Richard Perle
Richard Perle; drawing by David Levine

In opening the box of the atom’s secrets, man did not unleash evil, he merely acquired the capacity to unleash it. This left him with the oppressive burden of free choice—the power to decide whether or not to blow up the world. So the earth’s fate continues to depend on an unanswered question of potentially tragic dimensions: Are men and women sufficiently mature, psychologically and institutionally, to make that decision rationally? Or will history prove Homo sapiens a biological monster with his scientific faculties grotesquely overdeveloped in relation to his political or moral evolution?

Nothing in the history of the race has taught us poor human beings how to cope with such a predicament. The bomb is insensitive to any appeal; it offers us no chance for appeasement through ritual or expiation, no chance for forgiveness or hope for redemption. Once a nuclear war begins, we shall have exercised our free choice and lost it in the exercise, since there will be little, if any, chance of halting the carnage and avoiding ultimate destruction. Events, in Emerson’s phrase, will be irretrievably “in the saddle, and ride mankind.”

Although thoughts such as these have obsessed our society ever since Hiroshima, new generations have regarded the power of the atom as a familiar, if vaguely disturbing, phenomenon and have accepted the bomb as an instrument of war. Yet this is a pernicious fallacy; on the day the soviets acquired that instrument and the means to deliver it, the bomb lost its military utility and became merely a means of mutual suicide. Clausewitz would never have regarded it as a weapon; there are no political objectives commensurate with the costs of an all-out nuclear exchange.

We have found that reality difficult to accept. Many—though not all—of our military professionals seek instinctively to treat the bomb as merely another weapon of formidably increased power. President Reagan, who appears uncritically to echo this pattern of thought, would encourage us to pursue the traditional pattern of weapons evolution: the development of defensive weapons to match the offensive, then more offensive weapons to overcome the defensive, and so on.

Even more influential than soldiers in shaping America’s weapons policy has been an elite group of economists, mathematicians, and political scientists who, beginning in the 1950s, preempted the bomb as their special intellectual property, established themselves as a proprietary priesthood, and sought to impose logic on inherently irrational nuclear conflict. Some of these people are still on display in Strobe Talbott’s book, along with the younger men who succeeded them.

The bomb offered them a unique chance for theorizing free from empirical challenge, for, although the practices and doctrines of conventional warfare have been tested in a thousand battles, the conduct and consequences of a nuclear exchange are, and must remain, pure speculation—unless and until such an exchange blows up large parts of the world including the intellectual speculators. Thus the theoreticians did only what came naturally to them; they saw an unprecedented opportunity to deal in the realm of pure abstraction unmenaced by experience. Because no one has seen either an angel or a nuclear exchange, the hackneyed analogy to medieval scholastics is by no means far-fetched.

Establishing themselves in monasteries such as the Rand Corporation and the Hudson Institute, they have used game theory and higher mathematics to evolve rules by which nuclear wars are to be fought. Although the product of their cogitations is neat and sometimes intellectually elegant, it can also be misleading. The decisions of politicians and ultimately of military commanders are never—and will never be—made in a sterile environment or dictated solely by mathematical possibilities. They will reflect the probability of overhasty, poorly calculated, responses, the pressure of alarmed and uninformed public opinion inflamed by propaganda and factual error, the fears, ambitions, frustrations, and anger of military and political leaders playing by quite different rules, acting and reacting precipitately on the basis of rumor and misinformation.

Since these factors are not susceptible to quantitative appraisal the methodology employed by the priesthood limits the raw material of their speculations to an assessment of the physical capacities of weapons, on which they erect hypothetical “scenarios.” Although some of those constructions can be rationalized within the closed logic of the experts, their inability to factor in political probabilities has unrealistically distorted not only the design of weapons systems but also arms control negotiations, often creating ectoplasmic bogymen.

Preoccupied with their hypotheses, the experts rarely ask the central question: How will the nuclear competition finally end? How long can nations continue on their present competitive course, piling up more and more lethal weapons on both sides until someday, somehow—through accident or blunder—one side or the other breaks the nuclear taboo and the power of the bomb is unleashed?


President Eisenhower was acutely aware of this possibility as early as 1953 when there were considerably fewer than a thousand bombs on the two sides. He had, he said, a “clear conviction that the world [was] courting disaster in the armaments race, and that something must be done to put a brake on the momentum.” Ever since that time, presidents have tried to reach agreements with the Soviets to encourage the exercise of mankind’s free choice in the direction of survival. They have signed more than twenty agreements with the Soviets aimed at that objective.

Yet today, thirty-one years after Eisenhower’s cautionary comment, when the two sides possess not a thousand but more than fifty thousand nuclear weapons, the spiral seems moving faster than ever and intruding into new fields previously regarded as forbidden. The Reagan administration seems eager both to accelerate it even more, moving into outer space, and to push aside existing agreements—notably the ABM agreement—that would slow, or in any way inhibit, that mad progress.

Reagan’s perverse reaction to our nuclear predicament springs largely from his oversimplified view of mankind’s predicament. In the world drama as he perceives it there are only two players deserving top billing—America, with its noble commitment to righteousness and free enterprise, pitted in relentless conflict with Russia, “the evil empire” (“the focus of evil in our time”) that worships the antichrist of Marxism–Leninism. The implication of his Manichaean creed is that one should not do deals with the devil; the only way to cope with evil is to fight it. Thus, as he said in the early 1960s: “We are being told that we can sit down and negotiate with this enemy of ours, that there’s a little right and a little wrong on both sides. How do you compromise between good and evil? How do you say to this enemy that we can compromise our belief in God with his dialectical determinism…? How do you compromise with men who say we have no soul, there is no hereafter, there is no God?”

As president, Ronald Reagan has not abandoned his earlier views. Only nine days after his inauguration, he gratuitously asserted at his first press conference that one can never trust the Soviet leaders who “reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to obtain” their objective. After all, as he added later, “Communists are not bound by our morality. They say any crime, including lying, is moral if it advances the cause of socialism. That is Karl Marx as interpreted by Lenin.” Clearly he still believes what he said at an earlier time: “I wouldn’t trust the Russians around the block. They must be laughing at us because we continue to think of them as people.”

The Gospel according to Reagan rejects as naive any hope that the Soviets will rationally pursue their own interests in survival by agreeing on even limited measures to achieve an equilibrium of forces and put shackles on the nuclear monster. Instead he sees the Kremlin constantly striving for the upper hand and yielding only to superior force. So he would have us seek not parity but “superiority”: that, after all, was explicitly called for in the Republican platforms of 1980 and 1984. Until we have reached the level of superiority where we can intimidate our Soviet adversary and settle affairs on our own terms, Reagan’s preference has been to try to avoid any arms control negotiations and particularly any commitments that might in any way inhibit the expansive armaments program he envisages.

In fact, while not yet violating them, he has emphatically opposed every arms control measure so far negotiated by either Democratic or Republican administrations: the Limited Test Ban Treaty signed by President Kennedy; the SALT I treaty signed by President Nixon: the Threshold Test Ban and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions treaties signed by Presidents Nixon and Ford; the Vladivostok Accord negotiated by President Ford: and the SALT II treaty signed by President Carter.

So the question still remains: How does Reagan propose to end the nuclear spiral? By fitting together the different sizes, shapes, and shades of jagged shards from his past utterances, one can construct at least a dim outline of three possible answers.

The first, which he presumably finds most congenial, is the hope that if America only stays strong and resolute long enough the Soviet system will, as he said to the British houses of Parliament, be left “on the ash heap of history.” Hence America need only “hang tough”—to use a favorite phrase of the macho right wing—and wait for the denouement, meanwhile trying to speed the process of Soviet decay by economic pressures and talk of a reunited Europe.


Yet, despite his apocalyptic visions of communism’s grimy end, I doubt that Mr. Reagan foresees any Soviet collapse during his tenure in office. What he seems clearly to believe, however, is that America should be able, by using its superior economic might, to outspend and outpace the Russians in the arms race and thus, by bringing further pressure on their faltering economy, force them to give up their ambitions—a view reinforced by his semimystical faith in the superiority of the free enterprise system. Then, having demonstrated to the Kremlin and to all the world that we can achieve and maintain a clear nuclear advantage in the production and deployment of technologically superior weapons, we should be able to compel the Kremlin either to drop out of the arms race or to negotiate from weakness so great that we can extract concessions on our own terms.

Thus President Reagan’s logic leads to a negation of arms control. If America is in the lead with respect to any new weapons, we should not give up that advantage by agreeing to outlaw or limit that system, but should instead push forcefully ahead. If, on the other hand, we are behind the Soviets in some new generation of weapons, we should reject any limitation until we have caught up and surpassed our adversary.

He would apply the same logic to a third situation, which combines elements of both. Some experts believe that the Soviets are ahead of us in testing and developing missile defenses but that, with our superior technology, we should be able to surpass them. To this Reagan and other administration leaders react, as though by conditioned reflex, with the argument that we should not try to negotiate mutual restraints on missile defenses but should free ourselves of such constraints as the ABM treaty and, despite the treaty on outer space, press on to turn even that forbidden region into a nuclear parking lot.

None of these leaders appears to have considered seriously the history of Soviet–American relations, even very recent history. In 1973, for example, the United States was about five years ahead of the Soviet Union in the development of MIRV technology which would enable us, in effect, to use each nuclear missile as a bus to carry several warheads to different targets. But when the Soviet Union showed interest in a ban on MIRVing, we decided instead to push ahead with the program so as to use our MIRV advantage as something that could be traded in negotiating the second phase of the SALT agreements. But that decision was a major mistake. Instead of backing out, the Soviets went forward first with tests of its own MIRVed missiles, then deployment of first generation types, and finally with sophisticated guidance systems. Then, having matched our MIRV capacity, they were able to hang ten warheads on each of their huge SS-18s or six on their SS-19s—and could have added more were it not for SALT II—while we could hang only three on one of our much smaller Minutemen. Realization of that advantage by our experts conjured up the vision of a “window of vulnerability” and led to the conclusion—which the very experts who favored MIRV development are now advocating far too late—that we should try to get rid of MIRVing and build a large number of small missiles—Midgetmen, as they are coyly called.

Against the background of his repeated disparagement of arms control, Ronald Reagan’s promise in the 1980 election campaign that, as president, he would begin prompt and vigorous arms negotiations, carried little conviction. Nor has he since acted in a way to dispel the initial doubts. Instead of moving promptly his administration began no arms control negotiations whatever until a year and a half after he took office. He did so then only as a result of mounting pressure both from America’s Western European allies and from an American Congress growing increasingly uneasy as President Reagan’s obsessive savaging of the Soviet Union pushed the cold war toward the freezing point.

In his excellent book, Strobe Talbott describes how and why these pressures developed, and the haphazard way in which the United States prepared to undertake negotiations. Then, with exceptional insight, he gives a clear and revealing account of the protracted diplomatic shadow play that followed. In doing so, he is able to draw on the technical understanding he displayed in his earlier book Endgame, a penetrating analysis of the SALT II negotiations.

As one might expect, the initiative to begin negotiations was not Ronald Reagan’s. It derived from a speech made in October 1977 by Helmut Schmidt, then the German defense minister, in which he expressed concern that the Soviet achievement of rough equivalence in missiles might weaken the American promise to use its strategic arsenal, based in the US, to come to Europe’s rescue. Schmidt’s statement was stimulated by the Soviet decision to modernize its intermediate-range missiles trained on Europe by deploying SS-20s, a mobile solid-fuel missile MIRVed with three warheads and possessing a substantially greater range than the obsolete SS-4s and SS-5s it was replacing.

Although the SS-20s would add nothing more than a marginal increment to the Soviet’s existing strategic nuclear force, which could destroy Europe many times over, the Carter administration offered, as a counter, to consider emplacing some American intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Not that those missiles would add anything substantial to the total United States deterrent. The US, for instance, already had Poseidon missiles on its submarines in European waters. The purpose of the intermediate missiles was not military but political; and the political case made for their deployment was a confused one. Instead of explaining clearly and factually why the SS-20s did not add much to the Soviet threat, the European leaders defined them as doing so and thereby put themselves into a position of apparently yielding to intimidation if they did not respond.

Even in those terms it was not clear why emplacing missiles on European soil would relieve European apprehensions at the danger of “decoupling”—a fuzzy word which implied that the United States might not commit its US-based strategic nuclear force in case of a westward Soviet aggression but respond only with such limited forces as it had in Europe. Yet no one has clearly shown how the deployment of Europe-based missiles would enhance the assurance of an American nuclear response. At the outset of any move westward the Soviets would be certain to announce that, in the event of any use of United States nuclear weapons wherever based, they would launch a nuclear attack on America. There is no reason to think that a United States president would be any more willing to break the nuclear taboo and launch European-based missiles than that he would launch American-based strategic missiles.

Thus the central issue, which seems to have received far too little attention at the time, was whether the prospect of putting nuclear weapons on European soil might more seriously harm the alliance by stirring European peace sentiments than bolster it by reassuring European governments.

It is easy to understand why the Carter administration lacked enthusiasm for the proposed deployment and why it seized on a compromise. That compromise was embodied in the December 1979 decision of the NATO council which called for a “dual track” program. Under this the United States would undertake to deploy Cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe, but at the same time negotiate with the Soviets to reduce the number of those missiles in exchange for a substantial reduction in the SS-20s.

Obviously the Carter administration saw such a negotiation as a chance to reduce the number of intermediate-range missiles on both sides. The Reagan administration, when it took over the task of negotiation, had quite a different ambition. It was far more interested in deploying American missiles than in limiting Soviet SS-20s. Thus it deliberately sought to delay any negotiation until the United States was “ready”—or, in other words, until the Pershing and Cruise missiles were actually in place. But it had not counted on the growing strength of the European peace movement, which Reagan instinctively dismissed as purely a product of communist subversion.

Peace groups were clamoring ever more insistently for the United States to get on with the negotiations; European governments were getting nervous, and echoes of those sentiments were becoming more obtrusive in the United States. Thus finally, a year and a half after taking office, the administration reluctantly approached the bargaining table to begin what became known as the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Force) negotiations.

The man it chose to conduct those negotiations was Paul Nitze, seventy-four years old, who had, over a long and distinguished career, acquired a well-deserved recognition as a nuclear expert. An ayatollah among the nuclear warfare mullahs, he had written extensively about nuclear policy at a high level of abstraction; yet he had had more experience than almost any other American diplomat in nuclear diplomacy. For the Reaganites, he had the necessary qualification of having opposed the Carter administration’s plans for arms control as naive and insufficiently tough, but he was never close to the White House politicians. As Talbott writes, “the hawks would never entirely forgive him for his role in bringing about SALT I; the doves would never entirely forgive him for his role in bringing down SALT II.”

Permitted discretion worthy of his experience, Nitze could almost certainly have achieved a useful agreement with the Soviets that would both have reassured the Europeans and minimized the strains and pressures on the alliance. But Nitze was not enough of an ideologue to satisfy an ideological administration. He had actually dealt with the Russians, knew their limits and requirements, and really wanted to arrange an arms-control agreement rather than merely strike attitudes and use the negotiations as an excuse for building new weapons systems.

Unlike Nitze, the Californians at the top of the administration were, as Talbott’s book shows, not only antipathetic to but immaculately innocent of the intricacies and objectives of limiting nuclear arms. The right-wing theologians they had gathered about them were convinced that past arms-control negotiations had weakened America and that America should make no concessions which would in any way restrict its ability to achieve nuclear superiority.

On rare occasions when the President was consulted during the progress of the negotiations he seemed, Talbott tells us, either confused or not to be listening, interrupting only occasionally with anecdotes of little relevance. So little did he understand the issues that on two occasions he made comments that could have heightened Europe’s dark suspicions, since he implied that he had no intention of using our American-based strategic nuclear force for Europe’s defense. Thus, in a press conference on January 20, 1982, he observed: “We claim that to continue to stand there with [the Soviets] having enough warheads to literally wipe out every population center in Western Europe, with no deterrent on our side, and the NATO allies recognize this, and we have said at their request that we will provide a deterrent.” And again a few weeks later on February 16, he said that if NATO failed to deploy the new American missiles, “we would not have any deterrent force on our side”—wholly ignoring not only our huge strategic arsenal based in America and on the ocean, but also the formidable French and British nuclear forces, quite capable of striking targets in the Soviet Union. Thus, if they took him literally, Europeans would conclude that, in spite of our commitment, Reagan did not intend to use the missiles based in the US to deter an attack in Europe.

In contrast with earlier arms-control discussions, where the negotiations had been actively directed by high-level officials—Henry Kissinger in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Defense Secretary Harold Brown under President Carter—the high command of the Reagan administration gave the proceedings only casual and sporadic attention, reflecting a mixed attitude of aversion and indifference. Talbott’s book shows that in practice, the strategy of the negotiations was effectively controlled by two third-level bureaucrats: Richard Burt, assistant secretary of state for Politico-Military Affairs, and Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Policy.

Both these men were hard-liners but their views by no means coincided. Talbott gives a fine analysis of their different temperaments and ideological inclinations. Richard Burt, at thirty-three, was articulate and intellectually acute. He had been a newspaper correspondent and later worked in the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London where he had learned the jargon of the nuclear theologians. But he had had no direct experience in negotiations. Yet, during his thirty-three years, he had acquired an extraordinary arrogance and showed no deference to anyone—including Nitze, more than twice his age, whom he repeatedly disparaged, undercut, and over-ruled. Although he recognized that America’s deployment of missiles in Europe was of only marginal military importance, he was firmly convinced that such deployment was essential to reassure the Western Europeans. He believed in arms control and even in maintaining some continuity with past negotiations. But he shared the conviction of most of his colleagues that the Soviets would agree to reduce their SS-20 force only after American missiles had been actually deployed. So, although he hoped to see an arms-control agreement concluded by the Reagan administration, he was determined to prevent any agreement until deployment had actually started.

Richard Perle reflected a quite different set of views and motives. A maneuverer of byzantine skill and temperament. Perle had served for years as close adviser to Senator Henry Jackson, the archetype of military hard-liners, and the leading critic of arms control, whose “commitment to unilateralism in defense,” as Talbott puts it, “transcended partisan politics.” Perle was only thirty-nine years old when he moved from the Senate to the Defense Department in 1981 as assistant secretary of defense; but he had thirteen years’ more experience in government than Burt. A virtuoso at bureaucratic infighting, Perle not only blackmailed, threatened, and bullied the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but intellectually dominated Secretary of Defense Weinberger who, as Talbott describes it, “virtually turned over the Pentagon’s arms-control portfolio to Perle.” Because Weinberger, a Californian long associated with Reagan, had easy access to him, Perle was able by indirection to manipulate a president who gave this central problem only sleepy and intermittent attention.

Burt was less strategically situated. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, under whom he initially served, had little influence in the White House, while Haig’s successor, George Shultz, knew almost nothing about arms control and was far too preoccupied with other aspects of his on-the-job training to pay more than occasional attention to the problem.

The story of the actual negotiations described in Talbott’s brilliant book is both depressing and alarming. Talbott recounts in almost week-by-week detail how the interests of a great nation were brushed aside and its policies trivialized, bent and twisted to suit the exigencies of bureaucratic warfare and the ideological whims of junior grade officials with no experience in international negotiation.

For a long period the administration deliberately stalled any progress by insisting on the so-called Zero Option, under which the Soviets would be required to dismantle all of their SS-20s while the US would emplace no intermediate-range missiles in Europe. That position, as Talbott makes clear, was contrary to the intention of the 1979 NATO decision which had contemplated that some US missiles would be emplaced while efforts would be made to secure the maximum reduction in the number of SS-20s.

Yet no one worried about such a nuance, for the position clearly could not provide the basis for serious negotiation and was not meant to do so. It was a position constructed purely for show, one designed to make the administration look generous in offering to give up any deployment of missiles, while at the same time assuring that the negotiations got nowhere.

Secretary Shultz, Vice-President Bush, Eugene Rostow, and Weinberger were all confident that the Soviets would begin serious bargaining only when the missiles were actually being put in place and thus give Reagan not only the missiles but the agreement he wanted before the election. None among the Washington contingent who were calling the tune—neither Burt nor Perle nor Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger—thought that the Soviets were serious in their threats to walk out. Only Nitze, who knew the Russians, took the Soviet threat of a walkout seriously. He therefore put his instructions aside and, during his famous walk in the woods with his Soviet counterpart, worked out a tentative compromise by which the US would install only Cruise missiles, not Pershings, and the Soviets would cut back their SS-20s. Talbott describes vividly how Perle and Weinberger tried “to stop Nitze in his tracks and kill his initiative.” When Nitze finally got to argue his case in the White House, Reagan advised him to “tell the Soviets that you’re working for one tough son-of-a-bitch.” Whatever the chances Nitze’s initiative may have had with the Soviets—they were never large—were scotched. His proposals were flatly turned down in Moscow.

The Soviets finally quit the negotiations on November 23, 1983. Any other administration might have been embarrassed. Instead, the Reagan ideologues claimed a great triumph. Our European allies had, they proclaimed, proved their steadfastness by accepting the stationing of missiles in the face of a Soviet propaganda barrage that had generated often violent domestic opposition. What no one bothered to point out was that all this had been achieved at very considerable cost—the stimulation of an underlying discontent, recently evident in the capture of the British Labour party by unilateral disarmers, and in the local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in October, when the peace advocates of the Green party took almost 10 percent of the vote and threatened to destroy the Liberal party on which the current pro-Western coalition depends. At the same time, by failing to agree on any limitations, we had given the Soviet Union a free permit to expand the number of its SS-20s without limit, and they are being deployed.

The INF negotiations were the Reagan administration’s principal adventure in arms control, but it was also forced by congressional pressure to undertake talks to limit strategic weapons. Serious members of Congress, such as Senator Sam Nunn, recognized that the failure to submit SALT II for ratification was contributing to the dangerous souring of relations with the Soviet Union; they feared that any further delay in resuming negotiations might irreparably damage, if not destroy, the whole arms-control process.

But, as with the INF, the administration stalled as long as possible. Even when it was apparent that congressional and public pressure must be appeased if the MX and other new nuclear programs were to be saved, the warring factions in the administration could not agree even on the broad approach to new arms-control proposals. The obvious procedure, as Secretary of State Haig and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Jones, urged, was to pick up where the Carter administration had left off. But that was heresy to the sacred doctrines of Reaganism, which regarded SALT II as the work of appeasers. So Secretary Weinberger and the head of the arms-control agency, Eugene Rostow, called for a fresh beginning consistent with the President’s glib promise that any new agreement must produce deep reductions rather than merely put a limit on existing arsenals.

President Reagan favored such an approach since he saw a proposal for deep reductions as an ideal subject for a dramatic speech before visiting Europe. Secretary Haig and General David Jones observed quite sensibly that such a proposal would be dismissed as cynical and implausible. About the only aspect of the negotiations on which the administration could agree was a new name that would have the public relations value of suggesting a fresh beginning, since it would be referred to by the acronym START.

President Reagan unveiled START with considerable fanfare on May 9, 1982, but it is clear that he little understood the implications of what he was saying. The central point of the American proposals was to force the Soviets to reduce drastically their huge land-based missile force, which the theologians regarded as a menace to our Minutemen. But Reagan revealed seventeen months later, in October 1983, that he had not realized that most of the Soviets’ nuclear defenses were concentrated in its large land-based missiles and that, therefore, his proposal for dismantling most of those missiles without reciprocal concessions might be interpreted as one-sided.

Even while the negotiations were still in their early preparatory stages, it was clear that the same junior level officials—Burt and particularly Perle—would dominate the debate over the American position, much as they had dominated the discussions on INF. Here again Perle quickly gained the upper hand not only because of his influence over Weinberger, but because he had also gained mastery over the American negotiator, General Edward Rowny. In contrast with Nitze, Rowny was not only unsympathetic with arms control but lacked the qualities of an effective negotiator. Both overbearing and intolerant, he was dull and inflexible and lacked the respect even of his own staff.

As with the INF negotiations, Talbott’s account of the strategic discussions is a tawdry tale of pettiness, infighting, and posturing which left the larger interests of America subordinated to the precarious fortunes of bureaucratic guerrilla warfare. Quite early in the shaping of the American negotiating position, Burt and Perle clashed over the units of account to be used as a basis for the negotiations. Deployment limits had regularly been defined according to the numbers of launchers on each side. Perle now demanded that we insist on using throw weight as the measure, since Soviet launchers were so much larger than ours and could carry more MIRV warheads. The throw-weight proposal lacked an essential element of sound arms control, since accurate verification of throw weight was not possible, nor was it in any way negotiable under Perle’s proposal. The Soviets would be required to discard two-thirds of their most modern MIRVed ICMs while facing an American buildup. Still Perle and Rowny insisted that throw weight was the necessary measure for arms reduction, Burt opposed it as a hopeless basis for negotiation, which it was. President Reagan, for his part, confessed to a number of visitors that he had never understood what “this throw-weight business is all about.”

After long stalling, the administration moved off transparently non-negotiable positions only after influential members of Congress had threatened such sacred budget items as the MX. Finally, as a result of such pressure, the administration, late in the day, halfheartedly attempted to negotiate a “double build-down,” an ingenious technical formula by which each side would gradually reduce both the number of missile warheads and the number of “stations” from which they could be launched. By then the Russians looked with deep suspicion on any drastic change in the American position. To complicate matters, in March 1983, Reagan abruptly made his Star Wars proposal even though his own top defense scientists pointed out that any defensive system could be overcome unless coupled with an arms control agreement that limited the buildup of offensive forces.

The Soviet walkout from START on December 8, 1983, seemed as much an expression of the Soviets’ belief that the American negotiating efforts were not serious, as it did of their anger at the emplacement of the missiles in Europe.

Faced with the election, President Reagan has suddenly changed his tone. Not only has he momentarily abandoned his abusive rhetoric, but the administration is spreading rumors—at least for campaign purposes—that a second-term Reagan administration will negotiate an effective arms-control deal with the Soviets now that the Reagan administration has “built up” America’s military might to the point where discussions can be undertaken “from a position of strength.”

But, as fully documented in Talbott’s account, such talk has a very hollow ring. If a new negotation is to have any chance of success there would have to be a drastic change in the people running the bureaucracies that, as Talbott shows, both supply the President with positions and prevent competing doctrines from being heard. Richard Perle and Edward Rowny, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Fred Iklé and Kenneth Adelman, head of the Arms Control Agency, would need to be replaced by people who do not regard arms control merely as a potentially dangerous obstacle in the vast continuing expansion of the American nuclear arsenal. The administration would have to staff itself with new officials who, though firm and resolute, still appreciate, as Paul Nitze does, the psychology and strategic position of our Soviet antagonists.

Most important, President Reagan would have to learn to take arms control seriously and not regard it merely as public relations. That means that he would have to concentrate on traditional diplomacy quietly conducted and not through highly publicized speeches skillfully read from a teleprompter. At the same time—to add to the unlikelihood of a deep change in policy—Mr. Reagan would have to forgo the psychic pleasure he apparently derives from shouting rude names at the Russians over the back fence. Although it is popular in administration circles to assert that the Russians are not affected by name-calling since they indulge in it themselves, that is obviously nonsense. No negotiation can flourish wholly insulated from the general character and tone of the relations between the superpowers, for though there can be little mutual trust between the two countries, the linking of arms control with other international issues can, and does, have some meaning. Finally, the administration would have to concentrate on the question with which this review began: How do we break the nuclear spiral? We are still waiting to see whether Reagan grasps what is at stake.

This Issue

November 8, 1984