In human disputation justice is only agreed on when the necessity is equal; whereas they that have the odds of power exact as much as they can, and the weak yield to such conditions as they can get.
—Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
Over the last century, the yearning for peace has given rise—especially in Great Britain, the United States, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Canada—to the belief that disarmament agreements, or agreements for arms limitation, are an important means for securing peace. It would be more accurate to say that settled expectations of peace between nations result in disarmament. When neighbors share the same goals, agreements on arms limitation or disarmament can be of marginal utility. For example, the celebrated agreement between Great Britain and the United States providing that no warships be stationed in the Great Lakes has become the symbol for the general policy of Canada and the United States with respect to their common border. And many countries have had unarmed borders for years without benefit of a formal treaty. But the enthusiastic advocates of arms-limitation treaties tend to forget that such agreements cannot achieve their goals when some of the parties pursue quite different policies.
The arguments made for SALT II today are the same as those put forward on behalf of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 and the other arms-limitation and arms-reduction arrangements on which the Western governments lavished so much time, attention, and hope during the 20’s and 30’s.
The Washington Naval Treaty and its progeny did not prevent Pearl Harbor. We, the British, and the French, lulled by the treaty, and hard-pressed in any event to find money for naval-building programs, let our navies slide. We did not build our full quotas or modernize our ships. The Japanese and later the Germans, on the other hand, took full advantage of their quotas. We should recall what the phrase “pocket battleship” meant. The pocket battleship, which the Japanese and the Germans used with such great effect in World War II, was a cruiser with the striking power of a battleship—a powerful modern man-of-war built within the tonnage limits of the treaty.
The post-World War I arms-limitation agreements—demilitarization of the Rhineland as well as the various naval agreements—failed to prevent World War II. Indeed, those agreements helped to bring on World War II, by reinforcing the blind and willful optimism of the West, thus inhibiting the possibility of military preparedness and diplomatic actions through which Britain and France could easily have deterred the war. Churchill never tired of pointing out that World War II should be called the “Unnecessary War,” a war which Anglo-French diplomacy could have prevented.
Despite this melancholy history, we are told everywhere that the SALT II agreement now in the final stages of negotiation will be “politically stabilizing”; and that the breakdown of the SALT negotiations, or the rejection of the prospective treaty by the Senate, would “end détente,” “bring back the cold war,” increase the risk of nuclear and of conventional war, and revive “the arms race,” which would cost us another $20, $70, or $100 billion.
Emotionally and politically, this is the strongest argument for ratification: that even a bad agreement with the Soviet Union is better than no agreement at all. The issue presented by SALT, Senator George McGovern has said, is that “the alternative to arms control and détente is the bankruptcy and death of civilization.” And in a speech in London on December 9, Secretary of State Vance said that “without an agreement, our technological and economic strength would enable us to match any strategic buildup, but a good agreement can provide more security with lower risk and cost. And we recognize that without SALT, the strategic competition could infect the whole East-West political relationship, damaging the effort to create a less dangerous world which is at the heart of Western foreign policies.” Since, however, we were infinitely more secure without an arms-limitation agreement during the period 1945-72 than we have been since, the logic of this argument is not immediately apparent.
The claim that a SALT II agreement would be politically stabilizing, and would foster Soviet-American cooperation in other areas, is just as empty. We have had the Interim Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement with the Soviet Union—SALT I—since 1972. Far from stabilizing world politics, the Interim Agreement has been an important structural feature of the most turbulent and dangerous period of the cold war (the period ironically known as “détente”).
Thus, during the six-and-a-half years following President Nixon’s trip to Moscow in 1972, we have endured a series of major Soviet offensives. First, the Soviet Union defaulted on its obligations as a guarantor of the peace agreements of 1973 in Indochina. These agreements, for which Mr. Kissinger received a Nobel Prize, were treated by the Soviet Union as scraps of paper. The final North Vietnamese invasions of South Vietnam in 1974 could never have taken place without Soviet equipment and other help. Then the Soviet Union, which had promised President Nixon to cooperate with him in seeking peace in the Middle East, violated those promises by supplying, planning, encouraging, and even participating in the Arab aggression against Israel of October 1973.
So far as the 1972 Interim Agreement itself is concerned, Secretary of State Rogers testified to the Senate that we had made a number of unilateral interpretations of the agreement and that we should regard any breach of these policies by the Soviet Union as a violation of the “spirit” of the treaty. All these unilateral interpretations of the agreement were violated by the Soviet Union. We did nothing about them.
But the ultimate absurdity is the claim that SALT II would limit or reduce either arms or arms expenditures. The one thing the 1972 Interim Agreement on Offensive Strategic Arms did not do was to limit Soviet arms development or expenditure, or the growth of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
The SALT I Interim Agreement was presented to Congress and the country with fanfares from President Nixon, Secretary of Defense Laird, and Mr. Kissinger, as he then was. We were assured that the agreement would slow down the Soviet buildup of strategic offensive weapons; discourage the Soviets from adopting counterforce strategies; and enhance peace and our security in other unspecified ways. But the principal claim made for the agreement was that it would apply “brakes to the momentum of Soviet strategic missile deployments,” in Secretary Laird’s words.
Yet instead of stabilizing or reducing its strategic offensive strength during the period of the Interim Agreement, the Soviet Union has moved ahead rapidly: far more rapidly, in fact, than had been predicted as possible by American intelligence. It has successfully MIRVed (that is, placed several warheads on a single missile) its ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) forces, taking advantage of their greater delivery capacity (throw-weight) to develop missiles with as many as 10 warheads per missile, as compared with 3 on our Minuteman III missile. It has improved the accuracy of its missiles and developed new and improved missiles to replace older ones within its forces. One of the most significant of these developments is the Soviet production of mobile ICBM’s. President Carter has said that the Soviet Union has actually deployed mobile ICBM’s. Whether or not this has happened to a significant extent, the experts agree that the Soviet Union could do so quickly and on a large scale. Mobile ICBM’s would completely alter the nuclear equation, making ICBM’s almost as elusive as submarines, and making it impossible, or much more difficult, to target a nuclear strike against them. The Soviet Union has also adopted “cold-launch” methods which permit a greater throw-weight with a given missile, and the more rapid reloading of the launcher after use.
As a result of these changes, the Soviet strategic nuclear force has been radically enlarged since 1972 in all categories and, according to present estimates, will be far stronger by the early 1980’s. At the time of the Interim Agreement, the aggregate throw-weight of the Soviet ICBM’s was twice that of the American force. In the early 1980’s, it will be about four times as large. The throw-weight of our own ICBM’s is unchanged, and is not expected to change during the treaty period.
The Soviet Union is believed to have had 1,600 warheads available to its ICBM force in 1972, compared to our 2,154. In the early 1980’s, we shall have the same number, 2,154, but the Soviet figure will rise to between 6,500 and 9,200, even under the limitations expected in a SALT II treaty. The Soviet Union is producing between 150 and 200 ICBM’s a year. We make none. The area-destructive power of Soviet warheads will increase by a half; ours by an eighth. The capability of Soviet weapons to knock out hardened (defended) targets, such as missile silos, will have increased tenfold. If our cruise missiles, now under development, fulfill present expectations, ours will have increased fourfold.
In the category of submarines, the Soviets are believed to have had 845 SLBM’s (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) at the time of the 1972 agreement, and presently are near the ceiling of 950. Some Soviet SLBM’s are as large or larger than our Trident I, which we have not yet introduced. Our figure will not change. In warheads, we are believed still to have a substantial lead. In 1972 we had about 3,000 SLBM warheads; our present figure of 5,400 is not expected to change during the next few years—while it is anticipated that the Soviet figure of 845 will increase some fivefold as they MIRV their SLBM’s.
The comparison of bomber forces is more difficult, depending on whether so-called medium bombers are included. Our heavy bomber force, still based on the out-of-date B-52, is declining, and President Carter has canceled its replacement, the B-l. We had 450 heavy bombers in 1972 to 140 for the Soviet Union, which also had 1,100 “medium” bombers assigned to missions in Europe or Japan, but available for attacks against the United States as well. In addition, the Soviet Union has and is manufacturing a new bomber, the Backfire, two-thirds the size of the B-l. It is not to be counted under the limits established by SALT II, although the State Department concedes that it can be used for intercontinental missions. By 1985, the Soviet Union will have 300 to 400 Backfire bombers. We will have no comparable planes by 1985 beyond our less proficient and much less numerous FB-111’s.
While it is difficult to compare the bomber strength of the two nations in the field of intercontinental strategic nuclear weapons, there can be no question about the steady decline of our bomber superiority, which was one of the key premises of the 1972 agreement. That decline is measured not only in the comparison of the planes themselves, but in the development of Soviet air defenses, which we have decided to ignore altogether. The Soviet Union has a large and widespread network of fighter planes deployed for air defense, thousands of SAM’s and other anti-aircraft weapons, and at least one anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system in operation. The Soviets have actively continued ABM research and development since 1972, and presumably would be able to deploy more units on short notice. These defensive measures would exact a heavy toll in the course of any attack, and therefore create doubt about the perceived deterrent effect of our bomber and missile forces.1
In short, instead of applying “brakes to the momentum of Soviet strategic missile deployments,” SALT I served to increase that momentum. On the United States, SALT I had the opposite effect. Lulled by the treaty—as well as by illusions about “overkill,” and by the high hopes we had invested in détente—into thinking that the “arms race” was being brought under control, we allowed ourselves to fall behind in most relevant categories of military power: behind in production; behind in research and development; and behind in programming.
As for the claim that a SALT II treaty will reduce the cost of our own defense programs, General George M. Seignious II, the new director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said on December 13 that the SALT II agreement, as it seemed likely to emerge, coupled with the further development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal made possible by the agreement, “is going to require additional money to modernize the strategic systems we have.” In his final press conference on October 30, 1978, Paul Warnke, the outgoing director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agencv, said that while he believed SALT II would save us money, by restraining certain forms of Soviet expansion we should otherwise have to match, it was not possible to “point to some form of saving” that the treaty would accomplish. For by establishing certain quantitative limits, the treaty would shift Soviet efforts to the quest for qualitative superiority. The effort to match qualitative improvements, based on active research and the development of new technologies, is hardly more economical than the repetitive manufacture of old-model weapons.
Yet the proponents of SALT II claim that the failure to achieve or ratify the treaty would add as much as $100 billion to our defense budgets over a five-year period. Those figures of extra costs if the SALT negotiation fails, or if the Senate refuses to consent to the treaty, are just as fanciful as President Nixon’s claims that he had ended the cold war and achieved “détente.”
There is no case, then, for SALT II as a step toward peace. The record is clear that the first SALT agreement on the limitation of offensive strategic weapons contributed to an intensification, not a lessening, of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union throughout the world. The rapid Soviet buildup of new and advanced strategic weapons under the agreement gave rise to charges of “deception,” “breach of faith,” and indeed of breach of the agreement. And the 1972 Interim Agreement gave the Soviet Union certain great and tangible advantages. For example, we halted the development of our ABM systems, in which we had a technological lead. They, as already noted, have continued their research and development in that important field. There is no reason to believe that the process of continued negotiation with the Soviet Union would change this pattern.
According to information now generally available, the SALT II agreement will consist of a Treaty, a Protocol, and a Statement of Principles. The Treaty would expire on December 31, 1985, the Protocol on a date not yet agreed in 1981, either June 30 or December 31. The Statement of Principles concerns the agenda for the negotiations of SALT III and has no terminal date.
The key provision of the SALT II treaty is that each side would be permitted to have the same number of strategic nuclear launch vehicles—2,400 until a date in 1982, and then 2,250. Within this limit, there is a sublimit of 1,320 on the number of launchers carrying multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicles (MIRV’s)—ICBM’s, SLBM’s, and aircraft equipped to carry air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM’s) with a range greater than 600 kilometers. At this writing, there is still reported to be a dispute between the American and Soviet negotiators as to whether all armed cruise missiles should be covered, or only cruise missiles armed with nuclear weapons.
There are two further sublimits within the category of 1,320 MIRVed launchers: (1) a limit of 1,200 on the number of MIRVed ICBM launchers plus MIRVed SLBM launchers; and (2) a sublimit of 820 on the number of MIRVed ICBM launchers. Within that limit of 820, the Soviet Union would be allowed to have a number of fixed modern large ballistic-missile launchers (MLBM) equal to their present force in this category, either 308 or 326. This force includes the formidable Soviet SS-18’s, which we believe now carry up to 10 separate megaton-range warheads. The SS-18 and SS-19 are capable of destroying protected missile housings and command centers. The Soviet SS-18 force by itself could destroy more than 90 per cent of our land-based missile force, which consists of 54 Titans, 450 Minuteman II’s, and 550 Minuteman III’s, at one blow. The United States now has no such weapons, and the treaty would deny the United States the right to build any during the treaty period.
The treaty contains a number of limits on the modification of existing ICBM’s, primarily the rule that any test of an ICBM with more reentry vehicles (RV’s) than had previously been tested will cause it to be classified as a “new type”; each side is limited to testing one “new-type” ICBM during the treaty period. The United States has tested 3 RV’s on Minuteman III and the Soviet Union has tested 4 RV’s on the SS-17, 6 RV’s on the SS-19, and 10 RV’s on the SS-18. There may also be agreement that no “new-type” ICBM can have more RV’s than the maximum already tested for existing ICBM’s—10 per missile for the Soviet Union, 3 for the United States. A late rumor suggests that both sides may have the limit of 10. Because of the delays in our MX program, however, there is no possibility that the United States can deploy a “new-type” ICBM prior to the expiration of the treaty.
The Soviet Union has made great progress in fractionizing its missiles, including those targeted against Europe which do not come under the treaty. There is agreement that the treaty should establish a limit of 14 RV’s per missile for submarine-launched missiles, and of 20 or 35 (not yet agreed) for the number of cruise missiles on a single aircraft.
United States B-52’s and our 4 B-l test aircraft, and Soviet Bisons and Bears are to be counted as heavy bombers for purposes of the treaty. The Soviet Backfire bomber, much discussed in the negotiations, will not be counted, although it is capable of reaching targets throughout the United States, and is being produced steadily.
The treaty does not attempt to limit the number of missiles or warheads which may be produced and stored. Any “reductions” in the Soviet-deployed nuclear force required by the treaty need not result in the destruction of the weapons, but only their transference to a warehouse.
Both sides have agreed that neither side will take any action which would circumvent the purposes of the agreement. This provision raises serious problems with regard to the possible transfer of cruise missiles or cruise-missile technology to our allies. Whether this question has been satisfactorily resolved in the negotiations is not now clear. Similarly, there is agreement that each side would refrain from interfering with the other side’s national means of verification. Here, too, damaging controversies have already developed, particularly with regard to Soviet encoding of “telemetry,” which would enable them to circumvent our monitoring devices.
The protocol would ban the flight testing or deployment of mobile ICBM’s and air-to-ground missiles and the deployment of ground- and sea-launched cruise missiles with a greater range than 600 kilometers during a three-year period. At this time, the provisions with respect to ground- and sea-launched cruise missiles, of special concern to our NATO allies, are reported to be still in negotiation.
The provisions of the prospective SALT II treaty are highly technical and are difficult for the layman to judge. But the treaty as a whole can be measured by the layman against our goal in the continuing process of negotiating agreements with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms. That goal is to guarantee a nuclear stalemate—that is, to keep nuclear weapons from being used or brandished in world politics. It is an altogether sound goal, which has been the lodestar of American policy since we proposed the Baruch Plan in the late 40’s. The operative principle of both the SALT I Interim Agreement and SALT II, in the American view, is to prevent the development of a situation in which either side might be in a position to gain a great advantage by a first strike—an advantage so dazzling that political leaders might be tempted to seize it.
What, then, do the data suggest by way of an answer to the basic question of how the prospective SALT agreement would affect the adequacy of our second-strike capability?
In attempting to answer this question, we must first realize that the deck now consists almost entirely of Jokers. Nonetheless, the attempt must be made. In formulating an answer, we must consider the number and vulnerability of missiles and warheads, their accuracy, their ability to reach key targets, and the effects of active and passive defense programs on the vulnerability of Soviet targets of all kinds.
As mentioned previously, the Soviet Union is continuing to build and modernize its strategic nuclear missile force at an alarming rate—150 to 200 ICBM’s a year, compared to a rate of zero for the United States; 6 ballistic-missile submarines a year, as compared to zero for the United States (1½ a year in the 1980’s); and 30 to 50 intermediate- to long-range bombers a year, as compared to zero for the United States. The Soviet Union builds missiles of a far greater throw-weight than ours, and can therefore put more or larger MIRVed warheads on each missile than we can, so that even under the proposals we made in March 1977, it could have twice as many ICBM warheads of five times the individual yield of ours. The figures reported in current drafts of the treaty would be even less favorable. And to make matters worse, the Soviets have made rapid advances in catching up on our previous technological advantages in MIRVing, accuracy, and smaller RV’s.
With these trends in mind, former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Nitze, who helped negotiate SALT I, concludes that SALT II in its present form will leave the United States without a credibly adequate second-strike capability. In a speech on December 5, he said: “Over the past fifteen years it would not have profited either side to attack first. It would have required the use of more ICBM’s by the attacking side than it could have destroyed. By the early 1980’s, that situation will have changed. By that time, the Soviet Union may be in a position to destroy 90 per cent of our ICBM’s with an expenditure of only a third of its MIRVed ICBM’s. Even if one assumes the survival of most of our bombers on alert and our submarines at sea, the residue at our command would be strategically outmatched by the Soviet Union’s retained warmaking capability.”
In its study, Is America Becoming Number 2?: Current Trends in the U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, released on October 5, 1978, the Committee on the Present Danger adds:
We do not have to assume that the Soviet Union will actually attack U.S. strategic forces. The point is that they will have the capacity to increase their advantage with a counterforce first strike. After such a first strike, the United States would still have a capability for a second-strike retaliation against Soviet economic and political targets—in plain words, against their “hostage” cities and industrial centers. If Soviet civil defense failed, we could do “unacceptable damage” to them, but their forces held in reserve would still be greater than ours, and we have no effective civil (or air) defense. Their third-strike potential would make our second-strike less credible. It would leave the U.S. with a dangerously inadequate deterrent.
In presenting SALT II, the administration dismisses such concerns. Spokesmen for the administration concede that Soviet progress in strategic arms and particularly in ICBM’s makes our own ICBM force vulnerable, and that our old bombers would have a hard time penetrating Soviet anti-aircraft defenses either to launch cruise missiles or to drop bombs. But, they say, we still have a great many MIRVed submarine-launched missiles, and therefore, perhaps, still an edge in the total number of warheads.
Yet our present substantial advantage in warheads is a transient one. The inherent flexibility afforded by large throw-weight Soviet ICBM’s and the momentum of the Soviet MIRV program can soon erase the United States advantage in numbers of warheads (unless, that is, we shift gears promptly and on an adequate scale).
Secondly, our increasing reliance on submarine-launched missiles presents problems of its own. Such missiles are still notably less accurate than ICBM’s, and therefore less capable of striking at the Soviet missile sites and other military targets than at hitting cities.
In August 1978, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency attempted to dispel these doubts in a “dynamic” study of U.S. and Soviet strategic capability through the mid-1980’s, and to escape from the logic of what it called “static” measures of the two strategic forces. The study does not measure the capacity of each side to destroy the other, but purports to calculate the capacity of Soviet and American strategic forces to destroy a hypothetical set of 1,500 “hard” (or defended) and 5,000 “soft” (i.e., undefended) targets. It thus assumes away the important disparities between the number and hardness of the targets in each country. The Soviet Union now has more hard targets than the United States, and is rapidly hardening soft targets, while we are standing still, even with regard to command-and-control centers. By the mid-1980’s, the Soviet Union will have twice as many hard targets as the United States.
The ACDA study also makes unrealistic assumptions about the destructibility of soft targets as the result of the explosion of a single weapon, whatever its size and yield. It makes inadequate allowance for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses and the effect of Soviet civil-defense measures.
But there is a deeper problem with the ACDA analysis, which runs through the whole of the administration’s case for SALT II. Our leaders tell us that the Soviet rulers will be restrained by their knowledge of our capability to inflict unacceptable damage on their people and their society if they push us too far.
However plausible this argument may have been up to the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when we still enjoyed overwhelming nuclear superiority, it has long since lost even the appearance of conviction. But Secretary of Defense Brown, Ambassador Paul Warnke, and other official spokesmen for the administration continue to repeat it as gospel. It remains the heart of their argument for SALT II. Indeed, for all practical purposes it is the whole of it.
I have always had the greatest difficulty in accepting this theory—Robert McNamara’s theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD)—according to which we and the Soviets would hold each other’s cities and people hostage, thus preventing any first strike, and neutralizing nuclear weapons. I find it hard to imagine that the President of the United States would actually order the destruction of Moscow or Leningrad, save under circumstances of the most extreme provocation, such as the actual prior destruction of major American cities. I find such a step nearly inconceivable if our major cities had not been destroyed, and the exchange would result in the immediate destruction of New York and Washington, even if our ICBM’s had been destroyed. Secretary Brown’s threat to blow up Soviet cities in retaliation for a Soviet first strike against our satellites or our ICBM’s would be less than credible if the Soviets had enough weapons left in reserve to blow up our cities and possessed substantial enough reserves to dominate the postwar world. A Soviet arsenal of that size could neutralize our nuclear forces and emasculate our second-strike capability. It would thereby make us vulnerable to Soviet political coercion.
It is this analysis of the diminishing credibility of our threat to blow up the Soviet population which puts the argument of “overkill” into perspective. The possibility of using our submarine forces in an immediate strike against Soviet cities, always dubious, is now close to the margin of futility. The same cannot be said for the growing Soviet capacity to attack our ICBM’s and other military targets. If we allow Soviet superiority to reach a certain level, the Soviets will have checkmated our threat to attack their soft targets.
In addition to its reliance on an increasingly dubious second-strike capability against cities and people, SALT II would inhibit us from reestablishing our second-strike capability against hardened military targets—in the current state of the nuclear balance, the retaliatory possibility which has the most credibility as a deterrent, and as an option for action if deterrence fails.
To deal with the threat of a Soviet first-strike capacity, and to restore the strategic balance generally by the early 1980’s, will not be easy. The President’s decisions to cancel or delay the B-l bomber, the MX missile, and the Trident submarine make it nearly impossible for those weapons to be available before the late 1980’s, even assuming that the decisions against them are reversed. It probably would take nearly as long, and cost nearly as much, to deal with the problem in the short run by reviving the production of Minuteman III’s (or B-52’s). The Minuteman III production line has been closed recently. And a crash program along these lines, or its equivalent, would be prevented by the numerical ceilings established in SALT II.
At this time, it seems probable that the treaty would also prevent the United States from adopting the only feasible “quick fix” for dealing with the problem, the promising plan for deploying missiles using a multiple aim-point system (MAPS), the so-called “shell game.” Under this proposal, the United States would construct a large number of vertical protective shelters or silos, each capable of holding an ICBM and its launcher. Some would be empty. The missiles would be moved periodically, to make a first-strike against them highly problematical. According to reports, the Soviet Union has rejected an American inquiry about the compatibility of this idea with the treaty.
These are the basic reasons why critics have said that SALT II would freeze us in a position of inferiority, and deny us an opportunity to redress the balance before the critical period of the early 1980’s, when all the indices would have turned against us.
As to the problem of verifiability, several thoughtful students of the subject have expressed the view that technological developments have by now made it altogether impossible to regulate nuclear arms by verifiable arms-control treaties. There is certainly merit in their contention. For example, what are politely called “national means of verification”—satellite photography and electronic surveillance, largely—cannot answer many of the questions posed by the newer technologies. And satellites themselves have become vulnerable, a development Paul Warnke has called “alarming.” No camera can tell how many separate warheads are carried by a single missile, or measure its thrust, its accuracy, or the explosive power of the weapons it carries. Nor can it see or otherwise identify the missiles kept in warehouses or factories, although missiles can be fired from such locations as well as from launchers, and can be deployed quickly in crisis situations to change the equations of deterrence.
The administration was campaigning hard to sell the SALT treaty even before it was negotiated. That campaign has given rise to a large number of speeches, memoranda, and articles pleading the case for SALT II. Among them, Jan M. Lodal’s recent piece2 is typical in outlook and more detailed than most in analysis. It invokes three of the same criteria for judgment used here: (1) that the treaty contribute to the stability of the strategic balance; (2) that it be verifiable by national means; and (3) that it not adversely affect the security of our allies. But Mr. Lodal seems to reach a different conclusion. I say “seems to reach” because his treatment of each issue supports a negative judgment on the treaty; nonetheless, at the end Mr. Lodal says that SALT II cannot “be opposed on its technical merits.”
1. In contending that SALT II would contribute to strategic stability, Mr. Lodal points to the fact that the treaty specifies an equal number of launchers for both sides. He does not consider the problem posed by the agreement not to include the Soviet Backfire bomber—which, as already mentioned, can be targeted against the entire United States—in the number of bombers permitted under the treaty. But more important, he ignores the fact that the treaty does not cover the manufacture and storage of missiles. As Paul Nitze has commented, “The basic currency of the negotiations . . . became limits on the number of launchers, not limits on missiles and their characteristics.” This, adds Nitze, “has proven to be the wrong currency.” Obviously, no situation can be considered stable if it can be changed in hours by the movement of missiles from warehouses to launchers, some of which are already mobile, as Mr. Lodal himself notes.
Mr. Lodal concedes that by the early 1980’s the Soviet Union will lead the United States by most measures of nuclear power. We will be ahead only in the relative number of warheads deployed—and that lead will be diminishing rapidly. And Mr. Lodal also admits the main point—that the Soviet Union will soon have the capacity to destroy our ICBM sites, airfields, and other military targets with a fraction of their ICBM force. He argues, however, that by the mid-1980’s our airborne cruise missiles, if they are developed successfully, would significantly offset Soviet superiority in ICBM’s and thus maintain stability. He does not consider the vulnerability of our bomber-cruise-missile system (based on the aging B-52) to various kinds of attack. In fact, he does not mention Soviet active defenses at all, nor does he consider their grave implications for stability.
Mr. Lodal’s position would be that such vulnerabilities are not significant. His ultimate contention is that the possibility of retaliation against Soviet cities and other soft targets, using our submarine-launched missiles, assures strategic stability even in the face of the growth of the MIRVed Soviet ICBM force. He does not mention the disquieting reports, which have now become public, of Soviet gains in anti-submarine warfare.
He does, however, grant that the assumptions of the McNamara doctrine are now subject to “serious argument” and that no President would want to face a crisis with only the options of doing nothing or launching an all-out attack on Soviet cities. Nevertheless, that is exactly the position he accepts. He dismisses the bearing of Soviet civil-defense programs on strategic stability in a footnote, suggesting that we could substantially offset the Soviet advantages derived from their programs of civil defense by using a small number of heavier bombs with high radioactive fallout—a most unattractive possibility, and totally inadequate to boot. And he even contends that after we have deployed cruise missiles and MX—it is hoped by the late 1980’s—we could counter a Soviet threat by launching a counterforce first strike of our own. This is the course we refused to consider during the period of our nuclear monopoly. To suggest it now is the counsel of desperation.
Mr. Lodal concludes that unless the Soviet Union agrees early in the SALT III negotiations to significant reductions in land-based ICBM’s, “the strategic balance in the mid-1980’s is likely to be determined to a much greater extent by the force-deployment programs of the two sides than it is by the provisions of arms-control agreements.” Since he also observes that the Soviet Union cannot be expected to make unilateral concessions simply because we have chosen to forgo certain programs of our own, it is difficult to see how Mr. Lodal’s argument supports his conclusion that SALT II would contribute to strategic stability.
2. With regard to verification, Mr. Lodal’s case is equally mystifying. He does not mention Secretary Brown’s public warnings about the Soviet capacity to destroy our satellites. Nor does he mention missiles kept in reserve, which are not covered by the agreement and cannot be verified by national means.
Mr. Lodal takes at face value the provisions in the treaty purporting to limit the number of warheads on missiles and their throw-weights. But he admits that we could not verify compliance with such limits, unless the Soviets should agree to cooperative procedures for verification. As of this writing, they have not done so. Yet Mr. Lodal has confidence in the possibility of Soviet cooperation in verification. He bases this confidence on two instances of Soviet “cooperation”—their agreement to rules through which we might distinguish heavy bombers carrying weapons from those used as tankers; and the Soviet promise not to deploy intercontinental SS-16 ICBM’s. The SS-16’s are indistinguishable from SS-20’s, the mobile, MIRVed, intermediate-range missiles now causing so much alarm in Europe. The SS-20’s can easily be converted into SS-16’s by adding another stage. This gives the Soviet Union the capacity to break out of the limits of the treaty rapidly. It is hard therefore to understand Mr. Lodal’s satisfaction in the Soviet “concession.” It hardly makes the counting process verifiable by national means.
3. Mr. Lodal admits that European concern with the implications of SALT II for the defense of Europe is justified in view of the massive Soviet deployment of conventional and theater-nuclear arms (including chemical-warfare equipment) facing Europe. The answer, he says lamely, is that Europe must accept “the proposition that the ‘nuclear umbrella’ can go only so far in providing security for Europe,” and that Europe must improve its conventional forces. And he hopes that the SALT III negotiations will correct the present NATO imbalance, assure European security, and prevent the decoupling of the alliance.
Given the nature of Soviet negotiating habits, it is hard to detect any basis for such hopes. If we could not prevent a weakening of our nuclear relation with Europe during the SALT II negotiations, how could we expect to do so during the SALT III negotiations, when our military position, and therefore our bargaining position, are expected to be weaker?
The security implications of nuclear weapons, however, go far beyond the question of intercontinental nuclear exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union, the subject to which SALT II is confined. The United States nuclear arsenal is the fulcrum on which the possibility of deterrence at every level depends. To change the metaphor, it is the center of a web of relationships which define the political as well as the military power of the United States. The SALT II treaty cannot be judged in isolation, because the universe of nuclear weapons is not a self-contained and disagreeable subject, isolated from the daily business of government. SALT II poses the ultimate question of national security, the connection between military power and political influence.
To repeat it once again, the goal of our nuclear weapons is to deter the use of, or the credible threat to use, nuclear arms in world politics. But the mission of our nuclear forces goes beyond making it too expensive for the Soviet Union to consider launching a nuclear attack against the United States. They must also provide a nuclear guarantee for our interests in many parts of the world, and make it possible for us to defend those interests by diplomacy or by the use of theater military forces whenever such action becomes necessary. The preceding sentence deserves underlining, for most people do not yet realize the many connections between the strategic nuclear balance, on the one hand, and ordinary diplomacy and the use of conventional and other theater forces in aid of diplomacy, on the other. Behind the shield of our second-strike capability, we carry on the foreign policy of a nation with global interests, and defend them if necessary by conventional means or theater forces.
Secretary of State Dulles tried to change this policy by announcing the doctrine of “massive retaliation.” We should not fight protracted land wars, he said, in places chosen by the Soviet Union for confrontation, but use our nuclear power instead to strike at the Soviet Union, the source of the danger. It was an empty threat. In fighting border wars, where absolutely vital American interests were not at issue, we were unwilling to consider using nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, even during the period of our nuclear superiority. This policy is rooted in our national character and the nature of our civilization. It will not change. Even where the defense of Europe is concerned, our reflex response to the change in the nuclear balance is to enlarge NATO conventional forces, to reduce the risk that nuclear weapons would have to be used in the event of a Soviet attack.
The Soviet doctrine with regard to the utility of nuclear weapons is quite different. As we are finally beginning to realize, the Soviets are not interested in mutual deterrence and nuclear stalemate. To the Soviets, clear nuclear superiority is the ultimate weapon of coercive diplomacy—the Queen of their chess set, through which they think they could achieve checkmate without having to fight either a nuclear or a conventional war.3
Effective American nuclear deterrence alone cannot keep the Soviet Union from using conventional forces, at least against targets they think we regard as secondary, like Korea, Vietnam, or Ethiopia. In most such situations, except for massive attacks on our most vital interests, like Western Europe or Japan, defense has to be provided by conventional forces in the first instance. But the absence of effective American nuclear deterrence—that is, the erosion or neutralization of our second-strike capability—would deny all credibility to our conventional-force deterrent. No one would believe that we would send in the Marines if they could be counterattacked by locally superior Soviet or satellite troops and our second-strike capability was in doubt.
The point is brought out by a quick review of our experience with the problem since 1945.
In the early postwar years, we had a monopoly of nuclear weapons. And for a decade or so after that—until the middle or late 60’s—we had overwhelming nuclear superiority. Nonetheless, in that period we had to deal with a long series of Soviet-managed attacks on our interests, from the early threats to Iran, Greece, and Turkey to the Berlin airlift, the war in Korea, the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Indochina, and the recurrent crises in the Middle East and Africa.
We dealt with those threats by diplomacy or, when diplomacy failed, by the use of, or the credible threat to use, conventional forces. But the nuclear weapon was always the decisive factor in the background. During the Berlin airlift, the shadow of our nuclear monopoly kept the Soviets from firing on the allied planes, and then persuaded the Soviet Union to end the blockade. The exercise had too many uncertainties and had become too risky, so the Soviet Union gave it up.
The essence of the problem is illustrated by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. There, the Soviet Union secretly undertook to introduce land-based nuclear missiles into Cuba, in violation of their assurances to us, and in the face of private and public warnings from the President of the United States. Such action would have altered the basic equation of nuclear deterrence, and gravely affected the credibility and effectiveness of American diplomatic warnings to the Soviet Union. At that time, we had unchallengeable nuclear superiority. If there had been a nuclear exchange, the Soviet Union would have suffered about 100 million casualties and the United States 10 million. We had equally obvious conventional-force superiority in the area. If we had invaded Cuba, the Soviet Union could not have opposed the invasion effectively with either conventional or nuclear forces. By mobilizing an invasion force in Florida and instituting a limited naval blockade of Cuba, we demonstrated our will to insist on the evacuation of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, at a minimum. Confronted by these realities, the Soviet Union backed down.
Since the late 50’s, the Soviet Union has been engaged in a massive military buildup, both in nuclear and conventional forces, designed to reverse the relationships which determined the outcome of the Berlin airlift, the Korean war, and the Cuban missile crisis. It is a buildup without parallel in modern history. Over the last sixteen years it has been proceeding steadily at a rate of at least 4 per cent to 5 per cent a year in real terms. In strategic weapons, the rate of increase has been at least 8 per cent a year. Increases compounded at the rate of 5 per cent or 8 per cent a year over so long a period make the Soviet military establishment formidable and sinister.
The first result of this Soviet buildup was evident in Vietnam. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, our nuclear superiority was no longer so evident as it had been at the time of the Cuban missile crisis; indeed, superiority had given way to stalemate. The deterioration of our nuclear advantage led to the erosion of our position and profoundly affected the final stages of the conflict.
There can be no question that since Vietnam our nuclear position has slipped from stalemate to the borders of inferiority. While the experts argue about whether we are already inferior to the Soviet Union in overall nuclear power, they are agreed that if present trends continue we shall be significantly inferior—and soon. Some careful studies contend that the strategic force relationships which dominated the Cuban missile crisis will soon be reversed, unless we undertake a crash program immediately—that in the event of a nuclear exchange we should risk 100 million casualties and the Soviet Union 10 million. Even if the figure were 100 to 20 or 30, it is not difficult to anticipate what would happen if we were to allow such a situation to develop. A perceptive student of the problem has remarked that, confronting such a scenario, even General Curtis LeMay would advise “accommodation.” Our foreign policy and our conventional forces would be impotent, and we would acquiesce.
It is the first objective of Soviet policy to achieve such a situation. This—not nuclear war itself—is what our nuclear-weapons program and the SALT negotiations are all about. The Soviets have prolonged the negotiations over SALT II as long as possible—just as Hitler prolonged arms-control negotiations in the 30’s—since we continue to mark time in our own military and political programs during SALT negotiations, and obligingly make decisions, like the cancellation of B-l, the postponement of MX and Trident, and the deferring of the enhanced-radiation warhead (the so-called neutron bomb), in the vain hope of inducing similar restraint on the Soviet side. The Soviets view SALT II as a major instrument for lulling American anxieties until it is too late to do anything to reduce them. Meanwhile, they move rapidly and effectively to seize control of the entire Persian Gulf area in the belief that such a position would permit them to bring Europe, Japan, and the Arab world to their knees because the United States would not have the usable military power to oppose it.
Many tend to dismiss the vision of nuclear war as unthinkable. But the vision of Soviet political coercion, backed by overwhelming nuclear and conventional forces, is so far from unthinkable as to have become a likely possibility, thanks to the drift of American foreign and defense policy in the post-Vietnam period.
The debate over ratification of the SALT II treaty requires Congress and the American people to pass judgment on that policy as a whole. It is the only context in which the problem of nuclear arms becomes intelligible.
At the present time our foreign and defense policy is rich in contradictions. On the one hand, the President says that all our security treaties will be honored as in our national interest. On the other hand, he refuses to ask for the naval forces which would be necessary to fulfill those treaties, in view of the size of the Soviet navy and other military forces, and the nature of the Soviet Union’s policy of indefinite expansion into the military vacuums of world politics. There are many other such paradoxes—the withdrawal of our ground forces from Korea, for example. Does that step mean that the President is prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary to stop an attack on an area vital to the security of Japan? The list could be extended indefinitely, from our refusal to cooperate in the restoration of a stable monetary system to the passivity of our response to Soviet actions in Africa and the Persian Gulf area.
The actions and vocabulary of the Carter administration in the field of foreign and defense policy derive from two entirely different conceptions of the national interest. On the one hand, many cling to the 19th-century isolationist view, given new life (and a new rhetoric) by the Vietnam catastrophe, that the United States can be safe, perhaps with our Western European friends, as a small, rich, industrialized enclave in a world dominated by hostile forces. The major premise of the alternative theory, which has dominated our foreign policy from Truman’s day, is that the United States can continue to develop as a free and open society only in a stable world order, a world of wide horizons, in which aggression is prevented, or defeated when it occurs, by collective security and other arrangements of collective defense; a world in which political, social, and economic progress is sought by international cooperation; and one in which the United States necessarily plays a full and responsible part.
These two conceptions of American foreign policy cannot be reconciled or compromised.
Thus far, however, President Carter has refused to choose between them. In recent months, his words have sounded more Trumanesque, but his actions have remained McGovernite. Many believe that a clear choice would revive the divisions in the nation, particularly in the Democratic party, which exploded with such force during the final stages of the Vietnam war. The President has preferred to let sleeping dogs lie.
That comfortable posture has become impossible. The pressures of Soviet policy at a dozen points around the world, most particularly the bold Soviet thrust in the Persian Gulf region, would make it suicidal to continue on such a course. Yet the SALT II agreement, coupled with our continued retreats and withdrawals, and the inadequacy of our military programs, would also make it nearly impossible for us to restore and stabilize the world balance of power on which our safety as a nation depends.
Some experts in the field assume that we must accept SALT II despite its potential for condemning us to strategic inferiority, because the American people are unwilling to take “the giant strides forward” which would be required to assure nuclear parity and to maintain a credible and usable second-strike capacity. This defeatism is altogether unwarranted. The American people will spend and do whatever is required to assure the safety of the nation, if their leaders tell them the truth, as President Truman did, and explain the central importance of nuclear weapons to our security and to the foreign policies we employ to protect it.
Because the debate over SALT II presents a unique opportunity for telling this truth, it may well become a major turning-point for the future. If, mesmerized by old illusions about disarmament and new ones about détente, we accept the treaty, we will be taking not a step toward peace but a leap toward the day when a President of the United States will have to choose between the surrender of vital national interests and nuclear holocaust. No President should ever be put into such a corner. But if, overcoming these illusions, we permit ourselves to see the SALT II treaty for what it truly is—an expression of American acquiescence in the Soviet drive for overwhelming military superiority—we will give ourselves a last chance to restore the strategic balance that is the only guarantee of peace in the nuclear age and the only context in which the survival of our civilization and its values can be safely assured.
1 For a fuller discussion of the American-Soviet military balance, see Edward N. Luttwak's article, “Defense Reconsidered,” in the March 1977 COMMENTARY.
2 “SALT II and American Security,” Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978-79, pp. 245-68.
3 See “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War” by Richard Pipes, COMMENTARY, July 1977.