Option 3. Arms Reduction And A Moratorium On Deployment
Before SDI was announced, the United States and the Soviet Union had embarked on a process that was supposed to lead to negotiated arms reductions. In SALT I and II the process produced accords designed to take advantage of the agreement to rule out more than a minimal deployment of BMD. SALT I did put limits and sublimits on launchers but did not prevent the enlargement of warhead inventories through MIRVing. Nor did it or SALT II prevent modernization of existing weapons and the development of certain new ones. Nevertheless, these agreements were understood by both sides to be tentative steps along the road to more restrictive agreements. Such future agreements, however, would have to satisfy the basic military needs of the two sides, as each perceived them to be. Asymmetries in force structure inevitably led to suspicions on both sides that the existing treaties left the other with advantages. The Reagan administration came into office convinced that SALT II was "fatally flawed" because, among other things, it left the Soviets with an advantage in heavy missiles capable of prompt hard-target kill. This advantage was said to have created a "window of vulnerability" by putting the entire land-based leg of the U.S. triad at risk in a preemptive attack. The Reagan administration reluctantly agreed to abide by the treaty limits informally so long as the Soviets would, too, and to discuss further arms-control agreements with the Soviets. But there was no great enthusiasm for these negotiations in the administration, and as a result a coherent policy was not adopted during Reagan's first term.
In the second term, however, after the president declared SDI, the negotiations picked up steam for reasons to be examined in chapter 5. Reagan appeared to have undergone a change of heart, and U.S. policymakers may also have been eager to counter the propaganda gains that the Soviets were threatening to achieve from Gorbachev's peace offensive. The Reagan administration was hardly of one mind, however. There were those high in its councils who clearly would have preferred
that there be no arms-control agreements with the Soviets. They did not expect the Soviets to abide by any such agreements, and they feared that such agreements would freeze a situation in which the Soviets were in the stronger position. The U.S. edge in technology would not be exploited, and the peace forces in Congress and elsewhere would use an agreement to clamp a lid on defense spending. The net result would be to weaken rather than strengthen U.S. defenses. The cross pressures within the administration were scarcely resolved. (A good illustration is the administration's decision to call for a ban on mobile missiles, which was in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the Scowcroft report, and which the administration may not have intended to honor in negotiations.)
The signing and ratification of the INF Treaty left the larger question of strategic offenses and defenses unresolved. If the Bush administration elects to continue to disregard the SALT II limits and to call for early deployment of space-based strategic defenses, any momentum afforded by the INF Treaty could well be lost. It is possible, however, that the INF agreement will "break the ice" and lead to further negotiations, all the more because this would be an agreement signed by a president who came into office convinced that the U.S.S.R. was "an evil empire" given to lying and cheating on all its agreements, and who seemed more interested in challenging the Soviets to a renewed arms race than in controlling it. The president's defenders have argued, however, that Reagan was concerned to get serious arms reduction, and that his approach of making it clear to the Soviets that he would not settle for just any agreement paid off in the case of the zero option and will eventually also pay off in the other areas. If this interpretation proves correct, an INF accord should lead to strategic arms reduction. How it can do so in the absence of an agreement to restrict SDI to what is permitted under the ABM Treaty is hardly obvious.
In domestic political terms, even the achievement of a broad framework agreement (modeled on that adopted by Ford and Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok in 1974) on offensive arms and SDI would have important consequences in forging a bipartisan consensus and assuring the continuation of the SDI program in some form. That program could otherwise be in serious difficulty in Congress and with the defense establishment. But the larger question that the Bush administration must resolve is how an arms-control agreement can be compatible with the desire for strategic modernization and SDI. In other words, the issue is what strategic commitment the administration intends to make—is
there any coherent strategic commitment, or is there merely a ragged patchwork of ad hoc agreements and concerns?
That there could be a coherent strategy is indicated by Nitze, who has argued that the U.S.S.R. had become complacent about negotiations with the West because it enjoyed a certain strategic superiority. In his view, it now enjoys a strategic superiority in conventional forces and a geographic advantage in Europe. The U.S.S.R. has a particular advantage in prompt hard-target kill capability because of its large land-based ICBMs. In addition, "they were quite satisfied with the pre-SDI imbalance in strategic defense activities between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. They see little advantage in moving cooperatively to a more defense-reliant regime under which their current advantages in both offense and defense would be reduced or balanced." Nitze therefore argues that SDI played a significant role in compelling the Soviets to think more seriously about negotiations with the United States. They are "genuinely nervous," he suggests, about a concerted effort by the West to develop exotic technologies and apply them to defenses. They may well fear that "the marriage of Western technological genius and American space expertise can lead to U.S. dominance in the military uses of space." Nitze doubts the Soviet Union seriously fears that the United States has a hidden agenda in SDI that aims to develop offensive space weapons because, he says, they know that an SDI system would be optimized for defensive purposes, whereas the strategic modernization program aims to develop new systems to attack ground targets. SDI gives the Soviets an incentive to agree to or at least to recognize the need to allay Western discontent with Soviet advantages. Having traded away their SS-20s, the Soviets now appear prepared for serious negotiations aimed at reducing conventional forces in Europe, but these moves would not affect the competition with the United States in strategic forces. Something more would be required on both sides.
Nitze argues that both sides would benefit if they could agree to the concept of a defense transition to be managed cooperatively. He admits that the Soviet negotiators have expressed little interest in the concept, but he sees this reluctance as largely tactical, because the Soviets have committed themselves to the public argument that SDI is designed to produce "space strike arms" and to militarize space, and they are reluctant to acknowledge that what is really at issue is the extent to which it may be possible to rely on a more defense-dominated strategy—one that would permit the United States to equalize what Nitze sees as the current Soviet advantage in combined offensive and defensive forces.
But Nitze admits that the Soviets may be skeptical that the United States would deliberately "introduce future strategic defenses in such a way that neither side would gain unilateral advantage." To remove these suspicions, U.S. negotiators would need to engage with their Soviet counterparts in serious, detailed discussions about how such deployments might be made.
The Reagan administration balked at entering into such discussions, because the Nitze view was not shared by others influential in the administration. The discussion within the administration—originally led by Weinberger—of an early deployment of space-based defenses, ran counter to Nitze's idea of a cooperative transition. It reflected a willingness to proceed unilaterally to achieve a transition, on the theory that in the short run a deployment of defenses would reduce or eliminate the advantage the Soviets have in land-based missiles. Eventually, the thinking went, such a deployment would create so much uncertainty in the minds of the Soviets as to negate the value of such weapons and lead, either through negotiations or otherwise, to the elimination of such weapons as a concern. The Weinberger approach, in other words, seems to deny any need for Soviet cooperation in a defense transition. It seems to be based instead on the assumption that an affordable U.S. program can be pursued that would install intermediate defenses—based on relatively conventional technology—in the short run, and replace or supplement this system with more exotic technologies as they become available. In the process, the United States would at first maintain its efforts at strategic modernization, so as not to rely entirely on the space shield, but would gradually increase the role of defenses in comparison to that of offensive forces; the Soviets would simply be compelled to follow suit because they would not be able to rely on their offenses.
It is not clear whether future administrations will feel a need to choose between these two approaches, but it is clear that they are very different. Nitze's approach does not anticipate early deployment of space-based systems unless and until it can be shown that they meet the stiff criteria he set, and Nitze himself has said that as of now the systems being proposed do not meet those criteria. Weinberger, in effect, introduced new criteria—of affordability and, even more important, of demonstrating to the Soviets and to the American people that the United States intends not just to do research on strategic defenses but also to make use of that research to deploy actual systems. Such deployments, if they are even partially effective, would force the U.S.S.R. to make expenditures it would prefer to avoid to modernize its offensive forces, and to impose
penalties on those forces, which would make them far less threatening to U.S. military assets and perhaps also to the U.S. population. If in the process the existing arms control agreements were scrapped, this would presumably be all to the good, in that it would remove the illusion that the security of the West can be based on such agreements rather than on the will to resist Soviet expansionism by maintaining the strongest possible defensive capabilities.
So long as the U.S. administration is of two minds on the issue, U.S. negotiators can present no coherent proposal for a defense transition to the Soviet Union. Even if they could, there is no indication that the Soviets would be willing to go along with it. They might have good reasons for rejecting any such proposal. They may calculate that they benefit from their present advantages in strategic defenses and may be unwilling to give up that advantage until the United States actually makes a commitment to deploy space-based defenses. Just as they resisted proposals to consider the zero-zero option until the West began to deploy its responses, the Soviets may elect to wait until the United States makes a decision to deploy a space-based defense. They are well aware that the proposal has strong domestic opposition and would be costly. They also have the alternative of concentrating on countermeasures to defeat the system, on the theory that countermeasures might be cheaper and more reliable than any kinetic space-based system the United States could orbit in the near future. They may well also believe that one of the best countermeasures to such a system would be not only to maintain their current missiles and warheads but also to build still more missiles, more modern than present missiles (especially those with faster-burning boosters).
At Rejkyavík, however, the Soviets gave evidence of a willingness to agree to reductions in offensive missiles, along the lines previously agreed to at Geneva, so long as the United States would agree to abide by the ABM Treaty for at least ten more years. But that extension would have included a commitment not only to refrain from deploying strategic defenses not permitted under the treaty but also to restrict research so that there would be no testing in space. If the United States is willing to wait until SDI research produces results that would meet the Nitze criteria—results that would certainly take at least ten years, in the opinion of such qualified technical observers as the APS review panel—then an agreement to reduce nuclear weapons is within reach. How significant that reduction would be is another question. A 50 percent reduction would still leave both sides with more than enough accurate offensive capability
to inflict devastating damage. But if the sublimits can be negotiated to the satisfaction of the United States, then the Reagan administration's concern over the threat of the Soviet SS-18s could be considerably alleviated.
An alternative to an agreement to reduce nuclear weapons, coupled with a moratorium on development and deployment—the defense-protected build-down—has been proposed by Weinberg and Barkenbus. This proposal would couple reductions in offense to deployment of defenses. Initially, these defenses would be ground-based. The reductions might either be arranged by negotiations or by tacit bargaining. Each time one side substituted a unit of defense for a unit of offense, the other side would reciprocate, until virtually all offenses were replaced by defenses.
There are a number of difficulties with this proposal. One is that it does not fit the current national strategy of extended deterrence. In that strategy, there must be enough offensive weapons to make an attack possible on the enemy's military forces, perhaps even in a first-strike mode. The number of such weapons is much larger than the number needed for threatening cities in a "minimum deterrence," or purely retaliatory, mode. It is therefore not possible simply to trade off offensive weapons for the kind of defenses that would guarantee the survival of a few ICBMs. In addition, defenses cannot be tested as effectively as offenses and must meet more stringent criteria. An offensive weapon can cause great damage even if it explodes at some distance from its intended target. A defensive weapon must be able to intercept a target with a high degree of accuracy in a very short time. Whether military officers would be willing to substitute defensive for offensive weapons is questionable, in view of such inherent disadvantages to the defensive systems. Parity would be hard to assure in view of the different characteristics and effectiveness of the various components that would constitute the defensive systems. This would become even more of a problem when the components in question would be not only the conventional nuclear-tipped BMD missiles but exotic technologies, which might be either ground-based or space-based and would depend on a variety of sensors. Would a space-based sensor be considered the equivalent of a ground-based radar? Would all types of defensive missiles or laser weapons be considered interchangeable units for purposes of achieving parity? Could such deployments possibly be made subject to adequate verification? In principle, the idea of achieving a defense transition by means of a defense-protected build-down is attractive, but in practice it would
be very hard to implement. As the OTA study noted: "Nobody has suggested how the problems of measuring, comparing, and monitoring disparate strategic forces—problems which have plagued past arms control negotiations—could be satisfactorily resolved in the far more difficult situation where both offensive and defensive forces must be included."
That difficulty could be postponed and perhaps avoided altogether if both sides could agree to reaffirm the ABM Treaty, under its traditional interpretation, while reducing nuclear weapons by half. Such an agreement need not be thought a dead end. Many experts agree that further reductions could be envisioned that would reduce the stockpiles to a level no higher than several thousand warheads each without affecting each side's ability to continue to deter the other by the threat of retaliation. If these warheads were all on systems that would not threaten a first strike, crisis stability would be enhanced. Neither side would be inhibited from continuing research on more effective defensive systems or from modernizing offensive weapons to enable them to penetrate existing defenses or defenses that might be contemplated. But a climate of cooperation would have been established that could lead to cooperation in the deployment of defenses. Freeman Dyson has argued cogently that the effort to develop defenses will prove impossible if both sides are free to build countermeasures and offensive forces to defeat them. It is not impossible, however, as he has also noted, that if the offensive forces can be reduced significantly by mutual agreement, relatively inexpensive defenses could be introduced that would be effective enough against small stockpiles to serve as insurance against third-party attacks and enable virtual nuclear disarmament to take place.
"General and complete" nuclear disarmament is probably too much to hope for. Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented. Small stockpiles could be hidden, although sophisticated delivery systems might be harder to hide. But the inspection required to make certain that no weapons at all were secreted somewhere would be so intrusive as to be virtually intolerable to sovereign states. In a time of crisis, moreover, any state capable of producing such weapons could do so on fairly short notice if the facilities and materials had not been destroyed. And there would always be the paradox that in a world in which nuclear weapons have been reduced to very low levels, a state possessing even a small number could become a superpower by virtue of those few weapons.
The big advantage in accepting such an agreement would be, first of all, that the present system of deterrence would not be rendered uncertain, as it would be by a decision to develop and deploy a substantial
defense of uncertain effectiveness. Both sides could continue to count on the efficacy of their deterrent forces and would not need to restructure those forces or reorient their production facilities immediately to take account of impending defensive systems. Such modifications to offenses could be introduced gradually. This would be of obvious advantage to the Soviets, but that advantage would translate into greater assurance for U.S. allies that the Soviet Union would not seek to compensate for inferiority vis-à-vis the United States by raising the threat to them. The political gains of accommodation could be enormous in maintaining or restoring the momentum of the process of arms control and possibly promoting the broader form of détente that eluded Nixon and Kissinger in the 1970s, but that the present Soviet regime shows signs of being interested in. Nor would such an agreement stymie SDI. On the contrary, the president or his successor could properly claim that SDI had helped to bring about the agreement, and that only its ultimate success would make possible further reductions that would lead to the substitution of defenses for nuclear weapons. This would be a potent formula to assure support of a regular, if modest, level of expenditures prior to the decision to move to development and deployment—a decision that could be affected for the better by Soviet agreement to modify the terms of the ABM Treaty to allow for specific forms of testing and deployment.