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Arms control.

Jack Mendelsohn's "Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control" (Issues, Spring 1993) cogently presents the case for keeping up the momentum gained in this area over the past few years, but does so in inverse order. He gives three reasons for doing so but places the need for a rethought and reshaped U.S. nuclear strategy at the end. The arms control cart is, once again, placed before the policy horse.

U.S. arms control policy has often been hobbled by the view that arms control is a positive end unto itself, which it is not. Rather, arms control makes sense, and is politically successful, only when tied directly to broader national security goals.

Assuming that START I and II enter into force, it is more likely that there will be a necessary period of reevaluation before we reach any new agreements. Several priorities emerge. First, is the need to rethink not just U.S. nuclear strategy, but also broader U.S. national security requirements and the role nuclear weapons can and will play. Coupled with this is the need to recognize that we are not likely (and probably do not want) to reach a period of total nuclear disarmament. We also need to reflect, once again, on why nuclear weapons are a problem. Is it the weapons themselves or the state that hold them? Did nuclear weapons cause the Cold War, or were they a symptom of that struggle? As a reference point, consider that the nuclear arsenals of Britain and France have never been a cause for concern.

Second, and closely related to this last point, is the concern that as nuclear arsenals get smaller and as proliferation problems persist, new calculations and perhaps new strategic concepts will be required. Rogue states such as Iraq or North Korea may not respond to threats of "assured destruction." Indeed, for reasons we may only dimly perceive, they may even welcome such confrontations.

Third, much of the agenda that Mendelsohn urges is heavily dependent on cooperation by Russia. This remains an area of uncertainty and it probably will be prudent to assess Russian stability before pursuing further agreements. There is an argument to be made that we should move quickly to reduce the Russian arsenal as much as we can lest it become unstable or even hostile once again, but this understandable goal may fly in the face of political reality. If we do not pause to assess where we are and to digest what we have accomplished, we run the risk of investing the time to craft new agreements that may become hostages to Russian domestic politics and create unresolved problems in our relations. Such a pause may also be necessary for domestic U.S. politics should Russia prove to be unstable. The U.S. Senate is unlikely to consent to future treaties if present ones are still problematical.

We have in the past 5-1/2 years achieved more than the most ambitious arms control agendas ever set out. The desire to capitalize on those gains is understandable, but this can be a useful adjunct to U.S. security only if done within the context of the world as it now exists, and not simply to do more arms control for its own sake.

MARK M. LOWENTHAL Senior Specialist in U.S. Foreign Policy Congressional Research Service Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:response to Jack Mendelsohn, Issues, Spr 1993
Author:Lowenthal, Mark M.
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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