For 1984, the Department of Defense’s project is the moral regeneration of nuclear weapons. Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s annual report for the 1984 fiscal year is said to have been “painstakingly composed” at the Defense Department and “reviewed” by President Reagan. Its purpose, apparently, is to “combat the impression in some quarters that President Reagan takes too lightly the possibility of nuclear war,” and to “reassure members of the antinuclear movement in the United States and abroad.”1

The nuclear policy of the Reagan administration, the report shows, is unexceptional in several respects. It is subject to “normal” moral constraints. It is concerned with “the effective and responsible use of our nuclear forces,” and with the ability to use nuclear force “responsibly and discriminately.” It seeks to define those nuclear “actions” which the United States could “in good conscience, and in prudence, undertake.” It is, as Vice-President Bush has said of the “zero option” for intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, “steeped in morality.”2

The Reagan policy is “normal,” too, in that it is not particularly new. The administration insists that deterrence remains the “cornerstone” of US nuclear strategy. Its own more refined “concept of seeking to enhance deterrence” is “squarely in the mainstream of American strategic thinking for over two decades,” from Robert McNamara to James Schlesinger to Harold Brown. Even its projects are well worn: “Four Presidents, six Secretaries of Defense and a majority of Members in many sessions of Congress have reached the conclusion that an MX missile should be deployed….”

Weinberger’s demonstration of the Reagan policy’s legitimacy is compelling. The administration strategists, as will be seen later, do in one respect extend the idea that nuclear weapons are useful instruments of national policy. Their discourse about long or responsible or conscientious war is cruder than that of their predecessors. They have more money to spend, in the biggest expansion of US nuclear forces since the Korean War. But the essential principles of the Reagan policy, as Weinberger shows, are those of the doctrinal and technological consensus.

It is this continuity that makes the 1984 report such an exemplary document. Reagan’s defense policies are now the subject of fairly serious criticism in Congress, among America’s allies, and in world opinion. But this criticism is directed to an extraordinary extent against the ornaments of Reaganism: against the crudeness of the Reagan rhetoric or the cost of the Reagan expansion. Should military spending increase by 4 percent, 5 percent, or 7 percent a year? Is it possible to cut $25 billion out of the defense budget by the 1985 fiscal year?

Weinberger’s report demonstrates the futility of such questions. It shows what the Reagan administration believes, in its apparently more sober moments, and how these beliefs are consistent with the thirty-seven-year-old ritual of nuclear deterrence. But it also shows what is wrong with the ceremony itself: with the tattered sacrament of deterrence handed from initiate to initiate with the keys of the code box; with the rite of which Reaganism is the legitimate and perhaps the inevitable inheritor.


“We, for our part,” Weinberger writes, “are under no illusions about the dangers of a nuclear war between the major powers; we believe that neither side could win such a war.” But their view of “enhanced” deterrence requires some suspension of this insight.

The administration has “given highest priority to increasing the ability of our strategic force management systems not only to survive but to remain capable of performing their basic functions throughout a sustained sequence of Soviet attacks.” A missile warning system, for example, would “ensure continued operation throughout a nuclear conflict.” But the president’s “airborne command centers” need improvement: “We are concerned, however, about their ability to operate beyond the initial stages of a nuclear conflict.” All this for a war that cannot be won?

The administration’s objective is to deter nuclear war. Yet in its military projects it favors above all the means of fighting such a war. How does it—how are we to—resolve this apparent contradiction?

The answer is to some extent disappointingly trite. As the sky becomes dark with missiles, the Reagan administration’s purpose would be to “restore the peace,” not to win the war. “Should deterrence fail,” Weinberger writes, “we must be able to halt the attack and restore the peace.” The United States armed forces, accordingly, would be engaged not so much in fighting and winning a war, but rather in “employing military force to restore the peace.” Their “objective would be to deny enemy war aims,” to “restore peace on favorable terms” (Secretary Weinberger’s emphasis).

This locution is worthy of the great imperial deceivers of history; of the principles of Roman dominion which Tacitus put into the mouth of the British rebel chieftain Calgacus: “East nor West has glutted them…. They make a desolation and they call it peace.”3 Or, as is written on the walls of the Ministry of Truth in the fictional fiscal year 1984, “War is Peace.” What would constitute “favorable terms” for Weinberger’s peace? What, indeed, would be “enemy war aims”?


But the inconsistency of enhanced deterrence goes beyond semantic chicanery. The contradictions of “warfighting defense” are to be found within deterrence itself. As Weinberger’s history suggests, successive strategists of American deterrence have pursued ever more elaborate preparations for fighting a war that they in some sense recognize to be unwinnable. In this, as in so much else, they resemble their counterparts in the Soviet Union, with their protestations that nuclear war would be an unprecedented catastrophe for humanity, yet a catastrophe from which they are prepared to snatch socialist victory. 4

Deterrence in a more or less pure form consists of the following threat: “Do not attack me because if you do, something unacceptably horrible will happen to you.” Since Hiroshima, this venerable menace has taken on a new vividness: the unacceptably horrible now has a human form, the shadow of a human form scorched on a stone.

But as a doctrine deterrence has always been less pure. The deterrent threat is presumed to require exegesis before it can serve as the organizing principle of political and military security, as a method of choosing, for example, among different weapons.

A puritan of “minimal deterrence” might make light of such interpretation, and conclude that to be attacked with nuclear weapons is unacceptably horrible; that the United States and the Soviet Union will under all conceivable circumstances retain the possibility of attacking each other with such weapons; and that while neither opponent can be certain that the other will attack, each can also not be certain that the other will not attack. (The wager of Pascal is turned on its head, and the prudent superpower behaves as though it believed in the possibility not of immortal life but rather of eternal death.)

But this simple view of the deterrent threat has never satisfied responsible men in the nuclear hierarchies. What constitutes an attack on me? What is unacceptably horrible to you? How certain are you that the horror will in fact come about? The answers to these questions depend on both technical and political-psychological judgments. As such, they are necessarily unstable, since both technology and political psychology change. They are also (necessarily) indeterminate, since the people on whose judgments the explication of deterrence depends are themselves the agents of technological and political change.

The transposition of threat into doctrine is thus fraught with uncertainty. One can see why successive nuclear initiates, yearning for an unattainable “certainty” in deterrence, have found it so difficult to choose among different weapons, and have ended by choosing even the instruments of fighting a nuclear war. As Weinberger writes, “Deterrence is a dynamic effort, not a static one.”

In this quest for the impossible achievement of certain deterrence, successive governments have sought to make deterrence more comprehensive, both technically and psychologically. Their essential metaphor is of a “continuum.” Deterrence must be continuous in multiple directions or dimensions. There must be no “gap” or “window” through which the opponent—the person being threatened—might perceive a lack of will or technical proficiency on the part of the threatener.

The quest for comprehensive deterrence has defined a universe that grows more or less steadily over time. The 1984 report provides an invaluable guide to this universe in its most modern form. Deterrence, in the Reagan version, is a doctrine that must be “continuous” in at least seven ways.

  1. It must obtain “at all points along the spectrum of violence”: the United States seeks “to deter military attack,” but also “to deter, or to counter, use of Soviet military power to coerce or intimidate.”
  2. It must be continuous with respect to political relationships in that it protects not only the US but also its more or less close friends; it should deter attacks against “the United States, its allies, and other friendly countries.”5
  3. It must be continuous in time and in particular during the lifetime of a nuclear war: “if deterrence should fail,” the US objective would be “re-establishing deterrence,” or what James Schlesinger used to call “intra-war deterrence.”
  4. Deterrence must be continuous from region to region, as in the effort to “improve the nuclear deterrent balance in Europe,” or to “deter or oppose Soviet aggression in Southwest Asia.”

5.Deterrence must obtain with respect to weapons systems, from the instruments of preemptive nuclear strike through “the lower end of the nuclear spectrum, firmly linking our strategic forces to our conventional capabilities.” If one side possesses weapons of a certain class, the other should have them too. The deterrent to a first strike, for example, itself may be a first strike, for example, itself may be a first strike, or the potential of such. During the 1970s, Weinberger writes, “the United States made a choice to restrict its improvements to the yield and accuracy of its own missile forces so as not to threaten the Soviet Union with a sudden, disarming first strike.” This restraint, while the Soviet Union continued to improve its missiles, “reduced the effectiveness of our earlier deterrent.” But with the MX or “Peacekeeper” missile and the new D-5 submarine-launched missile to come, the threat of a disarming strike by the US is no longer, apparently, to be avoided; it instead constitutes one component of a symmetrical and credible deterrent.6


  1. Deterrence must be complete as measured in the dollar or ruble cost of military investment. “Divergent trends in military investment” are Weinberger’s first example of the threat to “the deterrent strength of the Atlantic Alliance.” (We need not dwell on the details of such comparisons, which purport to be based on “an estimate of what it would cost the US to duplicate Soviet investment activities” such as weapons procurement and military research. Does Weinberger, who alludes repeatedly to the US “qualitative” advantage in military technology, really wish to suggest that the US would have to more than double its spending on military research to “duplicate” Soviet efforts? The investment comparison he makes, curiously enough, does not even support the “divergence” he alleges: Chart I.B.3 in the report shows the military investment of NATO plus Japan increasing between 5 and 6 percent a year in real terms between 1976 and 1981, while that of the Warsaw Pact increases just over 2 percent a year.)
  2. Deterrence must be continuous, finally, with respect to morality. “To talk of actions that the US government could not, in good conscience, and in prudence, undertake tends to defeat the goal of deterrence.” Weinberger’s explication of the thermonuclear conscience is worth citing at length:

Some believe that we must threaten explicitly, even solely, the mass destruction of civilians on the adversary side, thus inviting a corresponding destruction of civilian populations on our side, and that such a posture will achieve stability in deterrence. This is incorrect. Such a threat is neither moral nor prudent. The Reagan Administration’s policy is that under no circumstances may such weapons be used deliberately for the purpose of destroying populations.

For this reason, we disagree with those who hold that deterrence should be based on nuclear weapons designed to destroy cities rather than military targets. Deliberately designing weapons aimed at populations is neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence.

At one moral extreme, apparently, is the “precision” strike against a military target, the missile that arches from an American to a Russian silo, “killing” only the Russian missile (lurking conveniently in its Siberian hole) plus, let us say, two uniformed officers from the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. At the other extreme, the “deliberate” attack on women and children, with a weapon “deliberately designed” for such destruction.

The troubled nuclear technician has much to puzzle over in this ethical scheme. The Reagan administration’s consultant moral philosophers obviously assign great importance to the criterion of deliberateness: it is not entirely obnoxious to destroy the Royal Air Force/ NATO Electronic Combat base at Upper Heyford, even though a busload of children should happen to be passing by on the way to Whipsnade Zoo. The “design” of weapons is also of central moral moment. Designing something is by definition a deliberate act, and the loftiest moral agent in the Reagan system may turn out to be the technician who makes a missile so accurate as to reduce “unwanted collateral damage.”7

The conclusion of Weinberger’s homily is of little guidance to our conscientious technician. The most diabolical specialist would have difficulty in “deliberately designing weapons aimed at populations” (the subtly distorted syntax—not “people” but the unhomely plural “populations”—is incidentally a classic of nuclearspeak); or rather, he would have to make sure that his hand had lost the cunning acquired over thirty-seven years, since the one proven technical attribute of nuclear weapons is that they are good at killing women and children. (All children are not however equal, and Weinberger’s predecessors determined that the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less innocent to the extent that their parents were defense workers or port workers.)8

In principle, Weinberger’s moral scheme should limit the extent of deterrence: the United States need be prepared only for “conscientious” nuclear actions. But these actions, as we have seen, can include a strike against Soviet missiles: such a strike should presumably be preemptive, lest the missiles be already gone and the “action,” although moral, fail the test of prudence.9 Even Americans, moreover, are likely to have some difficulty in distinguishing among moral, deliberate, and evil nuclear acts; how, then, are Russians to determine which missile trajectories are excluded by the American conscience?


How novel are the Reagan administration’s wanderings through the dimensions of deterrent space? There is, after all, no pure or ur doctrine with which they can be compared. Weinberger writes that deterrence has determined US strategic policy since 1945. Yet from the earliest years of the nuclear period, deterrence has coexisted with the vision of a successful nuclear war. In 1950, George Kennan wrote that the United States must choose between regarding atomic weapons as a “component of our military strength” (“in the face of all the moral and other factors concerned”) and retaining them “for purposes of deterrence” until or unless some “scheme of international control be achieved.”10

Only months later, strategic thinkers had already transformed Kennan’s antitheses in a new synthesis of credible deterrence. Representative Henry Jackson, for example, in a 1951 speech to the House of Representatives, outlined the entire future development of counterforce doctrine, as well as the moral continuum of deterrence:

I have personally always deeply regretted that from Hiroshima onward many military thinkers regarded the atomic bomb as primarily a strategic weapon, to be used against industrial targets. Given this assumption, it was easy to go a step further and wrongly imagine that the atomic bomb could be used only against cities and civilians. Those holding this view…did not tell us how we could launch counter-strikes against an enemy’s strategic airfields and thereby prevent him from hitting against our own cities…. Stalin has sought to convince the world that his best weapon, the Red Army, is moral, whereas our best weapon, the atomic bomb, is immoral. Actually, of course, our military men have always regarded atomic weapons as precision instruments to be used only against specific targets vital to an aggressor’s war machine.11

Jackson’s vision of “effective deterrents” has required the passage of time and the progress of military research to achieve its present realization: how gratifying for the older and wiser statesman that he should still find himself in a position to gratify his hopes and dreams.

By 1960, the concept of deterrence was already militarily (and mathematically) complex. John F. Kennedy, in a Senate speech early in 1960, expressed his concern about “the deterrent ratio,” about American “deterrent strength,” and about what would happen “if the deterrent gap continues to go against us.” In such circumstances, “it would then be irrelevant as to whether the Soviets achieved our demise through massive attack, through the threat of such attack, or through nibbling away gradually at our security.” The search for the absolute already enticed: “Our hopes for anything close to an absolute deterrent must rest on missiles which come from hidden, moving or invulnerable bases.” Even the technical details are familiar: Kennedy looked forward to “missiles on moving flatcars or in underground complexes.”12

Weinberger picks up the history of enhanced deterrence with Robert Mc-Narmara’s description of “controlled and deliberate” targeting in his annual report for 1964. By then, such targeting was apparently already ensconced in the “operational plans” for US nuclear forces. 13 Whatever the doctrine of assured or controlled destruction, US missiles were pointed at airfields, submarine bases, and other targets more or less remote from Soviet cities.14

Weinberger’s history continues with James Schlesinger, the avenging fury of “meaningful targets,” in 1975 and with Harold Brown’s 1982 “continuum of options” for nuclear war.15 By then even the expansion of the facilities for “command, control, and communications” during a nuclear war, the “highest priority” of the Reagan administration, was well under way. In 1979 such equipment already constituted the “primary systems acquisition requirement of the current US nuclear weapons employment policy.”16 Four years later, nuclear command has become so familiar a feature of American life that it is celebrated in children’s toys: the presidential airborne command post, the modified Boeing 747, which incorporates “our growing understanding of the command and control problem in a nuclear war environment” (Schlesinger, 1975), which is hardened “to ensure continued operation during nuclear war” (Brown, 1981), and which might not be able “to operate beyond the first few days of a nuclear war” (Weinberger, 1983), has now been reproduced in a 1/144-scale plastic model, in time for the American Toy Fair and the spring selling season.17

What is the Reagan administration’s own contribution to this epic of American nuclear policy? One innovation is its rhetoric, the brutishness of discourse which it has brought to thought and to action. Bush and Weinberger and Reagan’s evocation of “normal” nuclear morality and “normal” nuclear practice is in a sense the most chilling of all illustrations.

In the report “nuclear forces” are assigned, almost matter of factly, the sixteenth chapter out of a twenty-two-chapter document. It is riveting, of course, to learn that the Defense Department operates over 500 child-care facilities worldwide; that it plans to use travel agents to reduce the cost of renting cars; that it has found it necessary to establish a new agency against “fraud and other crimes within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff…and those crimes that involve more than one Military Service,” and that it also needs a “Management Information System for tracking significant criminal investigations by DoD.” But do such “management” initiatives deserve fourteen pages in a survey that devotes six lines to the ballistic missile defense development program, whose cost will increase from $519 million in 1983 to $1,564 million in 1985?

The Reagan administration has also contributed the taxpayers’ money. The Reagan military buildup is concentrated to an extent unprecedented since the mid-1950s in nuclear weapons. In the period described in detail in Weinberger’s report, from 1982 to 1984, spending on strategic forces is to increase 36 percent a year, while the rest of the defense budget increases by (only) 12 percent per year. “Strategic” research and development will increase by 41 percent a year.

The “management” of strategic forces is favored above all. Spending on “strategic communications”—to provide information for decision makers “through all levels of conflict including general nuclear war”—increases by 74 percent a year, from $320 million to $971 million.18 The budget for such equipment exceeds even the administration’s own expectations: “actual” budget authority for strategic communications in 1982 was almost 50 percent greater than that “planned” in last year’s defense budget.19

Many of Reagan’s billions go to buy equipment that was already being developed under Brown, Rumsfeld, Schlesinger, et al. Research on the MX missile, after all, was well advanced in the late 1960s, and the missile is only now graduating from the “research and development” to the “procurement” budget. But the present administration’s $30 billion a year research budgets are presumably determining procurement for, let us say, the 2004 fiscal year. (What, however, is “Penguin Combat Development”? And why is the Navy spending $97 million on “Pilot Fish”?)

“Individual combatants,” Weinberger writes, are “the most important single factor” in national security. But the Reagan view of credible deterrence dictates that soldiers and current operations should receive a rapidly declining share of military budgets. From 1982 to 1986, spending to pay active-duty military personnel is expected to increase by 4.5 percent a year in current dollars, while spending on research and development increases by 14 percent a year and spending on procurement by 21 percent a year.20

By 1986, payments to military personnel will account for only 14 percent of defense spending, down from 22 percent in 1980 and 30 percent in 1972; over the same period spending on procurement and research will have increased from 34 percent of the total in 1972 and in 1980 to 48 percent in 1986, its highest share since the Korean War boom of 1952. These projections are almost certainly unrealistic, an effort to make the future look fiscally rosier at the expense of military pay and spare parts. But if realized, they would constitute the most significant change in the composition of the defense budget for thirty years: investment-intensive deterrence.21

Strategic nuclear forces, as Weinberger has repeatedly insisted, account directly for only a small share—less than 15 percent—of total defense spending. The basis for such calculations is not made explicit: to the budget for “strategic forces” themselves must be added some (substantial) share of spending on “intelligence and communications” and research and development, not to mention the $6.8 billion that the Department of Energy will spend on its nuclear defense programs in 1984.

Tactical nuclear forces add more to the nuclear bill, plus “dual-purpose” (“conventional” nuclear) weapons and the soldiers, civilians, and supplies required to operate them. To the extent that all US or NATO forces are “governed by a single coherent policy” and a policy which in its operational planning, at least in Europe, relies on first or early use of nuclear weapons, the effort to disentangle “nuclear” and “general purpose” costs is inevitably a futile exercise.

Cutting nuclear weapons procurement—the B-1 bomber or even the MX missile—is not an instant remedy for balancing the 1985 federal budget, or for reducing the growth of defense spending below 7 percent a year. These useless and dangerous weapons should be abandoned because they reduce national and international security. But nuclear deterrence policies and nuclear “investment” determine the entire growth of the defense effort and of the “threat” that defines it. In this sense, they have been and remain the prime source of the unprecedentedly expensive peacetime mobilization that has characterized both military blocs since the beginning of the deterrent epoch.


The Reagan administration’s efforts are spiritual as well as material. Reagan’s thinkers have provided one major addition to nuclear doctrine, and in particular to the rehabilitation of nuclear weapons. Like their predecessors, they believe that nuclear weapons are useful for preventing war, in the twilight between peace and war of deterrence. They believe that nuclear weapons are useful in time of war; in this, too, they are part of the substantial history of American security policy from the early 1950s on. But they extend their conviction even further. Nuclear weapons, according to the Reagan doctrine, are useful instruments of national policy in time of peace.

“The threat of political coercion is infinitely more important than the threat of nuclear war”: such was the opinion, expressed at a private lecture a year ago, of one of the creators of the Reagan administration’s nuclear weapons policy. When I heard this extraordinary pronouncement, I took it as some kind of aberration, colorful talk for unconvinced listeners. But Weinberger’s report shows that there is indeed a new orthodoxy of nuclear coercion.

“The deterrent strength of the Atlantic Alliance is increasingly threatened,” Weinberger writes, “offering opportunities for Soviet coercion in the event of crisis.” This constitutes a major challenge for the United States. “We need to support our allies and friends against the coercive threat of unused military strength, the ‘shadow’ of military power that can be used implicitly or explicitly to intimidate.”

The prospect of Soviet coercion of Western Europe is apparently the ultimate justification for the Reagan policy there: SS-20 and other missiles “could give the Soviet Union meaningful coercive power in peace or in a crisis.” The concept of “meaningful coercive power” is dependent on that of enhanced deterrence. For the opportunities for coercion arise from imperfections of “deterrent strength,” from discontinuities in one or more of the seven dimensions of deterrence. Weinberger makes this explicit elsewhere in his discussion of intermediate-range missiles: “The Soviet buildup led to concern throughout the NATO alliance that a perceived gap had been created in NATO’s spectrum of nuclear deterrence”—a window of coercive opportunity.

The American obsession with coercion is not entirely new. John Kennedy, as noted earlier, considered it irrelevant whether Soviet victory came “through massive attack, through the threat of such attack, or through nibbling away at our security.” But the Reagan administration’s certainty that nuclear weapons confer useful political power—in war, in peace, or in the continuing crisis of deterrence—is a profoundly disturbing development. What makes it even more dangerous is the suggestion that coercive opportunities must be counted in the same Stygian calculus as weapons systems, throw-weight, and military investment in dollar/ruble comparisons. The Reagan adviser I quoted earlier distinguished between “retaliatory” and “coercive” weapons: bombers, he said, “can be recalled,” while “sea-launched ballistic missiles are less accurate,” and therefore, for the moment, merely retaliatory. The current objectives of military exertion—accuracy and control—are thus themselves the currency of coercion: the instruments of success not only in war (“restoring the peace”) but in peace as well.

Weinberger denies that the US itself has or has had coercive objectives: after World War II, he recalls, “the United States made clear that it would use its atomic weapons not for conquest or coercion” but for deterrence. He indeed contrasts the US policy of deterrence and defense to the “opposing coercive ‘offensive’ strategy” of the enemy. It is difficult to judge whether the United States was, in fact, tempted by “coercion” during the long years when, in Weinberger’s words, “Soviet nuclear forces were clearly inferior to our own”; or whether the nostalgic, bellicose old men of the present US government look back sentimentally to the days when the US threatened or considered the use of nuclear weapons “over” Korea, over Dien Bien Phu, over Quemoy and Matsu.

I suspect that the obsessive fears of the Reagan administration may indeed be deeply influenced by another, later episode: by Kennedy’s “victory” over Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis. But it makes little practical difference whether Reagan’s pugilists (and Andropov’s) believe that Kennedy won, or that he won because his nuclear weapons were 60 percent more destructive, 70 percent more expensive, or 80 percent more accurate than Khrushchev’s.

One of the most persistent characteristics of the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union is that the “opposing strategies” of the two enemies have come ever more to resemble each other. The Soviet Union, as is well known, has emulated most of the proud successes of American military science, notably in building accurate missiles. Now it is the policy of the United States to preserve its credibility by emulating the Soviet Union in each dimension of “deterrent strength.” The Soviet Union may have built more accurate missiles and more survivable command posts because it wishes to be able to coerce. But if it has them, the United States must have them too: the menu is the same in the end.


The idea of coercion dominates even the most immediate and momentous of the administration’s security concerns, the deployment of intermediate- or medium-range nuclear missiles (INF) in Europe. The reborn usefulness of nuclear weapons, it appears, can transform all possible contingencies, all possible wars.

European Wars: The Theater. Pershing IIs and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs)—the INF forces that NATO may deploy this year in Western Europe—are the purest embodiments of enhanced or continuous deterrence. Their purpose is to close a “perceived gap” in NATO’s “spectrum of nuclear deterrence” and to prevent Soviet coercion. The spectrum in fact extends even to conventional forces, as Weinberger explains. “All of our nuclear forces are governed by a single coherent policy that governs the linkage among our conventional, non-strategic nuclear, and strategic nuclear forces. There is no separate US policy for non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

The new missiles have a remarkable place in the geometry of comprehensive deterrence. They complete the continuum of political relationships (deterring attacks against allies); of regional completeness; of individual weapons systems (at the moment, NATO’s arsenal “contains no land-based longer-range INF [LRINF] missiles”); even of morality, since the missiles are designed for “limiting collateral damage.” They are thus of inestimable usefulness in the quest for credibility, endlessly and enticingly beyond one’s reach.

The new missiles are refined examples of the coexistence of deterrent and warfighting “capability” in single gadgets. “By virtue of their high accuracy,” both missiles can attack “hard targets”; the Pershing IIs also have “the capability to strike time-urgent targets,” presumably missile silos, bomber airfields, and command and control centers. Even the fiscal year 1984 request for money to build “family housing” at cruise missile sites is a matter of will: “These support facilities constitute an essential component of the US commitment, since they clearly demonstrate our resolve to deploy GLCM on a permanent basis should it be necessary…”22

Weinberger’s analysis does not inspire much optimism about present negotiations over such weapons. His emphasis on intermediate nuclear weapons as “linkage” in a “single coherent policy”—on the new missiles themselves as filling a “gap” in that coherence—suggests the folly of negotiating separately on intermediate and strategic nuclear weapons. It also casts doubt on Reagan and Bush’s claim that the “zero option” has special moral status because it would eliminate a particular (if narrowly defined) class of weapons from the face of the earth.

But Weinberger above all conveys no hesitation whether the missiles will in fact be deployed. The NATO “double decision” of 1979—which held out the prospect that deployment would not be necessary if arms negotiations succeeded—is presented as “authorizing deployment of the Pershing II and GLCM, in concert with arms control initiatives.” The 1984 “United States Military Posture” statement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually states that “in 1979, the decision was made [for] deployment of 572 missiles in five European countries,” and adds that “all weapons will be in place by late 1988.”23 Weinberger’s account of the negotiations themselves could hardly be more stark: the US is moving ahead with plans to deploy “because the Soviets have not yet agreed to our proposal to ban all US and Soviet nuclear missile systems of this range.”24

The Reagan administration seems bound to produce a modified version of its proposal, as urged by virtually all European leaders. But there is little evidence in Weinberger’s report or in the administration’s actions to suggest that any subsequent negotiations will prevent the deployment of cruise and probably also Pershing II missiles. To the extent that the missile dispute is “really” (for the Reagan administration) about the will and proneness to coercion of West European NATO countries, the deployment of the missiles would indeed be a victory in itself. By the same token (of the political psychology of deterrence) the Soviet Union might well see political victory of sorts in the prospect of the missiles being deployed over the protests and no doubt the recumbent bodies of NATO citizens.

Every country in the world could be coerced by the Soviet Union or the United States, and has been coercible in this sense for the past generation. But the notion of newly meaningful coercive power depends on the assumption that the technical possibility of controlled and limited nuclear war makes the Soviet Union more likely to attempt coercion, and the rest of the world more likely to succumb. Would Belgium really be more supine if the Soviet Union were able, let us say, to destroy NATO headquarters without inflicting “collateral damage” on suburban Brussels? Would Yugoslavia, to put the matter differently, be more influenced by the US in a crisis because the US could conduct a controlled nuclear strike in the Croatian highlands?

Weinberger accuses “Soviet propaganda” of suggesting that “the US intends to fight a ‘limited nuclear war’ in Europe,” and he adds that “nothing could be further from the truth.” Dzerzhinsky Square, it should be admitted, has some assistance in this matter from Weinberger’s own organization, as when the Joint Chiefs write in their accompanying report that NATO nonstrategic nuclear forces such as cruise, Pershing II, and short-range weapons would, “if deterrence fails,” make it possible “to escalate the intensity of the conflict in a controlled manner.”25

But it is in the nature of enhanced deterrence that each side should suspect the other of ever more arcane and degenerate plots. Might the Soviet Union believe, as Weinberger fears, that it could “conduct a nuclear war in Europe from a sanctuary in the USSR”? Or that it could achieve the (extremely mystifying) “ability to limit a nuclear war to the sea”? Such suspicions have become the normal life of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. They should frighten us all, the allies of the superpowers and the neutral countries as well, for what they reveal about the deterioration of a political relationship on which all our lives depend. We should be frightened, too, by the new instruments of nuclear war. But it is hard to see why we should therefore be more coerced; why nuclear weapons should be newly “useful” to either side.

European Wars: The Battlefield. The Reagan administration’s admiration for nuclear weapons extends to the very smallest geegaws. Weinberger writes that “we have also placed high priority on upgrading our stockpiles of nuclear artillery, short-range missiles, bombs, and sea-based weapons.” He goes on to describe a shopping spree through the nuclear arcades which will last well into the next century. NATO has thousands of nuclear warheads ready for battlefield use, or on aircraft which can be armed with nuclear or “conventional” (or in some cases chemical) bombs. These instruments are now primed for what the Defense Department calls “product improvement.”

There will be new bombs with “improved military characteristics” for NATO’s seven kinds of “dual-capable aircraft.” There will be new artillery rounds armed with neutron—known as “enhanced radiation”—warheads and a new neutron warhead for battlefield missiles. The Navy, which already has five different kinds of short-range nuclear weapons, will have a new short-range nuclear missile “for the late 1980s,” and “for the longer term, we are also examining the feasibility of enhancing” new submarine- and surface-launched naval weapons. It is not clear whether the participle “enhancing” here is to be taken in the philosophical or the technical sense: is there to be a neutron Navy? But the Pentagon stylists are evidently enchanted with their new euphemism, with the neutron as metaphor. In three pages dealing with short-range nuclear weapons, no fewer than seven things are described as being enhanced, including nuclear forces, antisubmarine rockets, eight-inch artillery, “electrical features,” and “our retaliatory posture.”

Battlefield nuclear weapons are generally thought to pose special dangers of early use and escalation, as the Palme Commission argued in urging that they be removed from a zone 300 kilometers wide in Europe. 26 NATO itself has expressed skepticism about their usefulness. Yet to the Reagan administration, they are part of the solid enterprise of extended deterrence. They are to be made more “accurate, more “survivable,” and they too are to have their improved command, control, and communications: a more refined nuclear Europe.

Austere Wars. The possibility of global coercion by the USSR dominates even the Reagan administration’s preparations for conventional war. “The gradual shift in the global military balance in favor of the Soviet Union”—as measured, above all, in investment in strategic nuclear forces and military research—“has facilitated, and helped to consolidate, the geographic expansion of Soviet influence and presence in many regions of the world.”

Rapid Deployment Forces, Weinberger writes, are “essential to our ability to deter war.” His account of such forces is largely concerned with South-west Asia (SWA), and the war in question is grandiose. “The scenario we consider most important” starts in SWA, and proceeds thence to Europe; it may later continue into Korea, and “our long term goal is to be able to meet the demands of a worldwide war.” Such a war may well be protracted: “Preparing only for a ‘short war’ would not only weaken the credibility of our deterrent, it would also be imprudent because it would limit the ability of US military forces to restore the peace should deterrence fail.”

SWA is a sort of proxy or “prime example” for other “locations where we might need to project force,” such as “Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.” It is an “austere environment” with “austere ports” requiring “austere combat operations.” But the United States now has eighteen ships “prepositioned” around its edges, and is paying for new military facilities (actually, “an austere cantonment”) in Egypt, Oman, Kenya, Somalia, Diego Garcia, and the Azores.

Weinberger conveys a certain imprecision in his description of SWA wars to come. This is understandable, particularly if he has sought guidance from the map of the region presented as Chart III.E.1 of his report (and reproduced below). Finding one’s way around the Pentagon’s cartography is a little like playing one of those children’s games of spotting the errors in a comic drawing (Djibouti spelled wrong twice in two different ways, the revival of the Central African Empire, and so forth).

Some of Chart III.E.1’s innovations might nonetheless be seriously inconvenient in the hands of, let us say, the targeting corps of the Rapid Deployment Force’s “High Technology Infantry Divisions.” Albania, for example, has an extensive land border with the region of southeast Italy around Brindisi; Jordan has a Mediterranean coastline of some 100 kilometers which separates Israel from Lebanon. These improvements could, of course, be planned: something to do with the return of Trieste or an unexpectedly handsome rendition of a Palestinian homeland. How fortunate, in either case, that the 1984 Pentagon research budget contains $30.7 million for four separate items of “mapping, chart and geodesy.”27

The new unified command will not, in any event, be fully ready before the late 1980s. Until then, therefore, the United States will be obliged to fall back on a more familiar position within the universe of enhanced deterrence, and one of which Weinberger acknowledges the “great risk”: “In the near term, however, we must rely heavily upon deterrence, early use of strategic warning, and forces that may have dual commitments for other theaters.”

Celestial Wars. The Reagan administration’s “highest priority” is to improve strategic communications. “Command, control, communications, and intelligence,” known as “Cu3I,” has a privileged and insidious place in modern deterrence. It has inspired the imaginations of Brown, Schlesinger, and Weinberger, of the entrepreneurs of children’s plastic toys, of Weinberger’s critics as well. There is, after all, some charm in the idea of preserving the possibility of free will in the use of nuclear weapons. There is charm, too, in the hope that our chosen decision makers should be alive during a nuclear war; that they should have functioning computers; that they should be able to communicate with their generals and submarines and cruise missiles and airlaunched miniature antisatellite vehicles; that they should even be able to communicate with the enemy. Some critics of Reagan’s security policies consider the provision of “survivable” Cu3I to be, as McGeorge Bundy wrote in these pages, “the most sensible single element in Mr. Weinberger’s program for strategic modernization,” a process which should make the world less rather than more dangerous.28

But the investment in command and control also introduces new dangers. For one thing, improved control may give our leaders the illusion that they can limit or control a nuclear war, and they may therefore be less frightened of fighting one. Weinberger reinforces such concerns when he writes that “command, control, and communications improvements are raising the confidence with which we, and the respect with which our adversaries, view our ability to control nuclear forces.” (I suspect, however, that we may be better protected by the residual sanity of the leaders of the nuclear powers than by the technical specifications of their equipment.)

The control buildup is especially dangerous because of its relationship to offensive nuclear systems. The sort of communications to be secured and controlled with the help of satellites like MILSTAR or NAVSTAR are along the lines of “Drop a bomb on the submarine repair base near Tallinn,” or “Fire a rocket at Upper Heyford.” It is of course critically important that the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union should have the the technical means to say to each other, “Let’s stop for twenty-four hours and think about it.” But there are presumably ways to protect such conversations short of a competition in offensive electronics: by agreement based on mutual interest, as Bundy suggests, or by special arrangement in the Bering Straits.

The new equipment is even more sinister to the extent that it seems to be inextricably linked to the development of weapons to be used against the opponent’s control and communications. These are called by Weinberger Cu3CM, or “electronic warfare and Cu3 counter-measures,” and they are much in favor: “destructive and disruptive operations [are] designed to degrade the enemy’s electromagnetic operations while protecting our own. Over the past year, we have placed considerable emphasis on maintaining a technological advantage in this area of rapidly evolving competition.” The chapter on Cu3I describes new achievements in “offensive electronic warfare,” a new “Electronic Combat Action Plan” for the Air Force, new systems “to degrade directly the enemy’s communications systems,” an “emphasis on a Cu3CM strategy.”

The “rapidly evolving competition” in Cu3I offers, I believe, an extraordinarily revealing image of the inconsistency of deterrence, of the thirty-year-old contest for “deterrent strength.” Nuclear policy is founded, as we saw, on a continual reinterpretation of the deterrent threat, on the quest for certainty in deterrence. “Prudence,” in these circumstances, requires that each side do all it can to secure its own forces. “Morality” requires an effort to be able to fight with precision, to destroy only the enemy’s military forces. “Reason” requires an effort to control the use of force, to preserve free will even in the flying bunker. Together these endeavors promise the unattained and unattainable end of invulnerable deterrence.

The contest may be made even more unstable by the idiosyncracies of the two contestants. Alva Myrdal has proposed the remarkable metaphor of the United States and the Soviet Union locked in “a competition out of step with each other,” in which the “highly experimental, advanced technological quest of the Americans” is mismatched to the “comparatively ‘conservative’ armaments philosophy of the Soviets.” The Soviet Union competes by increasing the size of its weaponry, and the United States by “constant experimentation” with ever more modern inventions: “The very differing emphases between them fuel the sense of insecurity and fear on each side.”29 Each side sees in the other what it fears most, Soviet materialism (materialist expansion) or American spiritualism (spiritual hegemony). Each can never attain what it most desires, the invulnerability of numbers or the invulnerability of innovation.

In this asymmetrical and asynchronous arms race, Cu3I is a characteristically American objective. It promises a deterrence that will be invulnerable, moral, controlled. Weinberger even holds out the illusion of the technological absolute, when he predicts that “defense advanced research” will provide a worldwide Cu3 “network virtually invulnerable to destruction.” Reagan himself has shown the seduction of spiritual invulnerability in his now famous speech on the morality of “peace through strength” to the National Association of Evangelicals. America is engaged in a “struggle between right and wrong,” against the “aggressive impulses of an evil empire.” But the source of its strength is “not material but spiritual, and, because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph.”30

It is the search for invulnerability, however, that has led to the present terrors of both sides. Most of the spectacular American military innovations of the past twenty years have seemed, like invulnerable Cu3I, to promise a more secure defense, a more certain ability to destroy the enemy’s offense: accurate missiles and MIRVs, the first glimmers of weapons to be used against nuclear missile submarines, the continuing glimmers of ballistic missile defense. Yet the consequence of these improvements has been that both sides’ nuclear weapons now wander eternally in the seas and the earth and the skies, from silo to silo, in aircraft in flight, always at risk, even in the darkest recesses of the ocean and the most distant darkness of space, never beyond the power of the (other) “evil empire.” In their piteous rovings, they need the star of Cu3 guiding them and going on before, the NAVSTAR or the MILSTAR in the skies. Cu3 is essential to future counterforce; it is essential to future fear.


There is, I believe, only one serious argument to be made in favor of the corrupt ritual of deterrence, the rite of which Reagan and Weinberger are now with their celestial MILSTARS the custodians. This is the argument that deterrence, however imperfect, however decadent in the hands of its present keepers, has nonetheless maintained the peace. It has prevented war between the countries that possess nuclear weapons; it is what separates us from the end.

The argument in this form is impossible to answer. It contains one or more counterfactual propositions that are beyond the powers of historical reasoning to verify: if the great powers had not possessed nuclear weapons they would have gone to war; if the nuclear powers had not in some sense believed in deterrence, they would have gone to war. Weinberger himself demonstrates the indeterminacy of such propositions in his heavily sarcastic defense of deterrence. “When deterrence succeeds, it is easy to attribute the maintenance of peace not to the contribution of the defense that enforces the deterrent, but to a host of more facile assumptions—some imagined new-found ‘peaceful intent’ of the opponent, the spirit of detente, growing economic interdependency, and so forth.” (Weinberger goes on to comment that “when deterrence fails, however…the dividends of a viable warfighting defense are unquestionable.”)

My own guess would be that the existence of nuclear weapons may very well have prevented the nuclear powers from going to war with each other. But to say this is to say something very different from the proposition that “deterrence” has kept the peace. Earlier we distinguished between the deterrent threat and deterrence as a doctrine or way of organizing security. There seems to me no reason to suppose that either the threat or the doctrine has kept the peace. Our protection is rather to be found, if anywhere, in the fact of nuclear weapons: in the circumstance that the leaders of the nuclear powers, being human, have been frightened of nuclear war; that they are not insane.

Both as a threat and as a doctrine, deterrence has proved far more nefarious than the counterfactual argument suggests. It has not prevented the expansion of the instruments of destruction which makes the stakes of war and peace so limitlessly vast. It has not prevented—in fact, it has required—the deterioration of political relationships, and the expansion of fear and hatred, which are most likely, I believe, to bring us to war.

Military expansion, as we have seen, turns out to be inherent in deterrence policies. It is a consequence, apparently, of the uncertain judgments about changing technology and political psychology on which the interpretation of the deterrent threat depends. But the deterrent threat itself—even in its minimal version—has required the expansion of political hatred.

In “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,” written shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Freud described the “disillusionment” which people of the “civilized world” felt at the coming of a “war in which we had refused to believe”: “It has brought to light an almost incredible phenomenon: the civilized nations know and understand each other so little that one can turn against the other with hate and loathing.”31

Now, hate and loathing of a demonic enemy are the unending condition of civilization in East and West, not in war but in the war/peace of deterrence. The doctrines of deterrence become more enhanced over time; the politics of deterrence more ignorant; the instruments of deterrence more deadly. In this sense, Reagan and his moralists are not monsters but the legitimate heirs of the nuclear epoch.

We live, all of us, leaders and led, in the unending terror of the “target,” of the victim to be. When one reads the somber writings of McNamara, for example, or Stimson, or even Weinberger, as I have been doing, one sometimes feels close to understanding the reason and the prudence of nuclear targeting. But then, suddenly, one remembers that the outcast, wandering missiles are pointed at people—at people one knows—across the Chilterns from Upper Heyford, or across the Baltic from the Tallinn submarine base.

I do not think there is a great danger in denying the doctrine of deterrence, and in trying to invent a new principle of security for the post-Reagan period: a principle that is founded, instead, on the mutual interest in avoiding nuclear war which has been our, and the Russians’, and the world’s real protection since Nagasaki. For we are protected, in the end, by the sanity of our leaders. Nothing is more likely to drive them mad than deterrence itself.

This Issue

April 14, 1983