A way to break the arms deadlock.
The prospects for productive arms control negotiations were little changed by last month's meeting between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The Reagan Administration's hostility to equitable weapons cuts, to a ban on testing antisatellite weapons and to prohibitions on defensive systems like his Star Wars proposal, makes any progress in the talks that begin next month in Geneva unlikely. The fear of appearing to be outmaneuvered at the bargaining table by the Russians will also inhibit the American delegation.
Given that pessimistic outlook, a dramatic initiative, one which would bypass the frustrations of bilateral negotiations, is needed. The most promising approach to arms control is unilateralism.
Unilateralism is not a new idea, but it has not received the consideration it deserves. The very word provokes derision. It is taken to imply that the United States will forgo this or that weapons system without getting anything in return. The phrase "unilateral disarmament' has been a whipping boy of politicians for a generation. The arms rivalry with the Soviet Union and the arms control process in its wake have conditioned U.S. policy-makers to think narrowly about security. Two misconceptions have guided them: strength is possible only through military expansion, and arms limitation is possible only through negotiation. The recent history of superpower relations shows how erroneous those ideas are.
The SALT process is the most vivid, and depressing, example. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, begun in 1969, were aimed at halting the arms race dead in its tracks. The talks did achieve the 1972 ABM Treaty, which arrested the development of strategic defenses, but attempts to limit offensive weapons fared poorly. As George Kennan puts it, each side sought to "retain a maximum of the weaponry for itself while putting its opponent to the maximum disadvantage.' A ban on the most advanced offensive technology of that time--multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs--was vetoed by Henry Kissinger, partly because the Pentagon opposed it. Kissinger's "back channel' to the Kremlin did not curb submarine-launched missiles adequately either, but the key outcome of SALT I was the failure to ban MIRVs, particularly given the Soviet Union's large lead in land-based missile launchers.
The result of that process, including Kissinger's misrepresentation of the treaty before Congress when he testified that it placed limits on the modernization of Soviet missiles, which was not in the agreement, hampered arms control efforts for the rest of the decade. Critics seized on the discrepancies between what Kissinger said the Russians had agreed to and what they actually had agreed to; they discredited the entire process by accusing the Russians of cheating and sounded alarms about America's declining global stature. From 1972 to 1979, the SALT II pact was hammered out, but it too set generous limits on intercontinental ballistic missiles and was greeted without enthusiasm by both the left and the right. The two pacts gave birth to awesome new weapons. In exchange for the Pentagon's support of SALT I, President Nixon promised it the B-1 bomber and the Trident submarine; the price for SALT II was the cruise missile program.
The Pentagon, the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore weapons laboratories and hawkish elements in Congress and elsewhere in the Washington bureaucracy have an institutional interest in seeing the arms control process bogged down. Their obstructionism was evident during the 1957-63 test ban negotiations; it prevented a ban on MIRVs in 1969, as I noted; and it continues to impede all weapons negotiations. Advances in weapons technology continue at a startling rate, easily outpacing diplomatic efforts to bring nuclear arms under control. The entire process appears to be a recipe for failure.
Unilateralism could improve on this dispiriting record in three ways. First, the United States could move to eliminate destabilizing weapons and provocative doctrines. Second, it could announce unilateral steps--for example, reductions in the size of the nuclear arsenal--with the proviso that they would be canceled if the Russians did not reciprocate. Third, it could propose moratoriums on the development of new technologies, like antisatellite weapons, as a basis for agreements that would ban such systems permanently.
Let us consider the unilateral actions that could be taken in the area of technology and doctrine. Arms control is nothing more than a set of decisions on the development and use of technology, guided by the dual criteria of preserving national security and reducing the likelihood of war. Some technologies are destabilizing, others can increase stability. Satellites, for instance, expand reconnaissance capability, including verification of arms control compliance. Weapons development is sometimes guided by doctrine, which envisions how a nuclear war might be waged and the types and numbers of weapons thereby required in the nation's nuclear forces--what is known as the force structure. From the 1960s on, nuclear doctrine has drifted steadily away from mutually assured destruction, the popular conception of deterrence, to warfighting, the ability to persevere in a prolonged conflict. Doctrine, force structure and new technology make up a trinity. Each component shapes the others, and each, in different ways, is susceptible to unilateral restraints.
Changes in doctrine, for example could curtail provocative deployments of nuclear weapons without sacrificing their deterrent value. To achieve that dual mission one must transform, however subtly, the configuration of forces and the rules of command.
One such idea calls for the United States to declare a policy of "no first use' of nuclear weapons. Current doctrine approves the use of tactical nuclear weapons to repeal a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. But any "local' nuclear battle is almost certain to escalate into a global conflagration. A prudent alternative, proponents of a no-first-use doctrine say, is to beef up conventional forces and eliminate nuclear weapons.
The adoption of such a policy would be more than a mere declaration of intent, its adherents maintain; it would change NATO strategy in Europe. McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara have urged the adoption of some supplementary measures: for example, pulling back forward-based nuclear arms in Europe to eliminate the "use 'em or lose 'em' mentality.
The no-first-use concept has several advantages. The argument against basing nuclear weapons near Soviet bloc borders is compelling and applies to the Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany. Those missiles have no military value, yet if a conventional conflict broke out, their forward basing could raise the stakes irreversibly.
A revision of doctrine could also change the makeup of U.S. strategic forces. Now the Pentagon is shifting to a nuclear warfighting strategy. The goal of this new doctrine is to "prevail' in a nuclear war, which requires a substantially larger and more diverse nuclear force, including the MX, the Pershing 2 and the Trident missiles. Doctrine thus militates against unilateral restraint.
But if the doctrine was changed--if the United States returned exclusively and unequivocally to a second-strike deterrent --it could forgo the production of the MX, for example. The case for that ten-warhead missile has never been made convincingly. Even the Scowcroft commission advocated production of the MX more to signal America's "political will' than because of its strategic merits. The missile is a silo-busting, first-strike weapon, and since it cannot be lodged in attack-proof silos, it is destabilizing. In a crisis, the Russians would be tempted to destroy the MX before it destroyed them.
The arguments against the MX are now widely accepted (Congress has nearly voted down the program twice) and lead to an obvious conclusion: Don't build it. Yet the domestic political costs of canceling a major weapons system are prohibitive. Jimmy Carter discovered how well organized the arms lobby is when he ended the B-1 bomber program in favor of more sophisticated alternatives, cruise missiles and "stealth' technology. Whereas shifting doctrine is noticed principally by the cognoscenti, sacrificing a big weapon amounts to a public hanging.
A decision to scrap the MX would be more salable in Congress if it was part of force restructuring, replaced by another ICBM--specifically, the Midgetman, a single-warhead missile. One thousand Midgetman missiles are less vulnerable to a surprise attack than 1,000 warheads on a hundred MX missiles. Midgetman is a fearsome weapon; like the MX, it has a counterforce capability. But adopting it would be a step toward greater stability.
If the United States was serious about maintaining a stable deterrent, it might station all missiles on submarines, where they would be safe from a Soviet ICBM attack. That is not politically palatable, however, because of the different services' investment in the strategic triad. So modest propositions like Midgetman-for-MX must remain at the top of the pragmatic unilateralist's agenda. The potential value of force management and of attendant shifts in doctrine should not be underrated just because they are taken unilaterally or, indeed, incrementally: the replacement of MIRVed missiles by the Midgetman would be a gigantic achievement.
Unilateralism is inherently limited, however; the arms race is, after all, bilateral. The United States can go only so far in reforming or reducing its atomic firepower, including a shift to Midgetman, without a show of equal restraint by the Russians. What sort of reciprocal measures could be taken?
Among the proposals for reciprocal gestures now in circulation are those gathered under the rubric "deep cuts.' Kennan, for one, has called for an immediate 50 percent reduction in nuclear arsenals on both sides. "Whether the balance of reduction would be precisely even--whether it could be construed to favor statistically one side or the other--would not be the question,' he wrote in 1981. "Once we start thinking that way, we would be back on the same old fateful track that has brought us where we are today.' There have since been many variations on Kennan's theme, and the idea has gained popularity even among hard-nosed national security analysts, who admit that the superpowers' arsenals contain more than ten times the force needed for deterrence.
Deep cuts are probably unacceptable to the U.S. and Soviet military establishments, however, and it is there that barriers to such reductions would be erected. Intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers are the family jewels of the American and Soviet militaries; they are, indeed, what makes them superpowers. The strategic arsenal is the most obvious target for arms controllers, but it is the least amenable to shrinkage. If force reductions are to be achieved, they must be preceded by a series of reciprocal arms control steps that serve as confidence builders, enhancing each side's sense of security. The most direct, immediate and effective set of initiatives of this sort are test bans, which constrain the weaponeers from building new generations of weapons.
Quantitative reductions are quite difficult to achieve because once weapons are deployed, neither side wants to remove them. Yet while the large numbers of weapons in the superpowers' arsenals is disconcerting, many arms analysts contend that qualitative improvements in those forces constitute a greater potential threat to peace than do quantitative increases. Since 1981, America has dramatically increased its procurement of microelectronic gadgets intended to improve accuracy and speed, evade detection, destroy hardened targets and the like. That policy reflects the military's realization that there are no targets in the Soviet Union that are not already covered by U.S. missiles, so improving quality is all that is left. Before weapons can be adopted, however, they must be tested under realistic conditions. Because tests are usually detectable, banning them is easier and more effective than proscribing specific weapons.
Test bans are also more amenable to a unilateral approach. The most significant test ban achieved to date--the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963--was the result of a unilateral initiative. For six years, Americans and Russians traded ideas for nuclear test bans while conducting on-and-off negotiations and on-and-off atmospheric testing. The breakthrough came with President Kennedy's commencement address at American University on June 10, 1963. That speech, intended to transform and soften U.S.-Soviet relations in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, called for "early agreement on a comprehensive test ban treaty.' The President announced, "To make clear our good faith and solemn convictions on the matter, I now declare that the United States does not propose to conduct nuclear tests in the atmosphere so long as other states do not do so.' As a result of the momentum created by the American University speech, the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow on August 5. Whether it was due to the conciliatory language of the speech or to Kennedy's suspension of tests is hard to gauge, but the latter must have had a salutary effect.
Most remarkable was the ease with which the unilateral measures were set in motion. At a critical moment, President Kennedy simply declared a ban and challenged the Russians to reciprocate. He was confident that it could be verified and determined to use it as a catalyst to reach a formal accord. Such action required leadership, decisiveness, sound articulation and prompt implementation to outflank the omnipresent domestic opposition to any arms control accord.
There have been other unilaterally sparked accords, including the 1972 Convention on Biological Weapons, which resulted from Richard Nixon's declaration that the United States would not manufacture or stockpile biological weapons. There have also been less-publicized gestures and tacit agreements, like the steps to improve military communications between the superpowers, which tempered the climate for negotiations. Yet quiet diplomacy and tacit understandings, however welcome, do little to rein in arms competition. Bolder action is imperative.
A comprehensive test ban would be a good place to start. Few people doubt that the United States has the capability to monitor underground detonations, and the announcement of a unilateral ban could be accompanied by a challenge to the Russians to reciprocate within six months. If at any time the President felt it was in the national interest to resume testing, he could do so, preferably after giving advance warning. Canceling an informal ban is likely to engender much less political fallout than breaking a formal accord. Unilateral, reciprocated restraint is, as a result, more flexible as well as quicker to implement.
Test bans and moratoriums on deployments have been resisted in official circles because they deprive leaders of a favored ploy, the "bargaining chip.' It has become common practice for the United States to build a weapon for the ostensible purpose of gaining leverage for Soviet arms concessions. That rationale was used to justify the MX missile and the antisatellite (ASAT) weapon. The chips are rarely cashed in, however. The Pentagon does not easily relinquish the weapons it develops, and the Russians, far from being coaxed to an agreement, tend to become more obstinate. President Carter's 1978 decision to develop the ASAT weapon as a negotiating incentive culminated in this Administration's declaration last March that the weapon was important to U.S. security and that, anyway, a ban on it would be extremely difficult to verify. The "two-track' approach, with Pershing 2s and cruise missiles as the chips, failed to halt the deployment of the Soviet SS-20s in Europe. Conceivably, an agreement to limit antisatellite weapons could be reached in the upcoming Geneva talks, but it would most likely be a limited one--for example, banning high-orbit but not low-orbit weapons (directed-energy weapons in a low orbit, though, could potentially destroy high-orbit satellites).
A major problem with formal negotiations is that they get stalled on compliance issues. When a treaty is negotiated, it contains byzantine rules and procedures designed to keep each party honest. Significant cheating rarely occurs, yet the demand that treaties be violation-proof results in complex rules that create more misunderstandings, which in turn erode confidence in arms control. Again, that is a vestige of the SALT process: Kissinger's exaggerated depiction of the restraints on the Russians in the SALT I accord gave rise to a cottage industry for discovering Soviet "violations.' The allegations poisoned the political atmosphere and encouraged conservatives to demand impossible standards of verification. Verification will always be problematic, but informal accords can create strong disincentives against cheating because each side has the leeway to break out of the agreement quickly and resume testing.
Although unilateral, reciprocated restraint cannot entirely replace formal treaties--indeed, it should lead to them-- it does offer a way to break the arms control deadlock and to skirt some domestic political roadblocks. It may be adopted on American terms and aimed at weapons systems, like ASATs and the MX, most threatening to peace. Once under way, unilateral and reciprocal measures could gather momentum and shore up confidence in the possibilities of arms limitation.