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The Nuclear Dilemma (II): Is Arms Control Obsolete? View other pieces in "Harper's"
By Mark Danner July 1985
Tags: Harper's Forums | arms control Print
Almost since its beginning, the nuclear age has defined itself as a tug of war between technicians and diplomats, a match in which the diplomats seem forever doomed to finish in the mud. The advocates of arms control have won a few important battles - the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, SALT I and the ABM treaty in 1972 - but more often than not the excitement of newer, more exotic weapons, and the enduring suspicions of the United States and the Soviet Union, have together made building missiles a good deal easier than trading them away for pieces of paper.

Another and more ominous contest has now commenced. Once again the diplomatic teams have squared off in Geneva, pledging to reach a new, "comprehensive" agreement. Yet SALT II, the result of five years of laborious negotiations, remains unratified; when the treaty expires in December there will be nothing to replace it. Meanwhile, the Administration's Star Wars program threatens to transform the nuclear balance in ways impossible to predict.

What is the hope for concluding an agreement at Geneva? Has the arms control process really come to a dead end? A distinguished group of past and present government officials and a delegation of Soviet diplomats and scientists recently gathered at Emory University's Carter Center to speculate on the chances of bargaining away the nuclear danger.


The following Forum is drawn from the Consultation on International Security and Anns Control, held at the Carter Center of Emory University. The remarks are excerpted from four public discussions; they are arranged thematically, and not necessarily in the order in which they were made. Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford served as moderators.


JIMMY CARTER
was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

GERALD R. FORD
served as president of the United States from 1974 to 1977
and as vice president from 1973 to 1974.


HENRY KISSINGER
was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977
and national security adviser from 1969 to 1975.


HELMUT SONNENFELDT
was a member of the National Security Couno! from 1969 to 1974.
He is now a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.


KENNETH ADELMAN
is director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Ag-ency.

CYRUS R. VANCE
was secretary of state from 1977 to 1980 and
deputy secretary of defense from 1964 to 1967.


WILLIAM G. HYLAND
was a member of the National Security Council from 1969 to 1973.
He is currently the editor of Foreign Affairs.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI
was national security adviser from 1977 to 1981.
He is currently a senior adviser at the Georgetown University
Center for Strategic and International Studies.


BRENT SCOWCROFT
was chairman of President Reagan's Commission on Strategic Forces
from 1982 to 1984. A retired Air Force lieutenant
general, he served as national security adviser from 1975 to 1977.


ANATOLY DOBRYNIN
is the Soviet ambassador to the United States,
a position he has held since 1961.


JOHN LEHMAN
is secretary of the Navy. He was deputy director
of the Arms Control and Disarmament Ag-ency from 1975 to 1977.


DAVID JONES
was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1978 to 1982 and
Air Force chief of staff from 1974 to 1978.


SAM NUNN
is a Democratic senator from Georgia and the ranking
minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.


HAROLD BROWN
was secretary of defense from 1977 to 1981.
He is now chairman of johns Hopkins University's Foreign Policy Institute.


WILLIAM PERRY
was undersecretary of defense for research and engineering from 1977 to 1981.

YEVGENEY VELIKHOV
is deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Nuclear Physics and
vice president of the Soviet Academy ofSciences' General Assembly.


ALBERT GORE jR.
is a Democratic senator from Tennessee and a member
of the Senate Observers' Group at the Geneva arms control ralks.


TED STEVENS
is a Republican senator from Alaska and co-chairman of the Senate Observers' Group.

JAMES R. SCHLESINGER
served as secretary of defense from 1973 to 1975 and
as secretary of energy from 1977 to 1979.


McGEORGE BUNDY
was national security adviser from 1961 to 1966.
He is now a professor of history at New York University.


JIMMY CARTER: During the past fifteen years at least, arms control has been an integral part of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was the policy of my administration - and those of Presidents Ford, Nixon, Johnson, and Kennedy before me - to attempt to conclude agreements that would have a stabilizing effect on relations between the two countries. We hope to discuss here the role of arms control in the present relationship between the superpowers; the impact that new weapons systems - such as President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative - will have on the arms control process; and, perhaps most important, the prospects for reaching a major arms control agreement in the near future.


GERALD R. FORD: Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing for ten years or so, the United States and the Soviet Union made vigorous attempts to negotiate agreements limiting the competition in nuclear weapons. This process produced the SALT I agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed together in 1972; the interim agreements my administration concluded at Vladivostok in 1974: and President Carter's SALT II treaty of 1979-which, though never ratified by the Senate, is being observed by both nations.

It is true these negotiations did not achievewhat many hoped they would - a dramatic reduction in nuclear weapons, or even an end to the arms race. What they did accomplish, however, was extremely important: they helped the superpowers manage the problem of nuclear confrontation and ensure a degree of stability in the strategic balance. I have known a number of presidents, and I have also known one Soviet leader; in my opinion, none of these men ever wanted a nuclear confrontation. Arms control was important in avoiding one.

So if the scorecard on arms control during those ten or fifteen years is not perfect, it unquestionably shows some success. The political conflicts between the two countries were complicated, but the problems were squarely confronted - both in the negotiations themselves and in the political discussions that accompanied them. This was a sign of common sense and maturity. Of course some in this country were - and still are - critical of the whole approach. I'm not sure these people understood what was accomplished with arms control, or even what was sought. But the constant pressure from such critics clearly hindered the process itself.


CARTER: The connection between superpower conflict and regional disputes, on the one hand,
and the continuation of the arms control process, on the other, is one of the most controversial aspects of the subject. Dr. Kissinger, does arms control actually help mitigate superpower conflict?


HENRY KISSINGER: President Carter, President Ford, I strongly believe that easing the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union is crucial to world peace. But I do not
believe that arms control negotiations by themselves can accomplish that. This is especially so now, since, quite frankly, both sides appear to be out of new ideas that might substantially increase international stability. It is true that we made significant progress in arms control during the 1970s, but throughout those years important political discussions were going on side by side with the military ones. Along with the agreements President Ford named, we should also remember the Berlin discussions in 1972 and the European Security Conference from 1973 to 1975, among others. The fate of the SALT II treaty showed only too well that when the political conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union becomes too intense and there is an explosion somewhere in the world - like Afghanistan - the arms control process cannot be sustained.

So arms control, while extremely important, must be complemented by agreements on mutual restraint in international behavior - the agreement on principles of international conduct, which was negotiated before the 1972 summit, is a good example. If the United States had not suffered a tragic loss of executive authority in the early 1970s, which, in creating the oddest coalition of liberals who disliked President Nixon and conservatives who disliked the Russians, destroyed the political basis for further negotiations, the superpowers would surely have completed agreements on mutual restraints - which might or might not have worked.

Such restraints must be part of any successful arms control agenda. That agenda should of course be accorded great importance; but it should not receive as much publicity as the current Geneva negotiations are receiving - such dramatic business is not conducive to reaching agreements. The Americans and the Russians must ask themselves, and each other, where they want the world to be ten years from now, and not simply repeat by rote all the slogans of the 1970s.


HELMUT SONNENFELOT: You mentioned regional disputes, Mr. President. It should be pointed out that the major political crises of the past forty years - the crises that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the verge of open hostilities - arose from conflicts in regions where the superpowers' interests and ambitions clashed, and where, in most instances, other countries were involved. Yet during the past five years, despite the very bad tone in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States and the deadlock in and even disruption of arms control negotiations, the number of real crises in the Third World has dramatically decreased. Compare the last five years with any five-year period since 1945, and the difference is striking. The Korean War, Cuba, the Congo, Angola, the Vietnam War, the three wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan - there has been nothing comparable. For whatever reason, a certain caution seems to have entered into the calculations of those who make decisions about these matters. I hope that this attitude continues.


FORD: Hal, aren't you passing over the continuing problems in Central America and Cambodia?


SONNENFELDT: I was nor ignoring them, Mr. President. There are continuing problems in the Middle East, Angola, Afghanistan, and other areas as well. But in all these conflicts, the superpowers have managed to avoid alerting their forces and coming to a head-to-head confrontation.


KENNETH ADELMAN: During the last five years there have been three major conflicts in the world: between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, between Iran and Iraq, and between various forces in Lebanon. None of these has had any direct East-West rub to it. I think that is because, by and large, the United States and the Soviet Union now have a better understanding of what constitutes acceptable behavior. Five lost years, and a radical new element in the game.


Five lost years, and a radical new element to the game


CYRUS R. VANCE: Mr. President, President Ford, I realize sadly that it has become quite popular to disparage arms control as an outdated political instrument. I don't agree with this view, nor in my opinion do the majority of the American people. All uf us share one fundamental goal - avoiding war, especially nuclear war. To achieve this goal, the superpowers must negotiate agreements that will slow the arms competition and move both nations toward a more stable and less threatening military posture. Without negotiations, the arms competition will continue to spiral upward. Contrary to the assertions of some critics of arms control, neither superpower will allow the other to outspend it and thus gain a significant military advantage. Nor is either country able to maintain a decisive technological advantage; history shows that whenever one takes the lead in weapons technology, it is soon matched by the other.

The most effective way to moderate this competition is through fair and verifiable arms control agreements. I fully agree with Henry Kissinger that the dialogue between the two countries cannot be confined to arms control; it must be accompanied by wide-ranging political discussions at the highest level. But if arms control negotiations cannot be conducted in a vacuum, neither should they be held hostage to progress on other unrelated issues.


WILLIAM G. HYLAND: Perhaps it's worth examining the recent history uf arms control. We have lost five valuable years. When President Carter met with President Brezhnev in Vienna in 1979, he proposed that the two countries reduce their strategic forces by 5 percent each year for the next five years. Had Brezhnev accepted that, those forces would now be below the level President Reagan has proposed at Geneva.

Why wouldn't Brezhnev accept President Carter's fairly simple idea? Frankly, the Russians prefer to keep what they have; most of the proposals they have made would preserve their forces roughly intact. That was the case in SALT I, and it was also true, as President Ford will remember, at Vladivostok.

The United States' approach, on the other hand, has been erratic. Every time a new administration assumes power the inevitable questions are raised: Shouldn't there be a whole new policy? Wasn't the past approach flawed? So American negotiating tactics tend to be confusing, and to fluctuate according to the requirements of domestic politics.

The last ten years have not been terribly productive. President Ford and President Brezhnev set out the framework of the SALT Il treaty in 1974; that treaty, which took five years to complete, was never ratified, and when it expires in December there will be no replacement. Despite the idiosyncrasies of both sides, the greater burden of blame for this failure must rest squarely on the Soviet Union. However much quarreling there was in the Senate, SALT II probably would have been ratified if the Soviet Union hadn't invaded Afghanistan. And of course it was the Russians who walked out of the START talks on strategic weapons in 1983, claiming that the theater missiles the Americans had begun to emplace in Europe were upsetting the strategic balance; because the Russians chose to link START with the negotiations on theater weapons, more than a year passed without any talks at all.


VANCE: Today there is great concern, which I share, that the negotiations in Geneva may be headed for an early stalemate. The Russians appear unwilling to consider deep reductions in strategic offensive weapons so long as the possibility of new American defensive deployments is not definitely foreclosed. The Americans, meanwhile, want to negotiate precisely such deep reductions in offensive forces, while holding open the possibility of deploying defenses after the SOl research program shows results. Is there a way to solve this conundrum so that the Geneva talks do not become bogged down before they've had a chance to really begin?

One of the panels here has recommended that the two nations examine what sort of limits on offensive weapons would be sufficient to eliminate the incentive for either side to deploy extensive defenses. Two steps might be helpful. Both countries should clarify and define what research is permissible under the ABM treaty and the dividing line between prohibited testing and development and permitted research. And both sides should reaffirm their commitment to the ABM and Outer Space treaties and to the principle that no steps contrary to those treaties will be taken without prior negotiations.


HYLAND; It is true that the Geneva talks cannot simply pick up where we left off in 1979 or 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative is a radical new element in the game. The offensive-defensive equation is now dominant, and neither side has a good idea how to deal with it. The United States' current position is that it must preserve a free hand to develop defenses under the rubric of research, which almost certainly will lead to some developmental testing and deployment. The Soviet Union is demanding a ban on development and testing, but that no longer seems feasible.

Under these circumstances, I'm not sure the status quo - extending SALT II, delaying major decisions on SDl, and so forth - is good enough. We have very little to show for almost twenty years of arms control. If the American public begins to suspect these negotiations are merely a diversion that allows both sides to continue building up their arsenals, we could find ourselves in the midst of a major political quarrel. As Cy said, there are already strong elements in the United States that believe arms control is a failure and should be discarded.

Perhaps we do need an entirely new approach. When both superpowers have 10,000 or so deliverable strategic warheads, a reduction of 20 percent would not mean much, except as a symbol. The root of the matter is the destabilizing character of certain weapons, particularly highly accurate land-based missiles. Perhaps the United States should think seriously about a freeze on ICBMs. The Soviet Union is now developing and producing two new missiles; our MX program is dwindling awav - a freeze looks more appealing than it did a few years ago.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think we have to face the likelihood that the United States and the Soviet Union will not be able to negotiate a comprehensive arms control agreement any time soon. There are good reasons for this. First, because of technical advances in weapons, the question of verification has become far more complicated than it used to be. Second, each side entertains serious doubts about the other's compliance with existing treaties. Finally, it will be difficult to reach an understanding at Geneva with three separate panels discussing three separate but interconnected subjects - strategic, theater, and space weapons - at the same time.

Moreover, there remain serious geopolitical disagreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. Any comprehensive agreement would require a level of mutual trust that seems unlikely so long as the tragic occupation of Afghanistan continues. American public opinion and attitudes in Congress can't help hut he affected by that occupation. It is essential, therefore, that the United States and the Soviet Union begin a dialogue on Afghanistan.

Perhaps we should look to the example set by Presidents Ford and Brezhnev in Vladivostok, and attempt to reach a limited agreement. One interim arrangement might be to reduce the strategic numbers on both sides to, say, 1,800 launchers and 7,jOO warheads. Such interim limits would go a long way toward altering the strategic equation, and could serve as a catalyst for a more ambitious agreement. A summit between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev might provide an appropriate occasion for such an essentially political, and not overly complicated, agreement.

Finally, given the current situation, I believe it would be stabilizing to deploy strategic defenses - nor to defend populations but to disrupt a first strike against our strategic forces. Weapons on both sides have become so accurate and so "time-urgent" that, of themselves, they have introduced greater instability into the strategic relationship. The Soviet position on SDl has been propagandistic and deceptive, given the reality of Soviet research. Limited deployrnent of SDl - with or without amending the ABM treaty - combined with greater reliance on retaliatory forces and less on first-strike systems, would clearly be stabilizing.


CARTER: Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to call on Brent Scowcroft, chairman of our panel on "Weapons, Strategy, and Doctrine," to read part of his report, which suggests how we arrived at the current situation.


BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Mr. President. As we all know, after World War II the United States turned to nuclear weapons as a substitute for conventional forces in defending Europe - this policy was called extended deterrence. After the Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons, U.S, policy moved toward what came to be called assured destruction, according to which the United States had to maintain the ability to threaten massive destruction in order to deter attacks on this country and its allies.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some critics began to question the validity of this version of deterrence; they raised doubts about a strategy that had no political or military rationale and that - they claimed - was based on revenge. Others suggested that for deterrence to be credible, the United States had to he able to respond to an attack in a more limited and flexible way.

During the 1970s, official U.S. policy gradually came to include not merely a threat to destroy a certain percentage of the Soviet population and Soviet industry; it now provided more limited options in responding to an attack, such as destroying only selected military targets. The key reasons for this shift were technological advances that made weapons much more accurate and reliable; the end of unquestioned U.S. nuclear superiority, which many believed would undermine the United States' ability to deter conventional attacks against its NATO allies; the Russians' development of highly accurate land-based missiles, which seemed to put U.S. ICBMs at risk; and, finally, the growing perception in the United States that the Russians do not share American views on deterrence - that, in effect, they believe nuclear weapons can be employed to achieve victory in wartime.

This shift in the U.S. approach to deterrence has continued into the 1980s. President Reagan has declared that the world would be safer if the United States moved from a policy of assured destruction, or mutual vulnerability, to one of assured survival. According to this policy, a nation's ability to defend itself against attack would remove any military incentive for its adversary to strike first. And that is the rationale - or one of them - for strategic defense, the feasibility of which remains an open question.


ANATOLY DOBRYNIN: The Soviet Union believes the development of these doctrines and weapons systems was designed to ensure U.S. strategic superiority, and to preserve the ability to launch a first strike. That remains the driving force of U.S. policy and the ultimate purpose of the Strategic Defense Initiative. The so-called rearming of America is nothing but a bid for strategic superiority. But the buildup will not increase the security of the United States or its NATO allies one iota. It will simply force the Soviet Union to match the additional deployments. Introducing space weapons will surely intensify the arms race. The Soviet Union does not seek superiority over the United States; we seek only to prevent you from gaining superiority over us. This is in no way a threat - it's a fact of modern life.

Today we hear the familiar warnings of the "Soviet advantage," which are meant to justify the U.S. buildup. Remember the "missile gap" of the early 1960s? It didn't exist; it served only to rally support for more weapons. Remember the "window of vulnerability"? It too was nonexistent, as was shown by General Scowcroft's commission. We should recall that before the Vienna summit of 1979, the U.S. president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom are here today, acknowledged there was rough parity between the two superpowers. Whom should we believe?

American politicians seem unable to understand that they cannot use force against the Soviet Union without inviting a catastrophe. Lately a very misguided and dangerous trend has emerged: the search for ways to make nuclear war "winnable." Counterforce, surgical strikes, limited war - all of these strategies are attempts to introduce rules that will make nuclear conflicts more thinkable. This trend is an example of the sort of thinking that is imposed by the balance of terror. On the one hand, war has become meaningless, unthinkable. On the other, both nations have to prepare for war and constantly emphasize their readiness to engage in it. Such logic inevitably leads to brinksmanship.

The experience of the 1970s proves that when the political will exists, the superpowers can work together to curb the arms race and reduce the risk of nuclear war by negotiating balanced and verifiable agreements. But the past five years have shown how stubborn the legacy of the cold war really is. The United States' determination to achieve military superiority has led to a steep rise in international tension and an increased danger of war. American leaders must outgrow the illusion that it is somehow possible to "deal with" the Soviet Union from a position of strength.

According to the agreement signed in January by Mr. Grornyko and Secretary Shultz, the two nations are negotiating at Geneva about strategic, medium-range, and space weapons. We hope the United States will fulfill that pledge by agreeing to discuss SDI. Meanwhile, we propose that the two nations freeze their deployments of strategic and medium-range weapons and declare a moratorium on the development, testing, and deployment of space weapons, at least for the duration of the talks.

The two nations should also join in a pledge of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. They should resume talks on a comprehensive test ban, which were broken off by the Reagan Administration. And the United States should move to ratify treaties that have already been concluded, such as the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty. This planet is our common house. We should proceed from a common interest in preserving it. We do not believe that differences in our political systems are a reason for intensifying the arms race - or starting a nuclear war.


On the virtues of Ronald Reagan's 'new approach'

JOHN LEHMAN: I reject the view that somehow we are all poor, helpless souls struggling to survive in a universe dominated by the weapons themselves. We have the nuclear weapons we have today because conscious, informed human beings over the past thirty years decided that they would best meet the military requirements of our countries.

The history of arms control is sad, all right, because it hasn't increased the security of either country in any measurable way. But the Reagan Administration has made a fundamental change in the American approach. We have a simple goal: to find common ground that pragmatic, intelligent decision-makers on both sides will agree on. Only when we have done that will major reductions in nuclear weapons be possible; we will agree to such reductions not because our arsenals were built up through some mindless process but because the advantages the weapons offered no longer exist.

During the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet Union not only deployed a great many weapons; it enjoyed the very real benefits of those deployments. The United States, hoping that the arms control process would eventually stop what was generally assumed to be an action-reaction cycle, allowed destabilizing disparities to develop between the forces of the two countries. The Russians were well aware of the growing perception that they were gaining strategic superiority - and that perception allowed them many opportunities for relatively risk-free intervention throughout the world.

I think this cycle has been broken. The re-arming of America, which began at the end of the previous administration and which the Reagan Administration has vigorously pursued, has helped make it possible for the two countries to again pursue true reductions. Strategic programs now under way - the MX, the B-1 bomber, the Trident II missile, and others - are essential to concluding meaningful arms control agreements.

Why will we achieve reductions? First, it's enormously difficult for both nations to pay for these huge numbers of strategic weapons. Of course, during the 1970s, the Soviet Union had a high marginal return on its investment; it derived clear benefits from maintaining its edge. Today, as it loses that edge, the marginal return is disappearing. Both countries now have a clear interest in reducing the expense of maintaining these weapons.

Second, this Administration has a realistic approach to verification. The greater the reductions and the lower the total number of systems, the more important verification becomes. To really make progress in arms control, we must move to intrusive, on-site inspection. Popular wisdom to the contrary, the Russians might be willing to carry verification along this path.

Finally, it is very much in our mutual interest to deploy strategic defenses, and I think the Soviet Union will come to see why. I reject the suggestion that the Russians will respond to SDI by building more and better offensive weapons. They won't do that because it doesn't make common sense, and whatever one might say about Soviet strategic policy during the last thirty years, it has made a great deal of common sense. Shifting our expenditures from deterrence to defenses can only be stabilizing in the long run. And SDI need not be 100 percent effective to play a stabilizing role. Every little bit of protection diminishes the temptation for one side to strike first in a crisis. For the last thirtv years, our strategy has rested on a balance of terror; maintaining deterrence by protecting our populations, rather than by threatening to avenge them, is far more morally satisfying.

As for the suggestion that the United States should declare a policy of no-first-use of nuclear
weapons in Europe, such a policy would obviously oblige NATO to match the Warsaw Pact in
conventional forces. The Soviet Union currently has 178 active divisions; the United States hopes to reach eighteen by the end of the decade. Adopting a strategy of fighting a war of attrition against a totalitarian regime with so large a land force is not rational. Theater nuclear
weapons are a necessary part of the balance of imbalances in Europe; attempting to convince the Europeans that the Battle of the Somme was a more acceptable form of warfare than nuclear deterrence will not make those weapons go away.


DAVID JONES: Things are a little more complicated than that. When my friend John Lehman talks about the eighteen divisions on our side he isn't including our reserve divisions here in the States, many of which are better than many of the Soviet 178. He also isn't taking into account all of our NATO forces, and he makes no allowance for the fact that the Russians have deployed a quarter of their divisions against China. In any case, the purpose of improving our conventional forces in Europe is not to prepare the alliance to fight a war of attrition; it is to raise the nuclear threshold. There is no intention of trying to match the Russians division for division.

As a military officer, I find there's a great tendency in all of these discussions to be too technical and too simple at the same time. Five years ago, everyone was talking about the "window of vulnerability." A period was supposedly beginning during which American strategic forces would be vulnerable to attack by those of the Soviet Union. Today the general perception is that somehow this "window" has been closed, even though our current strategic forces are pretty much a result of planning and research that began many years ago. But there remain great asymmetries in the strategic balance; these asymmetries will probably always be there, simply because the two nations have very different force requirements. The United States is largely a maritime power, the Soviet Union a continental power. The Russians have advantages in certain areas; we've got advantages in other areas. It's pretty hard to say whether they're ahead or we're ahead.

What exactly does "being ahead" mean? I don't know any American officer, or any Soviet officer, who really believes either superpower can achieve a true first-strike capability, that one side could ever so disarm the other as to leave it without the ability to retaliate. After all, only 5 percent of the 10,000 or so strategic weapons on either side could kill roughly 100 million Americans, if aimed at our cities, and close to that number of Russians, if aimed at theirs. The ability to kill 100 million people certainly seems a strong deterrent. On the other hand, the fact that the United States can kill almost 100 million Russians with a small fraction of its forces does not mean the rest of its forces are unnecessary. An overall balance is important; it is not good strategy to retain only the option to retaliate against Soviet cities. At present, American strategic forces are directed primarily against Soviet military targets, and only secondarily against what are referred to as urban industrial areas. But what is most important is this: in my experience, American military officers and Soviet military officers strongly agree that neither side can win a nuclear war in any meaningful sense.


FORD: John Lehman said that the development of many of these new weapons systems was begun under this Administration or the preceding one. That is not accurate. As he well knows, research and development on the MX was begun in 1975, under my administration. And development of the air-launched, sea-launched, and ground-launched cruise missiles was begun under President Nixon and in my administration as well.


SAM NUNN: President Ford has raised a larger question. If there is to be a truly bipartisan approach to arms control and national security, Administration officials must stop rewriting the history of U.S. weapons procurement and arms control to suit their own purposes. Last year, for example, Secretary Weinberger told the Armed Services Committee: "We should have modernized and strengthened the triad all through the preceding years, but we did not start on it until 1981." Secretary Weinberger's statement was truly bipartisan in that it recognized no progress in any administration, Democratic or Republican, for twelve years or more. He managed to ignore the cruise missile, the advanced technology bomber, the Trident submarine, and the MX, all of which were begun under Nixon, Ford, or Carter.

The Administration should also recognize that the United States must continue to rely for its defense on nuclear deterrence, no matter what happens in SOl research, "for at least the lifetime of our children, and perhaps our grandchildren," in Jim Schlesinger's words. When Administration officials criticize the United States' present deterrent strategy as "flawed," "simplistic," "disproven," "discredited," and "immoral," they make it difficult to maintain political support for deterrence; that the policy has been the target of attacks from the left in recent years just heightens the problem.


HAROLD BROWN: Deterrence by threat of retaliation remains the U.S. and NATO strategy, not out of choice but because it's a fact of life. That fact of life deters nuclear attack; perhaps it deters a Soviet conventional attack on Europe as well, because of both superpowers' concern that such an attack might escalate into a nuclear exchange. That is why the alliance has rejected proposals to adopt a no-first-use policy.

What are the goals of nuclear planning and nuclear arms control? Reducing the chance of a nuclear war and limiting the damage caused by such a war should it occur. Unfortunately, these goals sometimes conflict. It seems to me that reducing the chance of nuclear war is the
more important goal. Nuclear war would be so destructive that military policies designed to moderate its effects - countervailing strategy, graduated response, and so on - while necessary and laudable, are not reliable enough to make any accompanying increase in the likelihood of nuclear war an acceptable trade. By the same token, if we focus too much on abolishing nuclear weapons, laudable as that goal is, we may find that we have taken our eye off the ball: the need to avoid nuclear war by managing both deterrence and the political competition with the Soviet Union. If we fail in managing either, the world will become much more dangerous.

Arms control negotiations also have a sacramental purpose. By engaging in these negotiations
Western leaders show that they worry about nuclear war and are trying to do something about it. This is an important function of these talks. And while I believe that failure in arms control negotiations hurts more than success helps, I oppose those who argue that it's therefore better not to attempt arms control at all, or that attempts should be delayed until the United States is negotiating from a predominant position. After all, if you don't negotiate, the failure to limit arms is automatic.

How would SD! affect stability? Suppose it provided perfect or near perfect defense. In that case, one could argue that SDI would be stabilizing, assuming both sides had it - and I assume that if one side had it, both sides would, not as a result of a charitable gift but as a result of competition. On the other hand, a perfect defense might encourage non-nuclear war. If there had been no threat of nuclear retaliation during the past thirty years, the chances are much greater that the superpowers would have fought a conventional war.

If the defense was imperfect - if it could not defend populations - it might still be destabilizing; that would depend on whether one side was able to preempt the defense of the other. And of course, phasing in the defenses could be destabilizing; the timing would be very delicate. As you can see I have serious reservations, to put itrnildlv, about the Strategic Defense Initiative. But strategic defense in various forms - the robust air defense in the Soviet Union, research and development in both countries on conventional ballistic missile defense and so on - is a fact of life. So is research on spacebased ballistic missile defense. We ought to ask ourselves and our allies what criteria should be used in deciding whether to deploy such a system, and we should explore with the Soviet Union what the guidelines should be for research and development under the ABM treaty.


CARTER: Bill Perry, perhaps you could comment on the feasibility of SDI.


WILLIAM PERRY: Mr. President, I believe the debate over the Strategic Defense Initiative has been characterized by confusion. SD! proponents have confused the issue by pretending that if any strategic defense is feasible, then assured survivability - protecting the population from attack - is feasible. This is not at all the case. The opponents of SD!, on the other hand, have questioned the President's sincerity, claiming that he really wants strategic superiority. They have argued that it is somehow morally wrong to conduct battles in space. And they have condemned the objective of strategic defense because of the difficulty and cost involved. I don't doubt that the President is sincere. I am skeptical of people who talk about the sanctity of the heavens - if a battle must be fought, I would rather it be fought in space than on Earth. And if assured survivability were feasible, I would not be discouraged by either the expense or the difficulty of achieving it.

It can be fairly said that I am a technological optimist, and the view I am expressing here today is based on a pretty optimistic assessment of the technology involved. It is quite correct that this technology can be used to develop strategic defenses; the problem is that it can equally well be used by the side trying to defeat or degrade those defenses. In a measure-countermeasure game, technology is a two-edged sword. For example, advances in laser technology could also enable an attacker to penetrate a defense. Developments in computers that could help manage defenses could just as easily manage effective countermeasures. And even if we were able to build defenses impermeable to ballistic missile attack, there are many other ways to deliver nuclear warheads: bombers, cruise missiles - even delivery trucks, Lebanese-style.

So technology could very well provide us with much more effective defenses than any we can envision today, and these could certainly enhance deterrence by protecting our offensive forces. In my opinion, however, such a system could not guarantee the survival of a civilian population against an opponent determined to attack that population, From this I conclude that the United States should proceed with research and development on SOL. But before we deploy or even test such a system, we should consider what it can reasonably achieve.


FORD: Bill, would such research violate the ARM treaty?


PERRY: Only testing a system would; I therefore recommend not carrying it to that point.


FORD: But you feel the United States should proceed up to that point, and thus ensure that it has the option to deploy?


PERRY: It's a prudent hedge. The Russians have a vigorous ballistic missile defense R&D program. And they already have a major strategic defense system - their bomber defenses, to which they've devoted about $100 billion. The United States should have a hedge against the expansion of that to a ballistic missile defense.


CARTER: I wonder if Academician Velikhov, who is a designated representative of General Secretary Gorbachev and a prominent physicist, would like to comment?


YEVGENEY VELlKHOV: I appreciate Secretary Lehman's comment about our common sense - but on SOl I don't think our sense is common. There is no question that the most effective, simplest, and cheapest way to combat strategic defenses is by means of countermeasures, active and passive. The obvious response to the research the Reagan Administration proposes would be to build however many weapons are needed to pose an effective retaliatory threat.

According to some reports, the American goal is to be able to test a defensive system in five years, and to be able to deploy it a short time later. It is true that research does not violate the ABM treaty; nonetheless, it poses a very serious rhreat to the Soviet Union. After all, Hitler didn't break any treaties by concentrating his army near our border in June 1941; but he broke them all in one night by invading our country. We can't wait five years to start taking countermeasures if you proceed with SOL.


SCOWCROFT: It's important to emphasize that the Soviet position on strategic defense is a political position, not a military one. As Bill Perry noted, the Russians have already spent $100 billion on a massive air-defense system, and they have probably outspent the United States on ABM research since the ABM treaty was signed. Moscow is now protected by an ABM system, which has recently been modernized. If we can get beyond the rhetoric, we may find some way to modify the ABM treaty that would enhance the stability of the strategic relationship - and strengthen security on both sides.


DOBRYNIN: But so far, the Americans have refused to say anything specific about SOl at Geneva. The U.S. negotiators say they will discuss it when the research period is over. How long will that be? Five, maybe ten years? Meanwhile, we should wait; but for what? Until a new administration comes, and that administration negotiates? But history shows that one president can sign an important agreement and the next might consider it a big "window of vulnerability."

Of course we won't reduce our offensive weapons while nothing is done about SOL. Mr. Shultz and Mr. Grornvko agreed on this last January in Geneva. I was there; so was Mr. Adelman. They established three panels to discuss strategic, European, and space weapons; the panels are to try to come to agreements more or less simultaneously. That doesn't mean all three agreements must be simultaneous. If we make progress on strategic weapons or on European missiles, it is possible we could come to a more limited agreement earlier. But we are not prepared to cut our offensive missiles drastically when we have no idea what you are going to do with SOL. The joint statement from the January meeting said specifically that the talks are aimed at preventing an arms race in space and terminating it on earth, and at limiting and reducing nuclear arms, strategic as well as intermediate. This is not just our position; it's your position as well.


ALBERT GORE JR.: It's important to realize that the political support in the United States for strategic defense derives mainly from the belief that a leak-proof population defense is possible. But it is almost certainly not possible, and we should say so forthrightly. We must distinguish between realism and idealism. Deterrence is going to remain our mainstay as a policy throughout this century and well into the next. I believe there are some who know that a leak-proof population defense is a fantasy, and yet have been reluctant to say so. They should say so, and those who are in a position to tell President Reagan should do so, if he doesn't know it already.

I have a feeling that, for some, this "perfect defense" fantasy is a stalking horse for the real SOl - which is simply ballistic missile defense. The real SOl is feasible, but it is not wise. There are two kinds of stability: crisis stability and arms-race stability. Although it is theoretically possible to attain a kind of crisis stability with limited missile defenses on both sides, to do so would destabilize the arms race. That is why the principles of the ABM treaty must be renewed. That's also why the apparent violations at Krasnoyarsk pose such a dange r to the future of that treaty.


Cheating, fear, and the 'grand bargain' at Geneva

TED STEVENS: Mr. President, the Senate leadership has appointed the Senate Observers' Group to monitor the discussions in Geneva in order to learn in advance about stumbling blocks that might hinder Senate approval. The most significant one is the Krasnoyarsk phased- array radar, which, because it could serve as an important part of a ballistic missile defense system, seems to us a clear violation of the ABM treaty. The Russians have not offered any plausible explanation for this radar.


NUNN: Mr. President, I agree that the Soviet Union must understand how seriously members of Congress, and also those in the executive branch, view these alleged violations. Addressing this issue is a prerequisite for any kind of agreement in Geneva.


GORE; Whether or not that radar is militarily significant, when the debate in the United States shifts to ballistic missile defense and whether to scrap the ABM treaty, those who support SOl will be strengthened enormously if they are able to argue that the Soviet Union does not feel strongly enough about the treaty's principles to refrain from violating them.


DOBRYNIN: The senators are careful enough, diplomatic enough. They say "alleged violations," "it seems to us," and so on. But that is just the point. When I go to the State Department to ask about specific violations, they always say, "Look, Mr. Ambassador, we don't have exactly proof, but we strongly suspect this is the case." It doesn't help the negotiations to politicize these suspicions. In 1972 the two nations established a Standing Consultative Commission to handle complaints like this. And there are always complaints, from your side and our side. The complaints are probably divided about fifty-fifty. But this Administration has a different approach. In the past few years you complain almost every day; one can hardly find time to read all the reports. If you have a complaint, bring it to the commission and we'll discuss it.

Now, when this Krasnoyarsk radar which you are so worried about is finished - it's still under construction - it will be used to track our sputniks. That's all. Maybe we'll invite some of you skeptics to come and see how it works. It will be easy for you to determine from the lengths of the waves what the real purpose of this particular radar is.

You know, in our opinion you violate treaties yourself. SALT II says both sides are obligated not to alter the rough strategic parity that existed at the time of the negotiations. Now you're installing Pershing lIs and cruise missiles in Europe. To us these are strategic weapons - they can hit Moscow and Leningrad. To us these missiles are a violation of SALT II. Recently you tested an anti-missile missile, a modified Minuteman that intercepted an oncoming missile over the Pacific. That's a violation of the ABM treaty.

So there are charges and countercharges. Let's present these charges to the very knowledgeable people on the commission so they can try to resolve them in a peaceful, mutually satisfactory way.


CARTER: I think it's noteworthy that the senators here have made similar comments about the Krasnoyarsk radar. And I understood Ambassador Dobrynin to suggest that rather than risk a breakdown in the negotiations, the Soviet Union might offer an on-site inspection. That seems very significant. Perhaps Kenneth Adelman would like to comment on these points.


ADELMAN; Everyone agrees that to be serious about arms control is to be serious about compliance - otherwise, it's not arms control at all but unilateral disarmament. Ambassador Dobrynin in was incorrect; the American reports during the last two years have not been about "alleged" violations. They have described in detail the Soviet Union's serious and definite violations of the ABM treaty, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, and political commitments made under the Threshold Test Ban Treaty. As for Krasnoyarsk, when the United States first detected that radar in the summer of 1983, we immediately approached Ambassador Dobrynin and requested a special session of the Standing Consultative Committee. The Russians refused. Ambassador Dobrynin now seems to offer the chance of an on-site inspection; that certainly holds some promise. We'll see.

When I testified before the Armed Services Committee earlier this year, none of the senators doubted the Russians were violating treaties. The question is, what do we do about it? And what do those violations say about the arms control process? The Krasnovarsk radar, for example, must have been planned in 1970, at the very time when expectations were highest for detente and arms control.

The Administration and its critics obviously disagree over SDI. Why does the President believe it is worth a substantial research program? First, there is the danger of an accidental or unauthorized ballistic missile launch. At present, the President could respond to such a launch only by doing nothing or by retaliating in kind. Second, the idea of deterrence has always included both a component of protection and a component of punitive action; SOl promises to move us toward a deterrent posture that would emphasize protection. Today, the President must keep the peace by threatening mutual annihilation. That is an awesome responsibility, especially in view of recent research on "nuclear winter." Finally, as others have mentioned, SDl research is a prudent hedge against a Soviet program that has been going on for many years.

Contrary to what Ambassador Dobrynin said, the United States is discussing SOl at Geneva; we have a team there doing nothing but discussing it. And I should point out that in January the United States and the Soviet Union agreed that a ban on defense research could not be verified.

We in the Administration are very hopeful. We have a President who has just received a strong mandate from the people; the Russians have a new leader who may have a long tenure ahead of him. Both say they want radical reductions in nuclear weapons. Conditions may be far more favorable for achieving such reductions than they have been in the past.


JAMES R. SCHLESINGER: As has been observed, negotiations cannot proceed unless the interrelationship between offense and defense is grappled with. I myself am skeptical about SDl - its pace, its military utility, and its cost. Yet our Russian friends should remember that the United States has been forced to consider strategic defense primarily because the Soviet Union has pursued an enormous buildup of counterforce weapons, in violation of the spirit of the SALT and ABM agreements of 1972,

If the Russians are in fact now eager to negotiate a general agreement, this is but another illustration of the fascinating lack of simultaneity that has characterized postwar U.S., - Soviet relations. In 1945 the United States was not only prepared to discuss disarmament; it was prepared to disarm without discussion. It disbanded its forces, abandoned the draft, brought the boys home. Perhaps the monumental achievement of Joseph Stalin was to coax the United States out of its semi-isolationist state through a series of incidents in the late 1940s that I hardly need recount. When Americans were most inclined to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence, the Russians overplayed their hand. During the 19S0s and 1960s, the massive Soviet conventional forces facing Western Europe were rationalized by many as a necessary means to neutralize the American advantage in strategic nuclear weapons. That advantage has disappeared; the Soviet armies have not. Indeed, they have been strengthened.

After 1972 the American attitude was one of peaceful coexistence, reflected in the emphasis on detente. An immense buildup of large Soviet land-based missiles ensued, a buildup which was clearly inconsistent with the spirit of the 1972 agreements and undermined one of the premises on which the ABM treaty rests.

Today, the Soviet Union demands that we proceed with a broader agreement, claiming - and there is some logical justification for it - that the deployment of strategic defenses would create a structural imbalance. If the Soviet Union feels strongly about this, it might offer to do something about one or both of the two imbalances that were created by prior Soviet policy: the massive conventional forces still threatening Western Europe and the monumental counterforce arsenal deployed against the United States since 1972. Is the Soviet Union prepared to reduce its own offensive forces drastically' If so, I believe a way can be found to deal with what Moscow regards as the threat of strategic defense.


GORE: But in that case the United States will find itself facing a moment of truth. How to give up SDI? And how to verify a pledge to do so? I think the criteria outlined by Paul Nitze - that any strategic defense system must itself be survivable, stabilizing, and cost-effective at the margin - might offer a graceful way to solve the first problem. And, as Cyrus Vance implied, amending the ABM treaty to distinguish between research and development, on the one hand, and deployment, on the other, might provide a way to reach a comprehensive agreement. I suggest three specific and verifiable provisions. One, no experiments with hypervelocity electromagnetic rail guns in space. Two, no experiments with high-energy or directed-energy systems in space. Three, no experiments with large-array mirrors operating in space cooperatively with energy sources on the ground. This cap on SOl research could be coupled with cuts in Soviet offensive missiles and bombers. Such a comprehensive tradeoff now seems to be the most positive outcome possible at Geneva - although the odds are against it.


JONES: Frankly, I think people at both ends of the political spectrum expect too much from arms control. They tend to think the negotiations will somehow make all our problems go away. But in my judgment, the arms control process itself is almost as important as any agreement. For even if both sides scrapped 5,000 nuclear weapons tomorrow, the world would be no safer if tensions between the two countries remained the same. What these negotiations do is establish some degree of mutual confidence.

There must be some way to break through the tremendous suspicions ami fears that are to a large extent the driving forces in superpower relations. One way to begin would be to establish a regular dialogue between American and Soviet military leaders - who, from my experience, tend to be more moderate than many of the political people on either side. When SALT II was signed in 1979 I accompanied President Carter to Vienna and met with Marshal Ogarkov. It sounds incredible, but that was the first time the two most senior military officers of the two countries had conferred since General Marshall met with Marshal Zhukov after World War II. In that one meeting we were able to clear up some misrepresentations and suspicions. I think a regular dialogue would go a long way toward reducing the fear that drives both nations.


McGEORGE BUNDY: The central problem is indeed fear: fear has driven both nations to adopt nuclear-war-fighting doctrines, and those doctrines in rum drive weapons procurement. War-fighting doctrines are not as new as some people claim they are, although in the last ten years several administrations have moved to an explicit policy of seeking to "prevail" in a nuclear war. This gives me some personal regret, because it was the Kennedy Administration that removed the word "prevail" from the doctrines of the United States government. We did so in the sound belief, so well expressed by President Reagan, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. But military planners necessarily proceed on the traditional assurnption that their mission in case of war is to achieve victory. They must measure their requirements according to what they believe the other side can do, even though, as General Jones wisely observed, senior military commanders are among the most prudent of men when it comes to risking nuclear war. So over the years both nations have proceeded - the Soviet Union steadily, the United States more by fits and starts-to build up and modernize their forces; the situation is now becoming much graver because of the President's Strategic Defense Initiative.

President Ford remarked earlier that he had known many presidents and one Soviet leader, and that none of these men had been unaware of his supreme responsibility - seeing to it that no act of his would bring his nation closer to the catastrophe of nuclear war. That deep understanding has been demonstrated at many moments, one of which - the Cuban missile crisis - I witnessed at close hand. It is nor merely a moral or personal conviction, but a prudential one. As President Eisenhower said, there is nothing in the world the communists want badly enough to risk losing the Kremlin. Presidents feel the same way about the White House.

This leads me to suggest that we should take those widely touted warnings of "atomic blackmail," which tend to fuel our procurement policies, with a very large grain of salt. History casts serious doubt on claims that more nuclear weapons will confer political advantage. Hal Sonnenfeldt reminded us that during the last five years there has been no crisis between the superpowers comparable to earlier conflicts such as those in Berlin or Cuba. As he spoke I found myself recalling the Senate hearings on SALT II in 1979, in which a battery of witnesses of great distinction - one now a very senior arms control adviser - warned that the United States was entering a period in which a "window of vulnerability" would be open and the risk of atomic blackmail high. Senators were told that the United States faced five years of "maximum danger."

Well, it didn't happen. The fear was unreal. The strategic balance was robust throughout that period; it is robust today. We are therefore entitled to approach these matters with a certain self-confidence, and to be cautious when asked to proceed on the basis of fear. And what of SDl? How interesting that not one of the reasons Mr. Adelman offered for it was the one President Reagan gave the American people in March 1983. Compare the President's dream of making nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete" with the more limited goal of reinforcing deterrence, and it is clear that there is Star Wars and there is SOl, and they are not the same. The dream is not feasible; the reality is indeed destabilizing.

The path, then, is clear. Americans should recognize that the Soviet fear of strategic defense is genuine, and ask the Russians in return to recognize that our fear of their land-based missiles is equally so. And then we should take courage, and trade away those fears in a grand, historic bargain at Geneva.
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© 2019 Mark Danner