party and military personnel), but the most significant efforts would become visible during the period when, as Soviet strategy puts it, events indicate that “war is coming.”

The fact that Soviet strategic thinking diverged from that of the West was apparent even at the time that assured destruction was formulated, but it was not understood to present an insurmountable difficulty. For one thing, as Lawrence Freedman notes, Soviet doctrine had undergone some interesting revisions in the 1950’s when it was altered to accommodate the existence of nuclear weapons and missiles. It was assumed that it could change again, and more radically. For another, the Soviets lacked anything approaching the military capability to bring about what their strategy proposed. It is important to recognize that McNamara explicitly conceived the formulation of MAD partly as an educative effort to wean the Soviets away from what were understood to be “primitive” and tradition-bound military notions. The early posture statements setting forth assured destruction were written with great care, partly with the intent of instructing the Soviets, and McNamara expressed satisfaction at the number of statements purchased by the Soviet embassy in Washington.

This idea of “educating” the Soviet high command has remained a remarkably persistent theme among adherents of mutual assured destruction. As late as 1977, for example, Paul Warnke, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, referred in an interview to the “primitive” Soviet concept of victory: “Instead of talking in those terms, which would indulge what I regard as the primitive aspects of Soviet nuclear doctrine, we ought to be trying to educate them into the real world of strategic nuclear weapons, which is that nobody could possibly win.”

To judge from Warnke’s comment, Soviet leaders have proved to be pupils of more than average recalcitrance, since it would seem that in 1977 the U.S. was still “trying to educate them” regarding ideas that had been first explained to them almost fifteen years before. Still, in gauging the success of this effort of education, both sides in the American debate have tended to agree that progress should be measured more by deeds than by words. Whatever the Soviets may say about “victory” in nuclear war, it is their actions that count. But even here controversy arises, for while there is broad agreement concerning the facts of the case, there is great variance in their interpretation. Readings of Soviet behavior seem to be materially affected by whether one accepts or rejects the premises of MAD.



Proponents and opponents of MAD tend to diverge markedly in their interpretations of even specific Soviet actions. Take, for example, the anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) portion of the 1972 SALT I agreement. The ABM treaty has frequently been praised as the most successful single arms-control agreement concluded to date, since the treaty actually prevented the deployment of a wholly new weapons system that would potentially have transformed the strategic balance. The treaty has also been cited as concrete evidence of implicit Soviet acquiescence in at least the essential elements of MAD. Prohibitions on defensive measures seemed to run counter to the strong bias in Soviet military thinking toward the utility of measures designed to defend both military installations and economic centers. Soviet willingness to accept such provisions therefore was understood as a significant adjustment to the “realities” of the nuclear age. As Jerome H. Kahan put it in a 1975 article: “That the USSR has now accepted the inevitability, if not the desirability, of a mutual deterrence relationship with the United States is suggested strongly by Moscow’s preference for stringent limits on area ABM deployments in the SALT treaty.” Kahan acknowledged that Soviet doctrine had not shifted away from its explicit “war-fighting” orientation. Nonetheless, he insisted on the basis of the ABM treaty that Soviet doctrine was “somewhat comparable to ours.”

Yet there was an alternative explanation for Soviet behavior regarding the ABM treaty that successive events have rendered ever more persuasive. It is that, far from acquiescing in some new technological imperative of the nuclear age, or accepting MAD, the Soviets in negotiating limits on ABM systems were simply seeking unilateral military advantage in a very traditional sense. Notably, the Soviets actively pursued the development of defensive technologies throughout the 1960’s. These efforts resulted in the creation of the so-called “Galosh” ABM system that is deployed to this day to protect Moscow and in fact much of the Western Soviet Union. As Seymour Weiss has noted in the Wall Street Journal: “Euphemistically described as the Moscow system, the Soviet ABM defense provides protection to a substantial portion of the Western USSR, containing about 75 percent of Soviet population and industry and a substantial portion of Soviet military capabilities.” (Under the treaty, each side was permitted two area systems, reduced to one in the July 1974 protocol; our response has been to dismantle our last remaining ABM sites.) During the 1960’s the Soviets spurned all suggestions by the U.S. that such defensive deployments be limited by treaty. It was only when Richard Nixon had secured Senate approval for the technologically superior U.S. “Safeguard” ABM system that the Soviets became eager to discuss ABM limitations. In Henry Kissinger’s account in Years of Upheaval:

In 1967, before we had an ABM program, President Lyndon Johnson had suggested to Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin at Glassboro that both sides renounce ABM’s. Kosygin contemptuously dismissed the idea as one of the most ridiculous he had ever heard. By 1970, after the Nixon administration had won its congressional battle for ABM by one vote, Soviet SALT negotiators refused to discuss any other subject. Only by the most strenuous negotiating effort did we insure that limits on offensive, as well as defensive, weapons were included.

In short, once the full political context of Soviet actions is considered, the ABM provisions and even the SALT I agreement as a whole take on a new aspect. What one sees is not, as has been portrayed, the involuntary Soviet acquiescence in MAD but rather the effort of a traditional great power to secure by negotiation the military advantage that it could not attain by its own technology. In the United States, where the chief preoccupation in the strategic debate has tended to be the validity or invalidity of mutual assured destruction, the American Safeguard ABM system was seen chiefly as a threat to the logic of MAD. In the Soviet Union, one suspects, the U.S. ABM system was seen as a threat to the USSR. The problem with the American Safeguard system, from the Soviet point of view, was not that it threatened to invalidate MAD, which the Soviets had never accepted in the first place, but that it threatened to neutralize the military and political value of Soviet rocket forces as a threat to the West. If this characterization seems harsh, it ought to be kept in mind that Soviet behavior in this regard would be consistent with the behavior of most powerful states through most of history. It is America that, in its preoccupation with the MAD hypothesis, turns out to be the odd bird.

Subsequent Soviet actions have tended to confirm this interpretation of the ABM episode. The effect of SALT I in the United States was to extinguish political interest in ballistic-missile defense; consequently, funding for ABM research in the United States dropped precipitously. In the Soviet Union, by contrast, such research has continued apace. The Galosh system was modernized, and new phased-array radars of the sort used by ABM systems, and covered by the treaty, have been deployed in six sites. In recent months, testing and deployment have even skirted violations of the treaty. SAM-10 and SAM-12 anti-aircraft missiles have reportedly been tested in an ABM mode; and the recent detection of a new phased-array radar installation, deployed near a Siberian ballistic-missile field in an area prohibited by the treaty, has prompted a debate within the Reagan administration concerning the wisdom—political and otherwise—of raising the issue of Soviet treaty violations.1

Whether the administration will press its case is not clear at this writing. In this connection, however, the presence or absence of violations is less important than the abundant confirmation that the Soviet Union is committed to a view of defensive measures totally at odds with MAD. The main evidence for tacit Soviet acceptance of mutual assured destruction would appear to have been misinterpreted.



It may be an overstatement to describe as “epistemological” the differences that result in such divergent interpretations of Soviet actions, but radical contrasts in perception are clearly at issue. Critical is the role assigned to politics. Opponents of MAD have tended to dwell more than their counterparts on the specific political character of the Soviet regime. MAD, by contrast, reflecting its intellectual origins, offers a fundamentally nonpolitical account of the conflict between the superpowers. Rooted in economic “game theory,” MAD arrives at its analysis by viewing strategic adversaries simply as rational actors abstractly understood. Presumably the logic of MAD would apply equally well to any two states that found themselves in the circumstances of the United States and the Soviet Union—i.e., to any two politically opposed states in possession of nuclear weapons. While accepting political conflict as a kind of axiom or condition, MAD abstracts from the content of the political struggle, dwelling instead on the dimensions in which the outlook and circumstances of the U.S. and the USSR are rendered by virtue of nuclear technology “comparable.”

Grand strategies, it has been observed, tend to reflect the character of the regimes which devise them, and from the outset there has been a close kinship between “assured destruction” and the nature of the American polity. MAD stands as a kind of partial reflection of the American ethos. In America, as in the MAD vision, technology is understood to be the decisive shaper of life, the modern fact par excellence, the ultimate supplier and limiter of human options. But even more important, the MAD doctrine is, like so much of American political thinking, essentially apolitical in orientation. In MAD, as in American life generally, politics is treated as a sort of afterthought, an epiphenomenon of a broader “human” experience. The actors in MAD are essentially unaffected by ideology or values: whatever their beliefs or other goals, they respond predictably, almost automatically, to the imperatives embodied in the technology. In this portrait of strategic actors there is something of America’s genial, ethnocentric self—a confident projection of homo economicus: the assumption that, once the deal is spelled out, everybody is bound to agree on the basics with everybody else, to evaluate the costs and the benefits in the same way. In the context of American culture, the primacy that MAD assigns to technological influences and essentially economic calculations of advantage hardly seems surprising.2

There is now good reason to wish that in the nuclear era Americans had possessed more of what the poet John Keats called “negative capability”—the ability, simply speaking, to put oneself in another’s shoes. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, the overwhelmingly prevalent assumption has been that, at least in the essential respects, Soviet views of nuclear strategy were “somewhat comparable” to ours. To most Americans, and even to many American “experts,” it has been inconceivable that the Soviets might approach nuclear weapons with different goals, different priorities, a different understanding of how the weapons might be used and what they could be used for. Nothing the Soviets themselves might say seemed capable of shaking this hypothesis.

Yet if the comfortable assumption of Soviet “comparability” has persisted for a long time, that is partly because for most of the nuclear era it has been, in the literal sense of the word, a “safe” assumption. This is to say, during much of the postwar period, Soviet military capabilities—especially nuclear—were so inferior to those of the United States that it hardly mattered what the Soviets thought about strategy at any level.

There is an irony in the history of MAD, for this doctrine of “mutual” vulnerability was formulated at a time when vulnerability was anything but mutual. As late as 1966, it should be remembered, the Soviets possessed only 350 land-based and only about 30 submarine-launched ballistic missiles as compared with an American total in the two categories of over 1,700. Yet our doctrine was predicated on “parity.” By a trick of memory, it now tends to be assumed that it was “parity” of weapons that insured our safety in the past. It was nothing of the sort. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the United States possessed overwhelming superiority in both conventional naval and nuclear armaments. Those present at the crisis have since argued that it was not nuclear strength but in fact conventional force locally applied—in particular, the naval quarantine of Cuba—that brought a successful resolution of the crisis. But as Peter W. Rodman has shown in these pages, this is not at all self-evident (“The Missiles of October: Twenty Years Later,” October 1982). The fact is that the Soviet Union was aware of U.S. strength at all levels, and it is difficult to argue that nuclear superiority did not play a role. At all events, it was overall strategic superiority that gave the United States scope to act—and it is crucial to recognize that this strategic superiority, whether in nuclear or conventional arms, is now a thing of the past.



The whole dispute over the validity of MAD and the nature of Soviet intentions might have remained what it originally was—chiefly a theoretical argument—were it not for certain troubling developments. Yet changes in both technology and in military deployments have forced these issues once again to the fore. Notably, technology has moved in a direction exactly opposite to that predicted by early proponents of MAD. Rather than forcing a convergence of doctrine and strategy upon the superpowers, it has helped to pull them, strategically speaking, farther and farther apart. The crucial factor has been the emergence of highly accurate nuclear warheads capable of destroying hardened military targets and even hardened missile silos. These so-called “counterforce” weapons endow “war-fighting” strategies of nuclear war—like those articulated in Soviet military writing—with a physical plausibility that they never previously had. Thus technology has introduced into the military arsenals of the superpowers a physical distinction corresponding to the strategic distinction between war-fighting and assured-destruction doctrines. MAD envisions a punitive strike at the society of the enemy; counterforce weapons make it at least physically possible to destroy missiles in their silos and thus to strike at the enemy’s weapons, the adversary’s physical ability to wage nuclear war.

Yet even these technological developments might have been weathered by MAD had the Soviet Union not moved so decisively to take advantage of them. It is critical to recognize that the Soviet Union responded to the emergence of counterforce technology in a manner fundamentally different from that of the United States, though in a fashion totally consistent with its own understanding of the function of nuclear arms. At this point in the nuclear era—if not before—there was a clear divergence in the behavior of the two superpowers. Throughout the 1970’s the Soviet Union moved unstintingly to develop and deploy as large a number of counterforce warheads as was practical. Faced at the same moment with the possibility of developing such counterforce capability, the United States deliberately decided to forgo its option, in the interest of preserving the relationship of mutual deterrence.

From 1969 to 1974 the United States exercised deliberate restraint in the development of warhead accuracy so as not to threaten Soviet assured-destruction capability. Thomas Wolfe summarized the U.S. action in a well-known study for the Rand Corporation, The SALT Experience:

From 1969 to 1979, it was U.S. declaratory policy, backed up by budgetary controls, not to develop highly accurate weapons that might threaten hardened Soviet military targets. This policy was not universally applauded on the U.S. side, as indicated by news accounts in August 1972 of Pentagon plans to accelerate the development of more accurate warheads but not to deploy them. Congress, however, rejected appropriations associated with these programs, illustrating continued congressional adherence to constraints upon improvement of U.S. counterforce capabilities. It was only during [James] Schlesinger’s tenure as Secretary of Defense that the declaratory policy against accuracy improvements was formally stopped with congressional approval.

In a pattern that was to be repeated again and again during the course of the decade, the Soviets failed to reciprocate the United States’ gesture of unilateral restraint—its “self-denying ordinance.”

That Soviet leaders would move in such a direction is hardly surprising in light of Soviet strategic thinking; at the same time, the deployment of counterforce weapons on a massive scale gave new credibility to the Soviet strategic formulations that had been long dismissed in the West as absurd.



Thanks to massive Soviet deployments of counterforce weapons, it began to become apparent in the middle of the last decade that by the early 1980’s the Soviet Union would have deployed a sufficient number of counterforce warheads to destroy 90 to 95 percent of U.S. land-based missiles in their silos, using only a small portion of its own intercontinental-ballistic-missile (ICBM) force. Since the U.S. submarine-based missiles that would remain intact do not currently possess counterforce capability, it seemed that the President might be left with the sole option of retaliating against such an attack with a “counter-value” strike against Soviet society, only to face far worse countervalue retribution in return.

Thus the Soviet build-up was operating to deprive us gradually of a credible retaliatory capacity. That we would have survivable missiles was not in doubt, but since the Soviets would possess an equal number and since the missiles could only be targeted effectively at civilian centers, there would be no possibility of U.S. retaliation short of mutual suicide. Even the Soviet first strike could produce casualties in the millions; but if retaliation meant 100 million more Americans dead, it was felt that the President’s hand would likely be stayed.

The plausibility of this scenario was widely criticized. But what is important to recognize is that ten years earlier, even the hint that the Soviets might be allowed to achieve such an advantage would have been greeted with an outpouring of public concern. At the same time it should be stressed that the controversy over the so-called “window of vulnerability” has to do with the likelihood that the Soviets would launch such an attack. Among knowledgeable people the technical reality of U.S. ICBM vulnerability is no longer a matter for dispute. It has been confirmed not only by the Defense Department but by the bipartisan report of the Scowcroft commission:

While Soviet operational missile performance in wartime may be somewhat less accurate than performance on the test range, the Soviets nevertheless now probably possess the necessary combinations of ICBM numbers, reliability, accuracy, and warhead yield to destroy almost all of the 1,047 U.S. ICBM silos using only a portion of their own ICBM force. The U.S. ICBM force now deployed cannot inflict similar damage, even using the entire force.

This passage is especially interesting in light of the popular conception that in the Scowcroft report the idea of a “window of vulnerability” was dismissed. It needs to be noted that the United States does not possess a comparable capacity visà-vis the Soviet Union. Because of the smaller size and lesser accuracy of U.S. warheads, it is estimated at present that even a full-scale preemptive American attack against the Soviet rocket force would leave about 65 percent of Soviet ICBM’s intact.

It is important to recognize that the military and political significance of the Soviet Union’s newly acquired preemptive capability does not rest on any foolish or simple-minded assumption that the Soviet leadership is somehow eager to make actual use of it. It has become customary in the nuclear debate to point out that the idea of a Soviet preemptive strike is preposterous and to assume that with this single stroke the argument is done. What is critical to grasp is that the missiles do not have to be fired to be of significant military and political weight.

To the degree that relations between opposing states remain peaceful, they are based on the calculation, rather than the actual employment, of military power, and it is this calculation that the growth of Soviet strength decisively upsets. Throughout the postwar period the security of the democracies has depended fundamentally on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella”; that is, the freedom of the West has been predicated on American strategic superiority, and American superiority has depended in turn on superiority in nuclear arms. (There is reason to lament the degree to which the West has neglected conventional military strength in favor of less expensive nuclear deployments, but that is a topic for another time and place.) To say that the American nuclear advantage has been cancelled by recent Soviet deployments understates the case. What people are pleased to call “parity,” on the basis of a definition artfully grown vaguer and vaguer over the years and months, is, from the standpoint of any operational military calculation, Soviet superiority—growing clearer and clearer almost by the day. To the degree that these calculations describe physical possibilities that could be made to come about, they cannot be dismissed. It is not necessary to assume that the Soviets want to wage nuclear war; indeed, hardly anyone in or out of the Reagan administration makes this assumption. It is only necessary to assume that the Soviets wish to banish from our minds any hope that if they chose to initiate such a struggle, we would have a chance to survive.

What tends to be forgotten, moreover, is that the whole controversy over Soviet nuclear “parity” takes place in a strategic climate of overwhelming Soviet superiority in conventional forces. Numerically the Soviet Union far outdistances the West in nearly every category of conventional weaponry, and in many areas the technological gap that once worked to the advantage of Western forces has virtually closed. Even if the Soviets were to succeed in shifting the strategic conflict entirely to the conventional level, they would gain an enormous advantage.

For a long time it was possible to explain the Soviet build-up as an effort to gain “parity.” And yet it is now obvious that the Soviet Union attained rough parity in nuclear armaments at least a decade ago and attained an assured-destruction capability some time before that. (The 1972 SALT I agreement, it should be remembered, allowed the Soviet Union a quantitative advantage of 800 intercontinental missiles, to compensate for what was understood to be American technological superiority and for the existence of 162 nuclear missiles in the British and French arsensals.)

Even now, the Soviets continue to construct powerful, counterforce-capable ICBM’s at the rate of nearly 200 a year. In the past decade, the Soviet Union has built a total of 2,000 ICBM’s. (For comparison, it should be noted that the U.S. built 350 ICBM’s during the same period; and even the controversial Scowcroft proposal concerning the MX envisions the construction of only 100 of these missiles.) In addition, 350 new, extremely accurate intermediate-range missiles have been deployed by the Soviets against Europe and Asia in the past six years.

Even in areas where the Soviet advantage is absurdly overpowering, construction continues at a fantastic rate. Warsaw Pact forces now enjoy roughly a 5-to-1 advantage over NATO forces in tank power, yet in 1981, for example, the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries built a total of 5,040 new battle tanks, as compared with a NATO and U.S. total for the same year of 760. From 1969 to 1975, U.S. defense spending actually declined in real terms, while Soviet spending grew at roughly a 4-percent real rate. For much of the later 70’s, the Soviet Union was outspending the United States by as much as 50 percent, on a much poorer economic base. To this day, in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s “massive build-up,” Soviet military spending substantially exceeds that of the U.S.3



In a democratic nation alive to the requirements of its own survival, such a series of dark developments might be expected to arouse a sense of emergency and call forth a new consensus. Nothing of the sort has occurred. The absence of a sense of crisis, moreover, is self-reinforcing; for if, as the public mood suggests, there is no real emergency, then why worry?

It is not MAD alone, of course, that has prevented acknowledgment of these new developments. Most of the really obvious changes have occurred in the past ten and many in the past five years—precisely the period during which American public opinion was occupied with the denouement of Vietnam and the crisis of Watergate. But critical in annulling any sense of emergency has been the vocal denial of extremely prestigious public figures—nearly all of them long-time partisans of MAD—that any real danger exists.

What is not widely understood, however, is that this denial is not factual but conceptual in character. No responsible opponent of the current administration denies the veracity of its reports concerning the Soviet military build-up; what is denied is that it matters. The basis for this denial lies in the MAD hypothesis: if the U.S. continues to possess an assured-destruction capability—and submarine warheads alone would seem to constitute such a force—then no Soviet actions, under the logic of MAD, could fundamentally threaten our security. However, this conceptual denial of the importance of recent developments has tended to become confused in the public mind with a factual denial of their existence, just as opposition to the theory of MAD has sometimes been confused with the disposition to risk, “hawkishly,” embarking on a nuclear war.

Yet it is worth asking whether the MAD hypothesis has not survived over the years simply by turning increasingly circular, tautological. In retrospect, the history of assured-destruction thinking since its original conceptualization appears more and more a history of denial and rhetorical retreat: denial, first, of the importance of Soviet strategic thinking; denial, next, of the military utility of ABM; denial of the unceasing Soviet build-up, both in its early stages and even now when the supposed goal of “parity” has long since been surpassed; denial even of the military and political significance of a Soviet first-strike capability.

At the same time, there has been a steady tactical retreat from confident assertions that the Soviets could be made to think and act toward nuclear weapons the way we do, to the qualified claim that it didn’t matter what they thought so long as they acted properly (the ABM treaty), to the current rather implausible avowals that nothing they think or do could ever make a difference.

Thus, after all the revelations of Soviet strategic thinking, after all the reversals in American hopes for arms control, after all the discredited predictions that the Soviets would stop building once they achieved assured destruction or “parity,” such a man as McGeorge Bundy can still write, without humor, that “on the nature of nuclear danger serious Soviet leaders and experts have repeatedly shown an understanding not essentially different from that which moved the [American Catholic] bishops.” In Bundy’s new formulation, mutual assured destruction has been transformed into something called “existential deterrence”—merely the latest name for the twenty-year-old idea of MAD.

In short, events and realities that to less committed observers might seem to have clear and definite implications for our strategic circumstances have successively been gainsaid or explained away in the service of the single hypothesis that assured destruction is enough. “The more of doubt,” says one of Robert Browning’s characters, “the stronger faith, I say/If faith o’ercomes doubt.” Against a cascade of doubts, MAD has proved a marvelously resilient creed.

Yet so preponderant has become the need to discount or explain away Soviet departures from MAD that the logic of deterrence is no longer applied in public debate with any consistency. MAD depends on what Glenn Snyder has termed “deterrence by pain”—as opposed to “deterrence by denial.” MAD strategists argue, in essence, that given the horrendous power of nuclear arms, the threat of pain—i.e., the threat of retaliation against an enemy society—should be sufficient to deter attack. War-fighting or counterforce strategies, by contrast, emphasize the importance of “denying” the enemy the military wherewithal to attain a decisive advantage or “victory” at whatever price. From the standpoint of deterrence by pain, the distinction between countervalue and counterforce weapons hardly matters, because both are capable of inflicting horrible punishment. For deterrence by denial, however, the distinction could become extremely important, since the emphasis falls on attacking the enemy’s means of doing battle.

On this basis, one could argue, perversely perhaps but still consistently, that if, as MAD suggests, the threat of pain should be sufficient to deter war, then a build-up of U.S. forces should not prove inherently dangerous to deterrence. That is because whatever additional armaments we may deploy, the Soviets will always possess the ability to inflict horrible pain in retaliation. Even U.S. possession of a first-strike capability would leave the Soviet Union with upward of 2,000 submarine-based warheads with which to retaliate—an assured-destruction capability if ever there was one. One could oppose a build-up on grounds that it was costly or wasteful, but not on the grounds that it would lead to war. In other words, for the same reason that we are counseled not to feel threatened by the Soviet build-up, the Soviets should not feel threatened by ours. If the logic of deterrence by pain is in fact valid, war should not be made more likely simply by a build-up on one side or another.

But conversely, if the mere belief by American leaders (however fallacious) that nuclear war were in some sense “winnable” would make war more likely—and this is the gravamen of the charge against the Reagan administration—then it follows that a similar belief by Soviet leaders (however fallacious) would have the same result. Our ability to inflict pain—i.e., our “assured-destruction capability”—would not in the final analysis be sufficient to deter.

Moreover, if, as is also often argued, moral suasion is insufficient to wean American leaders from this belief—if they must be denied the physical capability to accomplish what they would set out to do—then it follows that Soviet leaders also must be denied this capability. In America, we can place political pressure on the administration not to build the requisite weapons. But in the Soviet case such pressure on our part is futile. Indeed, the Soviets have already acquired the basic elements of a war-fighting capability and continue to acquire at a fantastic rate weapons whose only purpose is manifestly not to inflict pain but rather to circumscribe or if possible deny our ability to retaliate short of mutual suicide.

Furthermore, it is well established that Soviet strategy envisions even central nuclear war to be winnable (a fact borne out by the nature of Soviet deployments). Our only option is thus to take the measures to render the hope of victory not just humanly but militarily implausible. This means, in the end, acquiring a capacity to inflict equivalent military damage and doing what we can to insure the invulnerability of our retaliatory capability.

In short, once one steps out of the logic of deterrence by pain, or MAD pure and simple, it becomes essential to think about the operational capabilities of weapons that one never intends to use. The capacity to deter war—to prevent war defensively from occurring—becomes logically indistinguishable from the ability to fight one. The recommendation to meet the Soviet build-up with a build-up of our own, therefore, comes not from belligerence or “imperial ambitions” on the part of American leaders, but simply from the straightforward necessity of securing our safety.



The logic of MAD, in other words, has been applied in recent years more and more one-sidedly—to deter us from acquiring weapons to match and counter the Soviet build-up. In this way well-intentioned people have endeavored to stop the “arms race”; but the arms race is not war, and in stopping the arms race we are taking measures that logic and history suggest are making war more likely by making it more “thinkable”—for Soviet leaders.

The thinking embodied in MAD and arms control has tended to skew our discussions of these matters, so that we have come to debate the decision to acquire new weapons as though we were debating a decision to use them—as though adding to our arsenal, even for avowedly defensive purposes, were equivalent to launching an attack. The peculiarity of this position needs to be appreciated. At a time when the Soviet Union is adding MIRVed ICBM’s to its arsenal at the rate of 175 to 200 per year, building hundreds of new aircraft, scores of new naval vessels, and thousands of new tanks, public figures in the United States rail against the procurement of the MX missile—the first new U.S. ICBM to be contemplated in over a decade—as though it were a heinous crime.

Indeed, the metaphors that we employ in political discourse routinely treat the mere procurement of weapons as an action equivalent to murder. Writing of the administration’s plans for a build-up, Theodore Draper has commented that deterrence “may yet equal liberty for the number of crimes committed in its name.” But an important distinction is being overlooked here. The “sins” committed in the name of liberty involved the actual killing of human beings; what Draper is discussing is merely a U.S. build-up undertaken to counter Soviet deployments and to deter aggression—i.e., precisely to prevent such weapons from being used. Yet he speaks as if the mere procurement of a weapon constituted an atrocity.

Even the Catholic bishops have contributed to this moral perspective, describing the “arms race” in their pastoral letter as an “act of aggression” against “the poor.” It may be that if defense spending were reduced throughout the world there would be more spending for the poor. But the United States is arming with the intention of defending itself, and not of persecuting its less fortunate citizens. So remote has public discussion in the West grown from the life-and-death realities of politics that we seem at times to have lost the capacity to differentiate between maintenance of peacetime defenses and the actual waging of war.

Little wonder that, in this looking-glass moral universe where arming for self-defense tends to be counted as equivalent to murder, an American administration has difficulty making a persuasive ethical case for its defense policies. But it must be understood that the moral objections to the administration’s stance arise chiefly because the proponents of MAD succeed again and again in explaining away the rather simple and obvious strategic justification for the administration’s actions. As a result, the debate must be conducted on the basis of premises so remote from the military realities with which policy-makers must cope that even the modest successes achieved by the administration in the public forum seem surprising. Our whole discourse about nuclear weapons is dominated by a moral vision rooted in discredited strategic assumptions—assumptions at best appropriate to the strategic reality of 1965 or 1972 and in any case wholly irrelevant to the vastly changed circumstances of the present. Yielding to the temptation to play to this pervasive “moral” outlook, the administration has ended up more often than not with a lame, self-contradictory compromise between its own straightforward strategic logic and the prevailing nuclear orthodoxies.



But what of the more common worry that the existence of a stronger American arsensal might conceivably tempt American leaders toward adventurousness or a dangerous confrontation, or the more serious charge that elements in the current administration would be willing, under certain circumstances, to initiate a nuclear war? The latter charge, in particular, is rendered simply incredible by the actual state of the American arsensal when compared with that of the Soviet Union. No nation would be contemplating war in such a state of military disarray. The United States has nothing like the superiority of forces that would allow it to envision attacking the Soviet Union, whether by nuclear or conventional means. Moreover, as the current administration is well aware, nothing in its defense programs envisions such superiority, or even, for that matter, “parity,” if “parity” is very strictly defined. It is worth remembering that every major new strategic system advocated by President Reagan—the MX missile, the B-1 bomber, the Trident submarine—was originally proposed by previous administrations.

Indeed, the notion that the Reagan administration is contemplating war, for all its recent popular currency, is little less than ludicrous. Much has been made of the administration’s supposedly fervent anti-Communism. But a government that cannot even bring itself to declare default on loans to Communist Poland or to withhold sales of wheat from the Soviet bloc to gain political and military leverage is hardly in a position to make the enormous economic sacrifices that would attend upon the actual waging of war. Besides, whatever various U.S. economic interest groups may gain from the “arms race,” the West has nothing economically to gain from a war with the East. (For the East, of course, the situation is quite the opposite; much of the Soviet build-up has been designed to gain economic access to the West, preferably by political threats based on military power rather than the direct use of military means.) Our historical interest is not in conquest, but rather in securing trading partners—so much so that we can hardly restrain our commercial men from trading with our chief adversary even when such trade helps to build the Soviet military machine. There is simply nothing in the makeup of the Western commercial democracies to lead them to want war with the Soviet Union. That this needs to be said at all is a measure of how far we have fallen from basic self-understanding. What is ironic is that Soviet officials, for all their disingenuous protestations to the contrary, are more aware of these realities than many of our own citizens

At the same time, there is a point at which refusal to confront amounts to open retreat, and it is here that we must face up to the implications of possessing nuclear weapons. The world is still a dangerous place, and the political freedom of the West rests in the final analysis on the strength of the American arsenal. The vast economic power of America and Western Europe avails nothing if at the critical moment this economic power could not be translated into military force. Yet we seem at once too craven and too greedy to be willing to pay for our own defense.

Many in Europe and America appear to have convinced themselves that totalitarian rule would be tolerable. For these it is useful to remember that the combined casualties of this century’s two world wars did not yet equal the number who died under Communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe before, during, and after World War II. Nazi Germany was responsible for the extermination of six million Jews; Communist Russia, by moderate estimates, for the murder of ten times that many people. To this day some two million people suffer in concentration camps in the Soviet Union. Hundreds are committed to psychiatric hospitals for “political” offenses. And the worst horrors of the Great Purge are being reenacted today in Afghanistan, where thousands have been subject to summary executions and the most appalling tortures—to which the Western democracies, as is their wont, turn a deaf ear. These—and not the “arms race”—are the horrors of our time.

Yet there is one important step in addition to upgrading our nuclear forces that can be taken toward reducing the chances of nuclear war: it is to deploy conventional forces in sufficient numbers to deter aggression in Europe and other areas of “vital interest”—which is only to say where the Soviet Union may threaten the West itself or the very basis of the West’s long-term survival. There is very broad support, in principle, for such a proposal. But unfortunately, many who have campaigned most vociferously against nuclear arms have also worked to close off this critical alternative. The American Catholic bishops offer an emphatic critique of the “first use” of nuclear weapons in Europe, but are considerably less clear regarding the only viable alternative—namely, a build-up of conventional forces. Many Senators and Congressmen who campaign against the MX also consistently vote against increases in the defense budget that would expand conventional procurement. At a time when the conventional forces of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations outnumber those of the Western alliance by several times, our legislators have set off on a crusade against “waste” in the Pentagon, whose inevitable effect is to erode already shaky public support for defense spending generally.



All this is done in the service of what are understood to be moral goals. Yet throughout this debate we have been tending to treat as “moral choices” what, in light of accumulated facts, barely appear to be “choices” at all, let alone choices in which ethical considerations could be held paramount. It is not merely that Soviet forces are gaining on the United States; it is that by every measure that could be counted meaningful, the Soviets have overtaken us. We talk as though the decision facing us were between maintaining parity and acquiring some kind of strategic “superiority,” when the choice is in fact between bare parity and an inferiority in both nuclear and conventional armaments that increases by the month. We talk of “threatening” the Soviet Union, as though we had the comparative force to make that any more a real option. Given our history, it is only natural that we would conduct these discussions in an atmosphere of confidence, assuming that we had the ability to choose among a plethora of options. Through most of our postwar history such discussions have occurred in a climate of American freedom and strategic superiority. What Americans fail to understand are the implications of having come to an end of this era.

It has now become almost axiomatic in public debate that an adequate ethical response to the problems posed by nuclear weapons requires a heightened moral awareness. Yet so plain are the horrors of nuclear war, and so inescapable are the problems facing us, that it is hardly clear anything more than ordinary decency is required to form an adequate moral response. The fundamental moral imperatives of our time would seem both simple and apparent: to prevent nuclear war, and to prevent at least the existing democracies from falling under totalitarian rule. One need not be a saint or a visionary or a moral philosopher to understand and embrace these goals. Indeed, it can be argued that from the beginning of the nuclear era, decent people in the democracies have never wanted anything else. In this debate the really critical questions facing us are not in the strict sense moral but rather political and strategic. It is on a clearer understanding of these latter issues that our survival now urgently depends.




1 This point is discussed in Robert Jastrow's article, “Reagan vs. the Scientists: Why the President Is Right about Missile Defense,” which appeared in last month's COMMENTARY.

2 For a fuller description of the apolitical character of assured-destruction thinking, see Wendell John Coats, Jr., “The Ideology of Arms Control,” Journal of Contemporary Studies 5, no. 3, Summer 1982.

3 Even the latest revised CIA estimates, according to published reports, state that Soviet military spending exceeded that of the U.S. by 25 percent in 1981.

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