Pie in the Sky

George Shultz
George Shultz; drawing by David Levine


The first negotiating position on nuclear arms put forward by the Reagan administration during its first term was the late and unlamented “zero option.” It implied that the Soviets would destroy the intermediate nuclear weapons targeted on Europe that they had already put in place. In exchange for this the Americans would not deploy in Europe intermediate nuclear weapons targeted on the Soviet Union. Hardly anyone else, least of all the Soviets, took it seriously or as anything other than a self-evident indication that the United States was not seeking to negotiate seriously. The only reason for recalling it now is that it helps to get some perspective on the position that has been emerging.

The new negotiating position in the second term of the Reagan administration is still going through the usual bureaucratic birth pangs. Meanwhile, however, some consensus seems to have been reached within the administration about the conceptual setting for such a policy. Whether orchestrated or not, something resembling a coherent campaign for a seemingly different approach was launched in advance of the Shultz–Gromyko meeting on January 7–8. Two articles were particularly revealing. Both appeared in Foreign Affairs, Winter 1984/1985, often used for programmatic pronouncements by leading officials here and abroad. They are: “Arms Control With and Without Agreements” by Kenneth L. Adelman, director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; and “Living With the Soviets” by Paul H. Nitze, newly appointed special adviser to Secretary of State George Shultz.

That two key officials should simultaneously come forth with variations on the same general theme suggests that we are dealing here with more than random individual inspiration. Such an apparent meeting of minds, even if from different directions and with different emphases, indicates that some sort of negotiating attitude has been forming in influential circles. Apart from what they may tell us about the long-range outlook within the Reagan administration, these articles also raise central issues in any consideration of nuclear-arms negotiations. These issues will haunt us long after the new negotiating position joins the zero option in the nuclear inferno or wherever old nuclear negotiating positions go after they have exhausted their usefulness.


The articles by Adelman and Nitze seem to be studies in ambivalence. They start by going in one direction and end by going in another.

Most of Adelman’s article would lead a reader to believe that arms-control agreements have worked out very poorly in the past and that there is no reason to expect anything better in the future. His first sentence sets the tone: “Of all the emotions arising from strategic arms control today, the most profound is disappointment.” No significant arms-control treaty is “perfectly verifiable”; the “force structures” of the US and USSR are so different that it is most difficult, “even with good faith and Herculean efforts,” to make them amenable to comparable reductions or trade-offs; frequent changes of leadership,…

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