In its potential significance, the Reykjavik summit can be compared to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 among the Soviet-American confrontations since 1945. In both episodes, the Soviet Union sought to convert its nuclear power into a coercive political force. But the stakes at Reykjavik were, and remain, much higher than those of 1962. In 1962, Nikita Khrushchev was trying to obtain a quick but not decisive change in the Soviet-American nuclear balance and an American pledge not to throw Castro out. At Reykjavik, however, Mikhail Gorbachev pressed hard for a final showdown. What he demanded, behind the smokescreen of anti-nuclear pieties, was Western recognition of the Soviet Union’s “right” to build a nuclear first-strike capacity, based on its formidable array of offensive nuclear weapons coupled with a monopoly in defensive systems. This objective has been the constant theme of the Soviet nuclear build-up and of its negotiating policy in the nuclear arms-control talks. There is no evidence since Reykjavik that this Soviet goal has been abandoned or even modified.
Gorbachev’s brilliant preparations for the Iceland meeting, and his conduct of the talks, were a stunning demonstration of the methods of Soviet aggression in the bipolar nuclear environment of contemporary world politics. Gorbachev ambushed Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik, playing on political realities the President could not resist. And he broke a sacred rule of the Foreign Ministers’ club, by not following the agenda which had been prepared by Secretary of State George Shultz and his Soviet opposite number Eduard Shevardnadze. To make the point unmistakable, he forced Reagan to swallow the Daniloff exchange. Of course Reagan refused to be mugged, a considerable achievement under the circumstances. But escaping from a Soviet trap is not in itself a triumph for American foreign policy.
Reykjavik also demonstrated once again how heavily the Soviet Union has come to rely on what Sun Tzu, the great Chinese philosopher of war, called the “indirect” methods of warfare, the psychological and political exploitation of latent military power. Sun Tzu, writing 2,500 years ago, said that such methods were the supreme expression of the military art, far more elegant and effective than crude bloodletting. Their goal is to destroy the enemy’s will to resist, and thus to achieve victory without war.
Since deliberate open warfare against the United States is too risky so long as we retain a sufficient nuclear retaliatory capacity, the Soviet Union has only used more orthodox methods of warfare in areas like Afghanistan which it thinks we do not regard as vital to our national security. Against Western Europe, Japan, and a number of other countries protected by the American nuclear umbrella, it has relied—so far—mainly on the indirect methods of Sun Tzu. After all, the Soviet leadership does not want to inherit the great Western centers of economic power as smoking ruins, contaminated by radiation and poison gases.
For the Soviet leaders, who never forget that Red Army troops in large numbers surrendered to the Nazis as liberators in 1941 and helped the Hungarian revolutionaries in 1956, Sun Tzu’s methods are also attractive for another reason. They cannot be sure that their European troops would fight the Western allies.
The Soviet Union has long believed that the most powerful modern weapon in its Sun Tzu arsenal would be a clear-cut Soviet first-strike nuclear capacity. The Soviet leaders have devoted a stupendous effort to achieving a nuclear force of that character. They are altogether correct in believing that an unequivocal Soviet first-strike capability would split and paralyze the West, inhibiting the possibility of any Western response, conventional or nuclear, to the indefinite expansion of Soviet power. No Western government wants to test the arcane calculations of a nuclear first-strike exercise in practice.
What the Soviet leaders think a clear-cut first-strike nuclear capability could accomplish for them was brought out in Gorbachev’s interview with the Czech newspaper Rude Pravo on September 9, 1986. In the course of that interview, Gorbachev complained about many American defense activities since the Geneva summit in 1985. Among them he listed “bandit-style, strong-arm, neoglobalist action against Libya and Nicaragua.” The term “neoglobalist” has suddenly become a staple of Soviet propaganda. It recalls the definition of détente offered by Gorbachev’s patron and predecessor Yuri Andropov on August 4, 1978. In view of the nature of nuclear weapons and the state of the nuclear balance, Andropov said, détente between the Soviet Union and the Western nations was an obligation of humanity. And the model for détente, he went on, was the friendly and cooperative relation between the Soviet Union and Finland.
However one judges the wisdom, prudence, and effectiveness of recent American actions against Libya and Nicaragua, it is breathtaking for the Soviet Union to suggest that the United States is exceeding its proper role in world affairs by attempting to protect its security interests in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt would not have been amused by the claim that the Mediterranean and the Caribbean are Soviet lakes.
The central problem, then, of world politics and of American national security remains what it has been since 1945: the Soviet program of indefinite expansion achieved by the aggressive use of force. The possibility of direct Soviet moves against Western Europe and Japan was contained and deterred during the Truman administration, and a Soviet nuclear threat against China was successfully met by Richard Nixon. In recent years, the most active part of the Soviet campaign of expansion has been directed against strategic targets in the Third World—targets of importance in outflanking and enveloping the major centers of power, the United States, its NATO allies, China, Japan, and a few other key countries.
The genteel vocabulary of Western diplomacy now labels Soviet attempts to exploit or exacerbate Third World conflicts as “regional problems.” Reagan sought to have this issue placed on the agenda at Reykjavik. Gorbachev wanted to confine the Iceland summit to the intricacies of nuclear arms-control negotiation. On this, Gorbachev prevailed. Except for a few formal American comments for the record about regional conflicts and human rights, the Iceland summit was limited to the problem of nuclear arms control.
The tactical reason for the Soviet desire to make nuclear arms control the centerpiece of the Soviet-American dialogue is the Soviet belief that a nearly mystical faith in arms control has become the opiate of Western opinion in general and American opinion in particular. In this view, the Soviet tacticians are right.
An enthusiasm for arms-control and disarmament agreements is an integral feature of American culture. From the beginning, the American mind, largely shaped by Low Church Protestantism, has had a special faith in law as a shaping influence in the social process. The word “covenant” has great resonance in the American language. We take a keen interest in disarmament and arms-control treaties for the same reasons which led us to draft and adopt the Constitution and endow the Supreme Court with extraordinary power as its prophet. Thus the United States proposed an agreement demilitarizing the Great Lakes as early as 1783, and for over two centuries has been a vigorous advocate of international arbitration and many other initiatives in the same spirit. Our first reaction to the nuclear weapon after World War II was to propose the Baruch Plan, to be embodied in a treaty bringing all forms of nuclear energy under the control of an international agency, and prohibiting national nuclear forces, including our own, which were then a monopoly.
The American effort to obtain nuclear arms-control agreements slowed down after the Soviet Union rejected the Baruch Plan, but was revived and accelerated by the Cuban missile crisis, which we saw as a demonstration of the risks of nuclear uncertainty. Arms-control agreements, we thought, could help to bring some stability and predictability into the contentious rivalry of the great powers, and keep that rivalry from escalating into nuclear war.
With the steady expansion of Soviet power since the Cuban missile crisis, and the rising pressure of the Soviet military build-up, the traditional Western enthusiasm for arms-control agreements has become an obsession. In a mood which contains disturbing elements of hysteria, the people of the democracies are more and more attracted by the glitter of panaceas, and above all by the illusion that arms-control and disarmament agreements are assurances of peace, a ritual that could achieve peace without tears. That illusion was equally popular in the 1930’swhen Western governments kept pressing disarmament treaties on Hitler while Germany rearmed and began its career of conquest. The persistence of the view, despite the failures of arms-control efforts during the interwar period and the last twenty years, has offered the Soviet government a dazzling opportunity to divert attention from the real problems of Western security. The Soviet leadership has taken full advantage of this opportunity.
Thus the Soviet propaganda apparatus, led by Gorbachev himself, has been preaching the virtues of a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons, a comprehensive test ban, and a limited test-ban treaty confining nuclear testing both in number and in scale.
The movement for a moratorium on testing and a comprehensive test-ban treaty is a cruel and pathetic deception. Its unstated premise is that if tests are forbidden, the existing stock of nuclear weapons will die, and no new nuclear weapons could be made. Both parts of the premise are incorrect. No one knows how long existing nuclear weapons could be fired, but all are agreed that they will remain usable for many years. And new weapons modeled on existing weapons can be manufactured without further tests. But a moratorium or a comprehensive test ban would prevent the development of smaller, cleaner, and more accurate nuclear weapons, which would be less dangerous than existing weapons to the environment and to noncombatants. The United States has steadily replaced older weapons with such modern weapons and greatly cut the size of its nuclear arsenal in the process.
There was an informal test moratorium during the late 50’sand early 60’swhich the Soviet Union broke without warning, leading President John F. Kennedy to remark that we should never make such an agreement again. During the moratorium period, many of the scientists working on the improvement of the American nuclear arsenal took more active jobs, and it required a number of years to restore the vitality of our laboratories. The Soviet Union has no such problems; its scientists do as they are told.
All the nuclear powers and many others are in fact against a test moratorium or a comprehensive test ban, although most of them give lip service to the idea. The United States has stubbornly persisted in opposing these projects and explaining why.
The ten-year-old Threshold Test Ban and Peaceful Nuclear Explosion Treaty, limiting the scale of underground nuclear tests, is another matter. Although the reports from Reykjavik do not coincide on the point, some American officials have said that the Soviet Union has accepted, others that it is ready to discuss, an American proposal on testing which it had previously rejected—a proposal to improve the verification provisions of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and then ratify it. Such a step would not be a serious military burden, and it might reduce the irrational clamor for a comprehensive test ban. On the other hand, it might have the opposite effect.
Beyond the level of tactics and political theater, there is a weighty strategic reason for the Soviet Union’s desire to limit the Soviet-American dialogue to nuclear arms-control issues. Even though a deliberate nuclear war among the nuclear powers is the least likely of possible scenarios for the future, the state of the nuclear balance is a critical and under many circumstances a decisive factor in determining the ability of these powers to use or threaten to use conventional force. The link between the nuclear balance and the use of conventional weapons was brought out dramatically in the Cuban missile crisis. In that confrontation, the Soviet Union retreated in the face of an American threat to invade Cuba with conventional forces. The threat was backed by a nuclear arsenal obviously capable of retaliation against the Soviet Union for any use of nuclear weapons against the United States. In 1962, the United States could have controlled the possible escalation of any conflict over Cuba, so that even a local use of conventional force by the Soviet Union would have been futile.
Soviet policy took this aspect of the Cuban missile crisis to heart. Soviet leaders perceived arms-control agreements as devices that could allow them to build a nuclear first-strike capability, and prevent the United States from matching such a capability. The Soviet Union has acted on that principle, transforming a nuclear force which was far behind that of the United States in 1962, and significantly inferior in 1972 (when the SALT I agreements were signed), to one which is larger than that of the United States in land-based ballistic missiles, and growing more rapidly than that of the United States in every other weapons category.
In its report of July 16, 1986, Where We Stand on Arms Control, the Committee on the Present Danger said:
The Soviet negotiating pattern since 1969 . . . is consistent with only one hypothesis: that the Soviet objective in the negotiations is to obtain U.S. and Western acquiescence in a Soviet right to massive nuclear superiority, especially in land-based ballistic missiles. The 1972 Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms accepted a Soviet advantage in ICBM’s, and the Soviet Union has been trying through arms control to get its superiority in ICBM warheads and throwweight recognized as a law of nature.
The consequences of an agreement based on the Soviet approach are described in these terms by the distinguished French expert, François de Rose:
A disarming first-strike capacity of the land-based components of strategic forces would create a situation of permanent insecurity, no longer balanced by the certainty of retaliation at the same level. Under such circumstances, the victim state under threat would be faced with the choice between accepting defeat or resorting to a second strike at the risk of annihilation. . . .
What Helmut Schmidt rightly called the “subliminal” political influence of such a first-strike capacity is already palpable both in Europe and in the United States. It arises from the present state of the Soviet-American nuclear balance because of the Soviet Union’s heavy advantage in intercontinental and intermediate-range ground-based missiles.1
In Iceland, Gorbachev said that the Soviet Union would make no agreements limiting either intercontinental (ICBM) or intermediate-range (INF) offensive weapons unless the United States agreed to modifications in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and agreed also not to abrogate that treaty for a period of ten years. The purpose of these proposals, clearly, was to destroy the American Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program or confine it entirely to laboratory research. The United States rejected this and proposed signing agreements on strategic and intermediate-range offensive weapons as soon as such agreements became possible, although it did indicate that it might be willing not to abrogate the ABM Treaty for ten years as part of a larger package.
In response, apparently, to Soviet arguments about the first-strike implications of a successful American SDI program, the United States advanced a dramatic proposal to abolish all long-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles by 1996, in two distinct stages. During the first five years, there would be an approximately 50-percent cut in all strategic forces to equal levels of 1,600 delivery vehicles (including bombers) for each side, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads. A sublimit would substantially reduce the present Soviet lead in ground-based intercontinental ballistic-missile warheads, specifically including the Soviet “heavy” missile systems which were not affected by the 1972 SALT I agreements and have been sacrosanct ever since. During the second five years contemplated by the American proposal, all remaining ground-based and submarine-based strategic ballistic missiles would be eliminated.
The Soviet counterproposal appeared to raise the President’s bid. It called for the destruction of all remaining strategic forces during the second five-year period: that is, it would eliminate bombers as well as missiles. The question of sea-launched cruise missiles would be taken up during the next round of negotiations; air-launched cruise missiles would be counted as one warhead each; and bombers carrying bombs or cruise missiles would count as strategic nuclear-delivery vehicles for purposes of the first five-year stage.
The issue of reducing and restructuring long-range nuclear forces was matched by proposals and counterproposals for an agreement on intermediate-range forces, which include both ground-based ballistic missiles and ground-based cruise missiles capable of being fired from the Soviet Union to reach targets in Europe, the Middle East, Canada, Japan, China, and smaller Northeast Asian countries, but—except for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest—not the United States. The final position at Reykjavik both for the Soviet Union and the United States was that there be no intermediate-range weapons in Europe and parts of western Siberia from which European targets could be reached by such weapons, and that the Soviets could have 100 intermediate-range warheads in the Far Eastern part of the Soviet Union, matched by 100 such warheads on U.S. territory. The parties discussed the question of limits on shorter-range Soviet ballistic missiles which threaten targets in Western Europe, China, and the Middle East, but did not even come close to agreement on this subject, despite its obvious relevance. They did, however, agree to negotiate on the problem six months after an INF agreement was signed.2
The pattern that emerges from the reports about the Iceland conversations, then, can be summarized in these terms: both sides seemed to favor deep cuts in strategic and intermediate-range offensive weapons. The United States favored reductions that would achieve deterrent equality for each side, measured by the number of warheads and their destructive capacity. The Soviet position on this crucial issue remains equivocal.3 The Soviet Union sought to stop the American program for developing defenses against nuclear weapons; this was also one of its principal goals in the 1972 SALT I negotiations which produced the ABM Treaty and the five-year Interim Agreement Limiting Strategic Offensive Weapons.
Nominally, the Soviet-American argument over SDI involves the interpretation of the ABM Treaty of 1972. Thus far, the argument has generated more heat than light. Article V of the treaty bans all ABM systems except for the land-based systems specified in the treaty—one for each side, defending either its capital or a missile site. The Soviet Union has an elaborate defensive system for Moscow, which is now being extensively modernized; the United States has abandoned efforts to defend its ICBM missile site in North Dakota.
The issue in contention is whether the ban of Article V of the ABM Treaty applies only to defensive systems based on technologies known at the time the treaty was signed or whether it applies to future systems based on other technologies as well. The U.S. in 1972 sought to have the treaty prohibit defensive systems based on future as well as known technologies, but the Soviet Union refused, pointing out that it was not possible to legislate in advance about the application of technologies whose potentialities were completely unknown. As a result, Agreed Statement D was appended to the treaty, providing that “in the event ABM systems based on other physical principles . . . are created in the future, specific limitations on such systems and their components would be subject to discussion.” John B. Rhinelander, then counsel to the American SALT delegation, wrote in 1973 that “the treaty prohibits the deployment (but not the development or testing) of ‘future’ ABM systems based on components capable of substituting for ABM missiles, launchers, or radars.”4 In short, as the Committee on the Present Danger concludes:
The development and testing of defensive systems based on new technologies is entirely consistent with the ABM Treaty, which carefully provided that the implications of such developments should be discussed by the two countries before they were deployed to see whether new agreements about such weapons or amendments to the ABM Treaty were desirable.
After the treaty was signed, however, some American officials treated the issue as if the Soviets had accepted the original American view and Agreed Statement D were mere surplusage. The Soviet Union remained silent on the subject, but actively pursued research and development on space activities generally, and in particular on defensive systems based on “other physical principles.” The result is a Soviet lead in space technology which has been characterized as “almost frightening” by Jane’s Research Organization in London. The same group has found that the Soviet Union is ten years ahead of the United States in the development of missile defenses. Other studies reach similar conclusions.
Thus, killing America’s SDI program would at a stroke give the Soviet Union the possibility of developing an impregnable first-strike capacity. For, obviously, if one side were to have even a partial defense against nuclear weapons, and the other side none, the nuclear equation would be decisively changed even if each side had the same arsenal of offensive weapons. (This is why separate agreements on the several classes of nuclear weapons and defense systems would be unwise.)
Both at home and abroad, opinion is recovering from the first shock of SDI’s emergence as a central issue in arms-control negotiations, and coming to realize that the United States had no choice but to undertake an enlarged program of defense against nuclear weapons. The West could not leave the field to the Soviet Union. Opinion is also coming to realize that even moderately effective Western defensive systems could offset the formidable and growing Soviet lead in ground-based ballistic missiles, and thus deny the Soviet Union the first-strike capability it has been trying so hard and so long to achieve.
It is equally apparent that defensive systems could be useful against the shorter-range ballistic missiles not yet dealt with in the nuclear-arms negotiations. The Soviet Union is deploying such weapons on an increasing scale and even providing them to client states like Syria and Libya. Furthermore, there is a serious trend toward the development of relatively short-range ballistic missiles by other industrialized Third World nations.
So far as INF is concerned, the issue is more political than military. From the point of view of security, indeed, there is no INF problem. Soviet intercontinental weapons can be fired at targets in Western Europe, Japan, or the Middle East as well as in the United States. But the development of Soviet intermediate-range weapons has immense political significance. It is a most effective device to put political pressure on Western Europe, China, and Japan at a time when the change in the Soviet-American intercontinental-weapons balance is increasing doubt about the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee.
The United States undertook separate INF negotiations in 1981 when the Soviet Union had a monopoly of intermediate-range ground-based missiles. The “zero option,” abolishing all intermediate-range nuclear weapons for both sides, or an agreement giving each side the same right to deploy a small number of such weapons, always had “decoupling” implications for the relationship between the United States and Western Europe, on the one hand, and between the United States and its Asian allies and associates on the other. Nonetheless, in 1981 and 1982 the United States continued to support the zero option, which had been suggested originally by the then Chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, because of the contribution it could make to redressing the overall nuclear balance. The zero option was opposed by the Soviets then, as they opposed all compromise proposals for reduction to equal levels, but at Reykjavik Gorbachev seemed to favor it—for Europe only. Yet the zero option only for Europe would have unfavorable political consequences, dividing our Asian from our European allies.
Even more than the zero option for INF, however, the most spectacular idea broached in Reykjavik—the American proposal to abolish offensive ballistic missiles entirely within a ten-year period—demonstrates how the addiction to arms control can lead us into a Soviet trap.
There are conflicting reports about the genesis of this proposal. Some attribute it to a letter Reagan sent to Gorbachev in July 1986, and others to a note passed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle to Secretary of State George Shultz during a meeting at Reykjavik. Both reports are correct.
There is some conflict also about exactly what the United States proposed. In his statement before the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on October 20, 1986, Kenneth Adelman, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), said that under our offer “both sides would begin over a five-year period a reduction of all strategic nuclear arms—bombers, air-launched cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and the weapons they carry. The weapons would be reduced 50 percent in this five-year period. During the next five years, we would continue to eliminate all remaining offensive ballistic missiles of whatever range,” and continue with the development and testing of defensive weapons, in accordance with the ABM Treaty.
The American proposal for a 50-percent reduction during the first five-year period is based on the same approach as the proposals we advanced in November 1985 and February 1986, and seems to be subject to the same criticism which was made in July 1986 by the Committee on the Present Danger:
The administration’s revised formula would fail in its primary objective. It would not eliminate the Soviet Union’s first-strike capability, or even reduce it much. It would, however, severely diminish the capabilities of all three strategic-force components of the U.S. triad, leaving the United States with a greatly diminished deterrent capacity. The most severe cuts would be made in the most survivable element of U.S. strategic forces, and the one with the most warheads—the sea-based deterrent. . . .
Soviet forces could absorb similar cuts in deployed strategic ballistic missile systems—especially in ICBM’s—with lesser impact as a result of the Soviet advantage in “cold-launch” techniques (which allow launchers to be reused), the thousands of non-deployed ballistic missiles in the Soviet inventory, and the lack of any U.S. ballistic-missile defense. Against a greatly diminished U.S. target base, such a Soviet force would serve as an ominous reserve.
That criticism could be met by a sharp but not a 50-percent reduction of strategic nuclear weapons, including ballistic missiles, to equal levels, defined in terms both of warheads and their destructive capacity, and in terms of the throwweight of missiles, rather than (as in the past) the number of launchers.
It is, however, impossible to discern any convincing rationale for completely eliminating ballistic missiles during the second five years of such an agreement, even if the formidable problem of monitoring compliance could be solved.
In the first place, abolishing ballistic missiles completely is a chimera. The same physical principles are applied to launch satellites, nuclear weapons, and space vehicles. Knowledge of the relevant technology is spreading rapidly. And many countries, large and small, now possess the capacity to make ballistic missiles.
Secondly, an agreement to abolish ballistic missiles would violate the prudent policy of maintaining the “triad” in our nuclear-weapons program—the policy of developing land-based, sea-based, and air-based weapons. That policy is required by the possibility that technology might suddenly make one or another class of weapons obsolete, or partially obsolete. The maxim about not putting too many eggs in one basket remains sound. And the chances for inducing the Soviet Union to give up its policy of expansion in the near future are surely not great. If we try to anticipate the longer future, other predator nations may appear, and bid for hegemony in their turn. And there is always the risk that an irrational political leader may acquire nuclear weapons.
All that being the case, we shall continue to need a deterrent retaliatory nuclear capacity for as far ahead as we can see. The force behind deterrence will also need to be as strong and flexible as possible. Existing and prospective Soviet defensive systems can stop some of our bombers and cruise missiles, which are slow and vulnerable. Soviet defenses against ballistic missiles are not yet nearly so effective. Ballistic missiles are therefore indispensable to the fulfillment of our nuclear strategy.
Some administration spokesmen have said that the United States has proposed to eliminate ballistic missiles as a class because they are the only weapons now capable of a first strike. This is surely an error. Against a non-nuclear power or an inferior nuclear power, any system for carrying a nuclear weapon is capable of executing a first strike. The only nuclear weapons thus far used in war, after all, were carried by bombers. Beyond a certain technological threshold, the principal distinction between first-strike and retaliatory weapons is their number and quality.
It is of course true that ballistic missiles are still the most accurate, speedy, and destructive nuclear-weapon carriers, and the ones least vulnerable to defense. But their capacity to execute a first strike depends upon their number in relation to the types of targets to be attacked, the enemy’s defenses, and the opposing forces capable of a response.
Manifestly it is also correct, as Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger pointed out in a speech on November 17, 1986, that while all nuclear weapons threaten massive destruction, only offensive ballistic missiles “threaten to overwhelm us in the blink of an eye.” Therefore they should, as he said, “be at the core of arms-reduction agreements.” It does not follow, however, that they can be dispensed with altogether.
It is widely assumed that we could protect our security effectively with conventional forces if nuclear forces were radically reduced or even if all nuclear weapons were eliminated. In that form, the familiar assumption is untenable. Two reasons compel the conclusion that we shall be dependent indefinitely on the threat of effective nuclear retaliation to deter nuclear or conventional-force attacks on ourselves, our allies, and other vital interests around the world. The first is that for a variety of reasons the West cannot match the Soviet Union and its allies in conventional forces in all the relevant theaters where the Soviet Union is operating or may strike. The second is that we shall have to retain a fully effective nuclear retaliatory capacity because we can never be sure that the Soviet Union will not make an attack “with all weapons”—that is, with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons—despite possible reductions in its nuclear forces and a possible “no-first-use” pledge. Former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara made the point emphatically when proposing that the United States adopt a no-first-use policy in 1984. We should have to maintain a nuclear retaliatory capacity, he said, because we could never be confident that the Soviet Union would honor its own no-first-use pledge.
A certain number of Americans who advocate the total abolition of ballistic missiles, like some of those who favor the American proposal to abolish mobile missiles, intend only to make a propaganda gesture. They meet criticisms of the proposal by assuring their critics that the Soviet Union will reject it, so there is nothing to worry about. There can be no worse ground for supporting a policy, as Gorbachev demonstrated at Reykjavik, where he leapfrogged the American proposal to abolish ballistic missiles, without accepting it, by proposing to abolish all strategic nuclear weapons and then all nuclear weapons.
There are also many Congressmen and other Americans who believe that in the end we have enough nuclear weapons to deter an attack on the United States itself, and that protecting our interests abroad does not really matter. Yet as the experience of the Cuban missile crisis shows, the deterrence of attacks on the United States requires exactly the same measure of American nuclear retaliatory capacity as the deterrence of attacks on American allies and other interests abroad. Moreover, the United States would be unable to protect its liberty if the Soviet Union gained control of Western Europe, China, and Japan.
The same reasoning applies to the American proposal to abolish mobile land-based ballistic missiles. That proposal, now several years old, is apparently still on the table in Geneva. Yet small, mobile, land-based missiles—the Midgetman, now in development—could be an important contribution to the essential task of restoring the nuclear balance. The Midgetman missile would make our ICBM force less vulnerable, and thus reduce the pressures for a “launch-on-warning” policy. And it would make it easier to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent.
Though Midgetman was urged as a necessity by the Scowcroft Commission appointed by President Reagan himself, it seems clear that the reason he later proposed to abolish it is that the administration despaired of persuading Congress to authorize small mobile missiles after it had killed the plan for deploying the large MX missiles in Nevada. Nevertheless, from the strategic point of view, Midgetman remains a sound idea.
As for the dream of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether, all American Presidents since Truman have declared their support in principle for ultimate abolition, and as Soviet spokesmen point out, Gorbachev’s call for it again at Reykjavik revives a plan Andrei Gromyko tabled in 1946. At that time, the Soviet plan was dismissed by the West as transparent propaganda, and has been similarly treated at intervals since 1946 when the Soviet Union brought it back in one form or another. In all these forms the Soviet proposals have invariably depended on national rather than international action, with minimal arrangements for the verification of compliance. But of course without complete confidence in the enforcement of compliance, such a treaty would be a trap for the obedient. By hiding 100 weapons in a cave, a treaty violator could emerge as the overlord of world politics.
But the debate about alternative plans for nuclear abolition is irrelevant. A non-nuclear world can never be restored. Any moderately industrialized country can make nuclear weapons, and any rich country can buy them. Thus the West will always need some nuclear weapons against the chance that a strong hostile power or a state under the control of an irrational leader will obtain them. The Reagan administration is urging defensive systems as an answer to the possibility of such cheating. But SDI can never be more than a partial answer. What if the attack is made or threatened against an American ally which does not have an effective defense against nuclear weapons?
Even if a non-nuclear world could be imagined, would it be in the interest of the United States to help achieve it? If the American nuclear deterrent were to be removed, could anything prevent the Soviet Union from working its will by the use of conventional forces or the threat to use them?
Recognizing that the answer to this question is no, many in Europe, the United States, and Canada nevertheless imagine that they could live as autonomous islands of peace in a world otherwise dominated by Soviet power. This idea is a suicidal illusion. The Western powers, along with China, have too much specific gravity to be allowed to flourish indefinitely as neutrals in a world order dominated by the Soviet Union. The Soviet leaders would calculate that the Western powers might, after all, wake up with a roar some morning and change their minds.
When, more than a decade ago, Henry Kissinger spoke tentatively about the “linkage” between nuclear arms-control efforts and Soviet expansion, he was denounced for placing impossible obstacles in the path of peace. His critics said that we must understand and accept Soviet expansion as a fact of life. They advanced a number of theories to justify Soviet international behavior. The aggressive use of force, some suggested, was the prerogative of a great power seeking status, recognition, and legitimacy. Alternatively, other critics explained, the Soviet drive for power was a defensive symptom of nearly paranoid suspicion or the manifestation of an inferiority complex.
Since the Soviet Union will not give up its imperial mission, Kissinger’s critics concluded, we in the West must make sure that our more and more limited efforts at containment do not explode into nuclear war. At a minimum, they urged, nuclear arms-control agreements are useful ways to stabilize the inevitable competition between the two superpowers, rules of the game that could at least keep them from going over the precipice. Some went so far as to suggest that arms-control agreements could do more—that they would of themselves produce peace, and were in effect a substitute for the harsh and costly burden of having a foreign policy at all. “Linkage” became an idea politicians and bureaucrats avoided, and scholars and journalists ignored.
But the startling beams of light which pierced the fog of Reykjavik reveal once more that linkage is a reality which cannot be evaded or exorcised. Arms-control agreements, after all, are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. For the West that end can only be the goal of peace: a pluralist world order of independent states, based on a balance of power and generally governed by the rules of international behavior set out in the United Nations Charter. The end sought by the Soviet Union is altogether different. The Soviet Union is not trying to establish a balance of world power but to escape from its restraints. It is steadily building an alternative state system based not on equilibrium but on Soviet dominance—a true Pax Sovietica. The nuclear weapon is and will remain a key factor in the continuing struggle between these rival conceptions of world public order: for the West, the ultimate deterrent of Soviet expansion; for the Soviets, the ultimate deterrent of any Western defense against their own expansionist moves.
What is also clear from Reykjavik, finally, is that Soviet foreign policy under Gorbachev has ceased to be patient and long term. Gorbachev wants answers now. Taught to believe that the correlation of military forces will determine the future of world politics, Gorbachev is demanding that the United States draw the obvious conclusion from the fact that the Soviet Union is a sronger military power than the United States, and that its military strength is growing more rapidly than ours, despite our rearmament efforts of the last ten years. Gorbachev knows as well as we do that the Bolshevik Revolution has failed economically, socially, politically, and ideologically. He knows that the government of the Soviet Union has sacrificed the standard of living of two generations of its people in order to gain great military power. He knows that it is now on the verge of achieving overwhelming strength, and the momentum to generate much more strength, especially in its nuclear arsenal and its command of outer space. He is determined to utilize this military superiority before it evaporates. Thus his violent rush to intimidate Reagan at Reykjavik.
In concentrating almost entirely on arms control to the virtual exclusion of the issue of Soviet aggression, and in flirting with proposals that would give the Soviets a clear-cut first-strike capability, the Iceland meeting left the world with a single question: is the West still “containing” the expansion of Soviet power, or is the Soviet Union “containing” (and dividing) the industrialized democracies, steadily forcing them into a narrowing perimeter by the pressure of nuclear blackmail?
1 “Beware the Loss of Fear,” Atlantic Community Quarterly, Spring 1986.
2 Since Reykjavik, there have been strong suggestions from Europe, Japan, and the United States that an INF solution providing for small equal limits on each side for Europe and the Far East would be preferable to the original American zero-zero position at Reykjavik, or the compromise position finally reached.
3 Since the summit, Gorbachev has indicated that the Soviet position still is to support equal reductions, not reductions to equal levels. For example, in his televised speech of October 14, 1986, Gorbachev said: “Let us reduce [the weapons of all three parts of the nuclear triad] by 50 percent, then we don't have to talk about levels, we don't have to talk about sublevels. We don't have to talk about numbers. Just reduce all three types by 50 percent.” This is an old Soviet formula for avoiding an agreed data base and convincing verification procedures. It has created nothing but doubt and mistrust over the years both in the nuclear-arms negotiations and in the endless Vienna talks about conventional force levels on the central front in Europe. Such arrangements would do more harm than good. Where the Soviet Union is ahead—and it is far ahead in some of the most important categories of nuclear weapons—equal reductions would of course increase its lead. In any case, despite Gorbachev's October speech, on November 7, 1986 the Soviets tabled the position at Geneva based on the Reykjavik formula of 1,600 launchers and 6,000 warheads for strategic weapons.
4 “An Overview of SALT,” American Journal of International Law Proceedings, November 1973.