Over the last decade, the strategic competition between the United States and the Soviet Union has been transformed. From a clear American superiority, by all criteria of measurement, the balance has tilted to an increasingly precarious parity. A net American inferiority, in all dimensions of capability, is projected by 1985. At the same time, the strategic-nuclear arsenals of both the Soviet Union and the United States have increased very greatly in power, and expenditures on strategic forces and their ancillaries have grown considerably. All these changes have taken place under the aegis of an American strategic policy dominated by arms-control objectives. Clearly something must be very wrong with our pursuit of arms control, especially in the Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT) negotiations. But what?
Whatever is wrong with arms control, it is not the essential theory, whose logic is perfectly sound.
Imagine a world of two identical countries, X and Y, whose array of forces is also identical. Let X make preparations to build a new weapon, say, a bomber. Faced with an emerging bomber force in X, the leaders of Y can choose between two instruments of strategic statecraft, force-building or arms conrol.
One force-building response is defensive; in this case, it would mean deploying fighters and antiaircraft weapons capable of intercepting the new bombers. The other response is competitive; country Y could build a bomber force of its own (or some other offensive force) to offset whatever political or military gains X hoped to achieve with its new bomber force.
As Y reacts to X and vice-versa, an additional and purely mechanical source of tension will arise between the two countries, even if each has good information about the actions of the other (so that surprises and overreactions can both be avoided). If, for example, Y’s progress in building air defenses lags behind X’s bomber effort, Y will be faced with an interval of vulnerability. At worst, it may be tempted to launch a preventive attack to destroy X’s nascent bomber force before it becomes ready to operate. Even less drastic alternatives, such as the accelerated deployment of bombers or other offensive weapons, to offset by competition what cannot be negated by defense, will open new channels of force-building, which will unfailingly generate their own instabilities. If the information that each side has about the other is not good, with odd glimpses of truth or falsehood dimly perceived through walls of secrecy, action and reaction could be altogether more dangerous. But this case is irrelevant here, since without good information, arms control is not feasible either.
Even if no preventive wars break out, the best result that the force-building response can yield, is that the two countries will acquire a matched set of bombers and anti-bomber defenses. While they are reaching this new equilibrium, scarce resources will have been expended, new weapons will have come into existence to add to the violence of an eventual war, and the military and military-industrial interests in each country will have been strengthened, thus making it that much more likely that there will be yet more military competition between X and Y. And when the new offensive and defensive weapons are fully deployed, neither country will have gained any lasting advantage in physical security or political power. Moreover, any temporary advantage gained by either along the way will have entailed a corresponding risk of conflict, generated precisely by the imbalance which yielded that advantage in the first place.
The force-building approach guarantees these grim results, while also increasing the risk of war. Arms control, by contrast, offers the possibility of a zero-cost and low-risk solution to the same predicament.
Provided with early information of X’s bomber-building intentions, let Y open negotiations. Assuming that the leaders of X are rational, and assuming further that they do believe that Y will react to their bomber effort with equivalent force-building of their own, the leaders of both X and Y should be able to agree in principle that the best course for both would be to foreclose the new channel of competition. At this point, matters can proceed to detailed technical negotiations, in order to agree on precise descriptions of the bombers to be prohibited, and to define the means of inspection which will be used by both sides to verify compliance. If the difficulties of drafting can be overcome, and mutually acceptable verification arrangements can be made, both sides will have avoided the costs of building new forces, as well as the risks they generate. The two countries will also have averted a further increase in the overall destructive potential of the military forces that any war might unleash, and, moreover, they will have prevented an increase in the role of the military and industrial interests of each society.
The same happy result may be achieved without any actual negotiations, through unilateral or tacit arms control. For example, country X may be initiating its bomber program in reaction to some tentative weapons-building plans being discussed in Y. If so, Y may pursue unilateral arms control by formally renouncing any intention of acquiring the weapons being considered, so long as X exercises similar restraint. Or else, to avoid provoking X with an offer of mutual restraint that could easily be misinterpreted as a polite ultimatum, Y may practice tacit as well as unilateral arms control by demonstratively abandoning plans to build the weapons which were triggering X’s bomber effort, while leaving the conditions of its restraint implicit.
To some ears, unilateral arms control has defeatist connotations, but whether arms control is negotiated or unilateral, declared or tacit, is in fact of little consequence; the different methods can yield exactly the same beneficial results.
In this elementary and abstract formulation, the merits of arms control as a tool of national strategy are compelling. As compared to force-building, it offers a fully equivalent degree of security, and indeed a higher degree of security in many cases, at a much lower risk of instability and war, at no cost, without any increase in the ultimate destructive potential of war arsenals, and also without the deformations of society caused by the artificial growth of military-industrial interests. Whatever is wrong with arms control, then, it is clearly not its logic.
To be sure, this model of the basic theory is highly artificial, assuming, as it does, only two identical countries, with identical weapons-building capabilities and also good information. When these artificial assumptions are waived, practical obstacles arise.
For example, once the real world of many powers is accepted into the model, the scope of arms control may diminish. Country X may be deploying its bombers against country Z rather than against country Y; as far as Y is concerned, the threat to its security is real nonetheless, but in this case it cannot hope to dispose of the problem by negotiating a bilateral arms-limitation agreement with X, and still less can it hope to dissuade X by unilateral restraint and tacit bargaining. There does remain the possibility of multilateral arms control, with Z being brought in along with X and Y, but that would complicate matters severely, and might fail (even with ample good will all around) simply because of the sequence and phasing of the various force-building efforts. If, for instance, X is building its bombers in response to some effort by Z, undertaken by Z in the first place to react against the weapons being deployed by yet another country, by the time Y moves to negotiate limitations, X may be confronting weapons already being produced in country Z, and it in turn may be facing a force already deployed in country A.
And then, of course, countries are not identical, and neither are their weapons. In our model, the decisive argument that Y advances to persuade X to agree to bomber limitations is that Y can and will nullify whatever military or political gains X may be hoping to obtain from its new bombers. But if X is richer and more advanced than Y, its leaders may remain unpersuaded, and may calculate instead that Y will not be able to afford the resources needed to nullify their bomber effort. Alternatively, the leaders of X may concede that Y does have the resources needed to make their bomber program unprofitable, but they may also believe that Y’s rulers lack the political will to react, or that Y’s populace may refuse to make the necessary sacrifices. In either case, arms control may be impossible.
Variety in weapons characteristics is as great a problem as variety in the countries that build them. If X is planning to build weapons of a given type, and Y of another, the two countries may disagree about their respective capabilities, thus failing to agree on criteria for reciprocal limitations. It is enormously difficult to find any objective standard to measure the capabilities of dissimilar weapons: strategic bombers may have more pay-load than strategic missiles, but the performance of the latter may be more reliable, especially if anti-bomber defenses are deployed while antimissile defenses are not. Even within the same category of weapons, comparisons are very difficult. (Until quite recently there was disagreement on the capabilities of the new Soviet Backfire bomber even within different agencies of the same U.S. government.) In practice, each side may privately believe that its own weapons are superior, while arguing the opposite in arms-control negotiations. (“If you are allowed to build fifty of your large-payload bombers, then our side must be allowed to build a hundred of our little missiles.”)
Even if there is no deliberate manipulation—which the internal politics of arms control does tend to encourage—there is much scope for honest disagreement. Prudent defense planners must be conservative in assessing the performance of their own forces (thus evaluating downward) while being equally conservative in estimating the enemy’s strength (thus evaluating upward). In their calculations, prudent country Y planners must accordingly assume that all the bombers of country X are fully operational when needed, and that very few would be intercepted by Y’s defenses, while at the same time making all due allowance for technical failures, enemy intercepts, and maintenance rotation when estimating the capabilities of their own weapons. And of course country X planners must make the opposite assumptions. With prudent evaluation on both sides, there is therefore a systematic difference in the weight that each side gives to the forces of the other.
Geographic and demographic differences compound the difficulty of evaluating weapons and forces. If the forward bases of country Y are quite close to the main cities of X, then the two sides may disagree on what is a “strategic” weapon at all. From the X-country point of view, Y’s light bombers might as well be heavy since they only have a short way to travel. But it may be very difficult to secure an agreement in which Y’s light bombers are counted on the same footing as Y’s heavies: any departure from clear-cut parities is likely to meet much resistance. Differences of demographic structure are of particular importance in today’s world of nuclear forces aimed at entire national populations. If country X is largely urban, with some high proportion of its population in a few large city areas, while Y’s population is significantly more dispersed, then the destructive potential of identical nuclear forces will be correspondingly different. Country X is not likely to agree to a treaty that limits each side to, say, fifty identical missiles, if Y’s fifty missiles can kill 70 per cent of X’s population while X’s identical force can only kill, say, 7 per cent of Y’s population. Of course, a formula that equalizes vulnerability rather than the forces themselves could be written into a treaty. But again, as matters are made more complicated, agreement becomes correspondingly less likely.
And then there is the still greater problem of information. Nowadays, the superpowers have reliable observation satellites, and indeed much of the whole arms-control phenomenon has been brought into existence by their development. It is well known that TV and film cameras carried into space by orbiting satellites can produce very precise images of the ground below for immediate transmission, or in a more accurate and secure form, the data can also be recovered on film. (Capsules released from orbiting satellites in space are caught at low altitudes in a rather spectacular manner by transport aircraft equipped with nets.) But if satellite observation is available for arms-control inspection, it is equally available to find targets for a disarming “counter-force” attack. This provides an automatic incentive to build exactly those types of strategic weapons (mobile and/or concealed) which cannot be reliably located by satellite observation, and the qualities which protect against attack must also prevent inspection for arms control.
In retrospect, it seems clear that the advent of satellite observation in the 1960’s did not truly abolish strategic secrecy, thus assuring the information needed for arms control forever after; satellites merely opened a temporary window in the wall of secrecy because of the sheer coincidence that the weapons of the 1960’s happened to be large and easily identifiable. Satellite observation came along precisely when the weapons that the cameras could identify and count were being deployed. Nowadays, by contrast, we have new types of weapons, including both cruise and ballistic missiles, which are mobile or small, or both, and thus easily concealed from satellite observation. While it is virtually impossible to hide fixed-site ballistic missiles properly housed in their concrete “silos,” or the yards in which submarines are built, thousands of cruise missiles could be kept fully concealed quite easily. It is true that the scrutiny of the satellites, and all the incidental knowledge of industry which they provide, would undoubtedly allow us to determine whether or not some large number of mobile missiles had been built, but satellite cameras could not be used to count these weapons with any precision, any more than they could help us to fix their position for a disarming counterforce attack.
This brings to the surface the peculiar paradox of arms control over the cruise missile. The qualities of the cruise missile which subvert the procedures of negotiated limitations are precisely the qualities which also achieve the substantive purposes of arms control. Because cruise missiles are small, inherently mobile, and therefore easily concealed, it is a hopeless task to devise any treaty to limit them that would rest on any serious assurance of verification. But their small size is also the reason that cruise missiles are relatively cheap. Further, since these small and easily concealed weapons are not vulnerable to disarming counter-force attacks, rival cruise-missile forces should be quite stable: neither side could hope to disarm the other in a surprise attack, so that both sides can be secure. Thus not only the costs, but also the risks generated by these weapons, are inherently smaller than those of the fixed-site ballistic missiles now deployed. It follows that as far as cruise missiles are concerned, the best form of arms control may be no control at all.
But the nexus between arms control and the information needed to draft treaties and to verify compliance entails a deeper and ultimately more sinister paradox. If all obstacles are overcome and arms-control treaties are duly negotiated to constrain all that can be constrained with adequate verification, the ironical result might be to displace the strategic competition from the large weapons of classic form that are easily identified and counted, to weapons that have neither attribute. In a world of many powers, each with its own distinct internal politics of resource-allocation, and each with its own circle of friends and enemies, it is entirely unlikely that arms-control efforts, however successful, can achieve more than to prohibit the deployment of specific weapons and forces. The hope, sometimes expressed, that arms control may in itself bring the strategic competition to an end is supported neither by the pure logic of arms control nor by the experience of its practice.
Successful arms-control efforts will therefore channel the competition for military power into the development of those weapons which are not subject to limitations because they cannot be identified and counted. In this way, the very success of arms control may eventually create a situation of the most dangerous instability, in which all sides are working on small and easily concealed weapons which can suddenly appear fully operational to confront unready opponents. With each side knowing that it may be faced by strategic surprise at any time, maximum incentives for competition, and for preventive war, will have been created.
It is true that even at present the imponderable results of research efforts conducted in the secrecy of military laboratories entail a permanent danger of instability. But the large-scale force-building efforts now conducted openly (because arms control is not effective) provide a double guarantee against destabilizing surprise. First, the sheer scale of the visible efforts implies a corresponding limitation on the resources flowing into secret force-building activities; second, the large and diversified forces now deployed provide a high degree of insurance that the sudden emergence of any revolutionary new weapon will not undermine stability. This indeed is the logic of current American deployment. The land-based missiles, the submarine systems, and the long-range bombers could all be neutralized quite suddenly by the emergence of revolutionary devices. But simultaneous breakthroughs in all the very different scientific areas involved are most unlikely.
Neither guarantee can survive in the wake of prolonged and successful arms-control efforts, through which the forces in place will have been greatly reduced in size and diversification, and through which overt force-building efforts will have been greatly diminished or even eliminated, thus releasing abundant resources for less visible activities. True, secrecy is much more easily maintained in laboratory research than in engineering development, when weapons are taken out to be tested, but this does not dispose of the problem. Even if the tests of some revolutionary new weapon that threatens to undermine stability were duly observed and properly understood, it might take years for development to catch up, and in the meantime the prospect of unilateral vulnerability will be an incentive to preventive war. This, then, is the ultimate irony: the inherent limits that information sets on the scope of arms control may mean that the final reward of sustained success in arms control will be the utter defeat of its goals.
Still, even when all these practical problems and all these dangers of varying likelihood are taken into account, arms control remains in principle a much more desirable alternative than force-building.
Bilateral arms control is undoubtedly easier to achieve than arms control in the real world of many powers, but then multilateral agreements are scarcely an impossibility, either. Negotiations will be more complicated when many parties are involved, but on the other hand, the existence of alliances may offer solutions denied in the pure bilateral case of country X and country Y. For example, alliances can help to overcome the difficulties that emerge when the artificial assumption of identical countries is waived. Country Y may be too poor, or too irresolute, effectively to discourage X from opening a new channel of competition by building its bombers, but an alliance of Y and Z may together dissuade X by convincingly threatening to nullify the gains of its bomber program through a joint force-building effort of their own.
As for differences in weapons characteristics, and the built-in asymmetry caused by conservative evaluations on each side, these certainly create many difficulties, but they are after all of a purely technical character, and patient negotiations by technical experts should in principle be able to overcome such problems.
Much the same goes for geographic and demographic differences between the parties. Given good will, or rather a rational appreciation of the mutual advantages of restraint, there is no reason why formulas could not be found to equalize the asymmetries. If Y’s light bombers can reach the main cities of X as easily as X’s heavy bombers can travel the much greater distance to Y’s cities deep inland, then the two physically different forces can be evaluated by their actual effectiveness against their respective targets, and then limited accordingly in a treaty. Similarly, if X is inherently more vulnerable to nuclear bombardment because of its higher population densities, Y’s weapons can be more severely restricted so as to yield equality in destructive power under an arms-limitation treaty.
Even the paradox of visibility and vulnerability, as well as the long-term effects of arms control over the more visible weapons which release resources for more unstable invisible weapons, does not make arms control futile. If cruise missiles inherently achieve the substantive aims of arms control, let the negotiations focus on the many other costly and destabilizing weapons now being built. As for the long-term problem, it may well be argued that in the presence of today’s luxuriant force-building, the immediate gains of economy and safety that arms control can yield are of much greater consequence than the remote dangers which successful arms control may eventually cause in the very long term. Certainly these hypothetical dangers need not deter the modest efforts now under way.
Whatever is wrong with arms control, therefore, it is not the various practical difficulties, each of which can be overcome, at least in part.
If our arms-control model is brought still nearer to reality by substituting the Soviet Union and the United States for X and Y, a new set of difficulties immediately arises. The Soviet Union undoubtedly lacks the attributes of an ideal partner for arms control; indeed, some might say that it is grotesquely miscast for the part.
The first obstacle is the Soviet negotiating style. If a unilateral concession is made to Soviet negotiators for the sake of “generating a positive atmosphere,” the Soviet side will take what is given but will under no circumstances volunteer a reciprocal concession. It is not that Soviet diplomats are necessarily tougher than Western negotiators or even that their conduct is a symptom of inflexibility. It is merely a question of method. Soviet negotiators insist on treating each issue quite separately, making the best bargain they can in each case. They do not try to smooth the path to agreement by yielding on lesser points for the sake of the common interest in the outcome of the negotiations as a whole.
There is training and tradition behind this method; there may also be fear, personal fear. Soviet diplomats must clearly remember what happened to their colleagues during the earlier stages of the purge period under Stalin, when very many were killed or deported on the charge that they had betrayed the Soviet side in international negotations by making unnecessary concessions. (In the later stages of the great purge, this was no longer the case: mere contact with foreigners was then often sufficient evidence of treason.) But whatever the reason, Soviet negotiators invariably seek to make each bargain as specific as possible, and far from trying to create a good “negotiating climate,” will sometimes deliberately stage episodes of uncivil conduct as a bargaining tactic, to intimidate the other side or just to distract attention.
None of this need matter very much in negotiations where single issues must be decided by straightforward bargaining. One can certainly agree on the price of a shipment of apples with Soviet traders as well as one can with their British or French counterparts. But in trying to negotiate significant arms-control measures, one must almost invariably trade across the issues, since the variety of weapons characteristics and all the other asymmetries make issue-by-issue bargaining very difficult.
In Western diplomatic practice, negotiators often make “good-will” exchanges to one another to help overcome technical complexities and other intractable obstacles to agreement. If Britons and Americans are negotiating on the price of apples today and will move on to determine the price of pears tomorrow, and there is sharp disagreement on both, one side may well yield on the price of the apples in the expectation that the other side will feel duty-bound to show flexibility when negotiations move on to pears. In dealing with Soviet negotiators, by contrast, the full difficulty of resolving the apple issue will have to be confronted, and when the discussions move on to the pears, the process must begin all over again, with neither side having good-will points in hand to make an agreement any easier. Given the inherent complexities of arms-control negotiations, and the great scope for sharp disagreements on hard technical questions, it is evident that issue-by-issue bargaining may sometimes make agreement quite impossible.
A second and more serious obstacle to arms control with the Soviet Union is the very nature of its politics. The logic of arms control depends on the recognition of a common interest in avoiding force-building which can bring no national advantage. In our initial example, country X refrains from building its planned bomber force because it calculates that after Y has duly reacted, it will have gained no net benefit, “it” being the country as a whole, rather than its soldiers and weapons builders. But if country X is the Soviet Union, then the logic may not apply at all.
In American politics, arms contractors have some political leverage, especially on Capitol Hill, since they employ quite a few constituents. (In fact, the arms industry seems to have more influence than the soft-drink bottlers, though of course much less than the dairy farmers.) But in the Soviet Union the “metal eaters,” as the party leaders who run the military industries are known, are not just one interest group among many, as in the United States, but rather core members of the major coalition of Soviet politics. The key to the ability of the “metal eaters” to claim such a large proportion of Soviet economic resources seems to be their alliance with the secret police at one end—whose calls for “vigilance” and whose repressions are justified by the fancied menace of NATO and of the Chinese—and, at the other, with the armed forces, which of course have a direct consumer interest in military production.
The politics of the Kremlin are poorly understood, but virtually all our experts agree that the coalition of the KGB, soldiers, and military-production managers is a major force in shaping policy. It follows that within the Soviet Union there is powerful and systematic pressure for more force-building—in fact, there is every reason to believe that the coalition only allowed Brezhnev to embark upon the policy of détente on condition that the military build-up would continue as before, if not actually accelerate. This state of affairs naturally restricts the scope of arms control, since the common interest on which it must be based cannot be the Soviet “society-wide” interest in economy and safety. Instead, there is only the much narrower overlap between the general U.S. interest on the one hand, and the highly specialized interests of the Soviet military-production coalition on the other. American SALT negotiators were given some idea of the peculiar autonomy of the “metal eaters,” even at a fairly high level in the Soviet government, when a senior Russian delegate privately asked his American counterpart to persuade his colleagues to stop discussing the details of Soviet forces in front of the Soviet foreign-ministry types in the delegation.
Another serious obstacle to arms control is the traditional Russian passion for secrecy. Even after many years of supposedly intimate negotiations on strategic forces, the Russians refuse to disclose any meaningful information about the characteristics of their weapons and the structure of their forces, let alone about their force-building plans; there is not even any substitute discussion of Soviet strategy and doctrine. It has been reported that in SALT both delegations use only American data, for Soviet as well as for American forces; apparently the Soviet delegates have not even disclosed the proper designations of their weapons (that is why the terminology of the 1972 SALT-1 accords is so vague, with references to “ballistic-missile launchers of older types” and so on, in lieu of any precise designation). Of course, satellite observation can provide a reliable count of strategic weapons, so long as they are fairly large, of classic form, and actually deployed. However, not even the magic of high-resolution cameras, scanning computers, and electronic intelligence can reveal weapons until after they have been tested, and sometimes not until they are actually deployed. Unfortunately, the success of arms control often depends on information at the earliest possible stage of the force-building cycle and certainly before production is under way. If country Y finds out about X’s bombers only when the prototypes begin to appear on the testing airstrip, it will usually be too late to negotiate limitations. Within country X, the bomber effort will have acquired momentum, if only because much of the total cost will have been paid already, and Y on the other hand cannot have much confidence in a limitation treaty if X already has developed prototypes, ready for large-scale production at any time. The Soviet refusal to publish future deployment plans—as the United States does—or indeed anything at all specific about its military forces, past, present, or future, therefore restricts the scope of arms control rather seriously.
The Russian passion for secrecy also diminishes the scope of arms control by making verification extremely difficult. Satellite observation is once again crucial, but for all the remarkable detail of the photography, and the valuable performance data that can be obtained from electronic intelligence, the information may nevertheless be too ambiguous to give sufficient confidence for proper verification: data which are technically very good may be worthless because Soviet secrecy denies the wider circumstantial knowledge that can give them meaning. When Soviet satellite cameras photograph a missile-like object on some American testing site, Soviet analysts can usually identify the missile quite easily and they can then consult an abundance of published information on the exact specifications of the missile, its particular mission, the number to be built, and so on. By contrast, American analysts provided with a similar photograph can do no better than guess the mission of the weapon and make very tentative estimates of its range and payload. Usually the numbers to be built cannot be estimated at all: the counting can begin only when the weapons are actually being deployed. Even then, doubts may remain; for all we know, there could be hundreds of uncounted strategic missiles kept in concealed places other than the characteristic operational launchers easily recognized in satellite photographs. In practice, this means that in dealing with the Soviet Union, standards of verification must be relaxed, or else many arms-control hopes must be abandoned. In either case, the scope for genuine—that is, properly verified—arms control is considerably restricted. Arms control without high-confidence verification is a contradiction in terms. It does not lessen the risks of conflict but increases them, and it does not diminish incentives to force-building but makes them stronger. Low-confidence verification is not a substitute for proper inspection procedures, and it is not even a good device to mask unilateral disarmament.
Another peculiarity of Soviet statecraft which affects arms control, or rather the observance of its agreed limitations, is the Soviet penchant for the use of probing tactics. Like the hotel thief who will not break a lock but who will walk down the corridors trying each door in the hope of finding one carelessly left open, Soviet policy constantly probes such arms limitations as there are, to exploit any gaps in American vigilance, as well as any loopholes in the agreed texts. For example, under the terms of Article IV of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, no nuclear weapons may be placed in orbit around the earth. The Russians are not known to have sent up weapon satellites equipped with nuclear warheads, but they have continued to test the so-called FOBS version of the SS-9 heavy missiles since signing the treaty; with FOBS delivery, these large nuclear-capable missiles do not quite complete a full orbit around the earth, but rather descend to earth just before doing so. In this way, the Russians have tested a weapon (which may or may not have carried a nuclear warhead) without precisely violating the terms of the agreement, which defines space vehicles as those completing at least one full orbit around the earth.
An altogether more serious probing operation also failed to evoke firm American reaction. The 1972 ABM treaty, actually the only really significant arms-control measure in force at present, prohibits not only the deployment but also the development and testing of mobile systems designed to intercept ballistic missiles (Article V). In a “common understanding” appended to the treaty on April 13, 1972, the Soviet Union further agreed that the development and testing of any non-fixed ABM component was forbidden by the treaty. However, for the last five years there have been persistent reports from authoritative intelligence sources that the Soviet Union has violated the treaty by testing components of mobile ABM systems at the Kapustin Yar and Shary Sagan ranges. It seems that there have been intermittent American complaints about these tests but no really determined action. It appears to be Soviet diplomatic doctrine that if the injured party does not resist such probing, it is actually giving its tacit consent, so that the violations are thereby virtually legitimized.
There are no doubt many observers who would dismiss each of these separate points as trivial, arguing quite simply that the Russians cannot be trusted to keep the agreements they sign, least of all important arms-control agreements. It is certainly true that the constant duplicity of Soviet public discourse scarcely inspires confidence. The Soviet press, radio, and television and all the overseas outlets of Soviet propaganda, do not merely slant the news and distort history, as many others do, but also disseminate a great quantity of outright falsehood, obviously quite deliberately. In the Soviet media, one may read stories full of circumstantial details about secret American cooperation in South African nuclear-weapons efforts, about the Nazi experts who instruct the Israeli General Staff, about CIA payoffs to Soviet dissidents, about West German plots against Czechoslovakia’s independence [sic], and so on. At a more prosaic level, there is constant lying in newspaper articles which compare the Soviet and the Western standards of living, and these are lies known to be such by those who write them, by the typesetters, the proofreaders, the censors, and all but the most ignorant readers. All governments engage in lying, but in the Soviet Union deliberate and massive public falsehood is very much a normal circumstance, by now no doubt widely accepted as such. This naturally inspires doubts about the sincerity of any Soviet statements, and about the reliability of any Soviet undertakings, including those written into the texts of treaties.
Nevertheless, although the Soviet Union has violated many treaty commitments, this has mostly occurred in its dealings with the weak. There have been few outright violations of agreements signed with the United States, and of these violations, most have been quite small, in accordance with the slow tempo of Soviet probing tactics. (A recent outright violation was an exception. Article 4 of the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War of June 22, 1973 required the Soviet Union to inform the United States of Arab preparations for the 1973 war, about which the Russians clearly knew a great deal. A mere 104 days passed between the signature of the agreement and its clear-cut violation.) Naturally the Soviet Union does not live up to the “spirit” of international understandings, but there is no duplicity at all in this case because Soviet diplomacy explicitly rejects that concept. In fact, Soviet leaders have been frank in stating that only the actual language of treaties is binding, so that everything not explicitly disallowed will be treated as fair game by them. It has been Western statesmen who have insisted that this or that summit, or treaty, has generated a binding “spirit” of cooperation.
A nation of lawyers such as ours should hardly be incapable of dealing with this particular problem. The Soviet refusal to accept voluntary inhibitions for the sake of the “spirit” of things merely requires that arms-control agreements be drafted very carefully indeed, in all necessary detail. The Soviet position is in fact quite traditional; Russians accept the necessity of fulfilling treaties (pacta sunt servanda) but they also maintain the hidden conditional clause, “so long as conditions do not change”—as do many others who will also break treaties if their interests are no longer served by them. This does not mean that the Soviet Union is not a fit party for arms control by treaty. It merely requires the United States to be ready at all times to make violation unprofitable.
None of the other obstacles to effective arms control caused by the peculiarities of Soviet conduct is decisive either. For example, it is true that the Soviet negotiating style, with its refusal to make good-will exchanges from issue to issue, greatly prolongs the process, but on the other hand, Soviet negotiators are very patient, and Soviet policy does not lack persistence. There is therefore plenty of time to overcome the additional complications created by ferocious haggling on each point. Certainly it should not be beyond the tenacity of our diplomats to suffer prolonged bargaining.
The structural obstacle of Soviet party politics is not so easily dismissed. Now that Ustinov, defense minister and former chief of military production, is overtly identified as a top-level leader, it is evident that the coalition of the “metal eaters” with the secret police and the armed forces is more powerful than ever. Even the traditionally optimistic analysts of the CIA concede that the Soviet Union is now allocating between 11 per cent and 13 per cent of its gross national product to military purposes, as compared to roughly 5.5 per cent for the United States; other reputable observers reject the CIA estimates as too low and argue for 15 or even 17 per cent, almost three times the American proportion. All seem to agree that Soviet defense expenditure has been increasing at a steady rate of roughly 4.5 per cent per year, for many years, and this too is much higher than the American rate, which was actually negative between 1968 and 1972, and which even now, when outlays on strategic weapons have increased, stands at less than 3 per cent, net of inflation.
The contrast in these figures suggests that the Soviet interest in equitable arms control is bound to be rather limited. But even this obstacle is not insurmountable. First of all, experts on the Soviet Union assure us that the coalition is not entirely dominant in the top echelon of the Soviet leadership. While it is true that the earlier plans for a major expansion of consumer-goods production have been dropped, the present leadership is making really huge investments in agriculture and it is steadily increasing the effort going into light industries. Such considerations must moderate in some degree the claims of the “metal eaters” on Soviet resources, and this in turn suggests that there may be room for successful arms control. Of course this is only true of weapons systems and forces that are particularly costly—as opposed to those that are particularly destabilizing or destructive—but that still leaves plenty of scope for arms control.
Nor should the obstacle of secrecy be overestimated. True, it is most unfortunate that the Soviet government insists on denying to its own citizens and to the outside world all manner of information, military or not, even when it gains no possible advantage from doing so. It would be much better for all concerned if the Soviet Union were to adopt the practices of most civilized states and publish its force-building plans in advance. The lack of advance information does mean that the huge advantage that comes from negotiating over force-building plans, as opposed to actual deployments, is irremediably lost. But the need to wait until weapons are brought out into the open to be tested need not utterly preclude successful arms control. Even if it would be preferable to negotiate before the momentum of such investments has had an opportunity to develop, a rational calculation of mutual advantages should still serve to limit armaments, at least in those cases when further outlays still to be made are sufficiently great, and the likelihood of a determined American response is sufficiently credible.
The effect of Russian secrecy on verification is not decisive either. It must be conceded that the lack of truthful budget data, the lack of a Soviet technical press on military production, and the lack of other sources of circumstantial knowledge make it very difficult to interpret visual and electronic data to verify compliance with arms-control agreements. But on the other hand, verification ultimately requires positive proof rather than circumstantial evidence. If a violation must be proved to American and world opinion as well as to Soviet delegates in consultative meetings, generic evidence will not suffice in any case; in fact, usually only the photography matters.
Nor does the Russian fondness for probing tactics to create gaps in limitation agreements while fully exploiting bona-fide loopholes make a stable arms-control regime impossible. It does mean that the United States must expect probing operations to begin as soon as an agreement is signed, and that it must be ready to take firm action to stop violations—any violations, however small—as soon as they are detected. It is of course fatal to mute protests and to refrain from sanctions in order to preserve the “atmosphere of détente,” and it is quite useless to complain in general terms; unless appropriate retaliation is convincingly threatened for each specific violation, complaints will simply be ignored. It should be normal American practice, for example, to suspend all U.S.-Soviet negotiations, on all issues, military or not, as soon as there is fully reliable evidence of the deliberate violations of any prior agreements still in force. Failure to do this may harden the Soviet position in general, and it certainly invites further probing: unless there is a prompt and forceful reaction, those Soviet officials of moderate views who had counseled prudence in the pre-violation internal policy debate will be undermined, and the hardline advocates of further probing will be strengthened. Inaction tends to legitimize the prior gains of probing operations while inviting new ones, and since each small step leads to the next, any violation, even if quite inconsequential in itself, must be resisted in full force. For example, when the United States failed to react adequately to the visits of Soviet ballistic-missile submarines to Cuban ports (in violation of an executive agreement), these visits were gradually lengthened until the presence of the submarines became a commonplace. Next, supporting facilities were established. American protests led to the removal of non-critical crew facilities, but technically essential maintenance items remained. This situation has now been inherited by the Carter administration as a reality no longer open to challenge. Similarly, the Russians used probing tactics in implementing the SALT-1 accords by taking new submarines out for sea trials before scrapping equal numbers of pre-1964 land-based missiles (or converting older submarines) as required by “agreed interpretation” K appended to the 1972 “interim agreement.” Again, American complaints on the matter were belated and not forceful. It seems that the Russians blamed the poor weather for the overlap, and that the feeble excuse was accepted. If a new SALT treaty includes similar provisions, “slippages” will no doubt become quite routine.
At a time when the Soviet Union has more than 2,500 nuclear weapons of intercontinental range, it may be difficult for an outsider to understand why its military and civil officials would try so hard to cheat on the rules to deploy a few more weapons here and there, which can add nothing of substance to overall Soviet capabilities. It is hard to resist the impression that for these men there are rewards to be had for cheating successfully, rewards political or bureaucratic. All this is of course very unpleasant, and also at first quite unsettling for those who come to deal with the Soviet Union from the relatively innocent atmosphere of American academia or even American public life. However, so long as the United States acts correctly,—that is, promptly and forcefully—probing tactics can be defeated, or at least contained so as to make their results insignificant from the arms-control viewpoint.
It is therefore clear that none of the peculiarities of Soviet conduct is a decisive obstacle to successful arms control. Whatever is wrong with arms control, it is not the fact that dealings with the Soviet Union must loom large in its pursuit.
The process of elimination has left only one possible culprit: the United States.
While arms control can only be effective in limiting specific deployments under specific arrangements, serving thereby as an alternative to force-building, the United States has consistently misused arms control in pursuit of the abstract goal of “strategic parity.” When that concept was challenged, it was redefined by the White House as “essential equivalence,” which is equally vague. Neither set of words has any meaning in the reality of weapons or forces. Neither set of words can define negotiating objectives.
While arms control can only be effectively pursued if negotiated limitations are defined with extreme precision, the United States has consistently tolerated ambiguities in its urgent pursuit of agreement for its own sake. As a result, a new and entirely artificial source of U.S.-Soviet tensions has been created. Changes in the Soviet strategic forces that would otherwise have passed almost unnoticed have excited suspicion and resentment when seen in high contrast against the poorly drafted texts of the 1972 Moscow accords. One side-benefit of each arms-control agreement should be to build confidence for the next, but the tension-creating ambiguities of SALT-1 have utterly defeated this purpose.
While effective arms control requires that high standards of compliance be enforced, the United States has consistently allowed Soviet probing to develop without effective challenge. This permissive stance was a natural consequence of the attempt to use SALT as a general sedative in U.S.-Soviet relations. The attempt has undoubtedly failed, SALT having become, on balance, a further source of friction. But in the process, arms control itself has been discredited, since negotiated agreements have been enforced far too loosely in deference to the atmospherics of détente.
Above all, the United States has misused arms control in the attempt to dampen the strategic competition in itself, as if the growth of strategic arsenals were the cause of Soviet-American rivalry rather than merely one of its symptoms, and incidentally a much less dangerous symptom than the growth of non-nuclear forces, whose warlike use is much more likely.
Who are the men in this country who have brought about these consequences that may yet prove to be catastrophic? Some, including a former Secretary of Defense, are essentially technicians, who have nevertheless been allowed to shape strategic policy as if its essence were technical rather than political. Unable to define the benefits of superior strategic-nuclear forces with technical precision, in mathematical terms, entirely unable to comprehend the diffuse political meaning of military capabilities, these technicians who imagine themselves to be strategists see no reason why the United States should strive to keep a strategic superiority which they believe to be meaningless. After all, they can prove with their mathematical models that there is no middle level of capability between the minimum of strike-back deterrence and the unattainable maximum of a disarming counterforce capability. Under attack for having waged war in Indochina, these men have embraced the cause of unilateral arms control with much enthusiasm; the activity has a pleasantly humanitarian connotation and also some intellectual appeal (arms-control models can be interesting) while supposedly entailing no loss in “real” American strength.
Others, sometimes very influential but mostly outside government, advocate arms control because it is a respectable vehicle for an isolationist foreign policy. After all, the logical result of abandoning additional forces and retaining only a strike-back capability is to uncouple American nuclear forces from NATO and the other alliances. The United States will still be able to deter any direct nuclear attack upon its own soil, and only the nuclear protection offered to its allies will be sacrificed.
For still others, by no means devoid of influence, arms control is a substitute for disarmament, which to their regret the American people still entirely reject. More or less convincing arms-control arguments can always be invoked, along with technical, economic, and now environmental objections, to oppose any and every strategic weapon that the services want to build. Some of these unilateral disarmers camouflaged as arms controllers simply believe that strategic-nuclear weapons are so destructive that their use cannot ultimately serve any rational purpose, military or political. Some are driven by a passionate desire to change the course of world history, so largely characterized by the dismal consequences of force-building, and they do not accept the prosaic objection that wars are most frequently brought about by the failure to make aggression unprofitable. Others among them oppose American weapons because they are American, and remain quite undisturbed by the huge increase in all forms of Soviet military power; believing America to be an essentially evil force in the affairs of mankind, they necessarily regard all instruments of American power as instruments of evil. And some arms-control advocates share none of these beliefs but have merely made arms control their profession, having found work in the dozens of anti-Pentagon lobbies which are now active. Seeing themselves in unequal combat with the vast defense bureaucracy and the still greater military bureaucracies, and forced to contend with a public which obstinately continues to believe that the richest country on earth should also be the most powerful, these professional advocates of arms control concentrate their energies on fighting the Pentagon.
Arms control can be no more than a tool of national strategy if it is to be effective. It is an alternative to the other tool, the deployment of weapons, and it can be the superior alternative. But this is only true when its goals are the same, that is, the goals of national strategy: to enhance security at the lowest possible cost and risk. In American policy, arms control has usurped the function of strategy and has become an end in itself. The consequences are now manifest: the unilateral arms control pursued by the U.S. since at least 1964, and the bilateral efforts that culminated in the 1972 Moscow agreements, have diminished rather than enhanced American security; they have not contained the growth of the arsenals of both superpowers; they have increased rather than diminished outlays on U.S. strategic forces; and they have now begun to compromise strategic stability, since the increasing obsolescence of an old bomber force and the approaching vulnerability of American land-based missiles will soon leave the submarine-missile force exposed to undivided Soviet counterforce efforts. As a result of these unhappy trends, we may be approaching a new period of acute instability in which we will be forced to undertake very expensive build-up programs on a crash basis. One consequence is already with us: the trust that allies can place in American nuclear protection has been sharply diminished, the bonds of alliance have been weakened, and powerful incentives have been created for nuclear proliferation.
American strategic policy has been dominated for more than a decade by the overwhelming desire to bring the Soviet-American competition to an end. Arms control could never serve such an unstrategic purpose, and its use to mask a renunciatory passivity in the face of the Soviet build-up has merely served to compromise a perfectly respectable tool of strategic policy.