Caspar Weinberger
Caspar Weinberger; drawing by David Levine


SDI, NATO, and the ABM Treaty

In his impressive short book, Star Wars, Dr. Robert Bowman, the president of the Institute for Space and Security Studies, reminds us that the pursuit of SDI presages not only the abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty—which said that the parties will not “develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are…space-based”—but the death knell of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and even of the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963. The Outer Space Treaty banned the placing of nuclear warheads in space orbits. The Partial Test Ban Treaty banned the testing of nuclear warheads in space—which, for example, is what is called for by the X-ray laser. In what could still technically be an era of peace, such testing would not, of course, result in as much radioactive fallout as did testing in the atmosphere. What it could do is play havoc with modern telecommunications—televisual as well as telephonic—and with the satellite system on which both sides now depend for a large part of the information they have about each other’s military deployments.1

These considerations are part of the answer to the question one so frequently hears: If a space-based defense is unlikely to work, why should it bother the Russians so much, as if they were afraid that the West had developed some new kind of armor plate that could not be penetrated by their antitank weapons? In his recent book Blundering into Disaster2 Robert McNamara suggests that the thought that the goal of SDI is the acquisition by the US of a first-strike capacity is what most worries the Russians. Another equally important reason surely lies in what President Reagan himself has said—a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought. With nuclear arsenals at their present size, both sides know that there is no such thing as nuclear superiority—a proposition that once upon a time Henry Kissinger strongly supported. It is equally true that there can be no such thing as a meaningful defense against nuclear weapons. The term “leaky defense” is shorthand for millions of dead. The Russians have retained and may even have “improved” the ABM complex that they started to deploy for the defense of Moscow in the late Sixties, but they surely know that it is not leakproof, that it does not make Moscow invulnerable to the kind of attack that would be launched against what is the main command center of the USSR.

The USSR is not alone in urging the strict observance of the 1972 treaty. America’s European allies are supporting the research and development program of SDI, but only in accordance with the strict interpretation of the ABM Treaty, as opposed to the “broad” interpretation favored by the administration in order to allow testing of SDI components in space.3 Six of Caspar Weinberger’s predecessors in the office of defense secretary, men who have served either Republican or Democratic administrations, have recently urged President Reagan to abide by the strict interpretation.4 A group of influential senators and congressmen, including Senator Sam Nunn, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Claiborne Pell, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are insisting that this be done. Senator Nunn has stated that the record of the Senate ratification hearings “flatly and unequivocally contradicted” administration assertions that the hearing records support any interpretation of the treaty that would allow testing and deployment of a defensive system in space. A serious constitutional crisis could well develop were the Executive to proceed in defiance of the Senate, in a way that flouted congressional authority in the making of treaties.

It is bewildering that the question of a broad interpretation ever came up, and that Gerard Smith, who negotiated the SALT and ABM treaties for the Nixon administration, as well as all the members of his expert team—with the single exception of Paul Nitze5 but including his legal advisers—should have to argue, with men who were not there, the meaning of the sentences which they formulated and on which the two sides agreed.6 I suspect that there will be a deep sigh of relief in many quarters if, but more probably when, the administration, even if helped now by Henry Kissinger, abandons the argument. So long as it continues, so long will stalemate persist in the most significant areas of arms control—in particular that of intercontinental missiles arsenals.

Be that as it may, Reykjavik could still put a stop to the shadowboxing that has characterized most arms control and disarmament negotiations of the postwar years. The two leaders agreed “in principle” to reduce their ICBM forces by 50 percent over a period of a few years, and the USSR has now proposed that all intermediate-range (INF) missiles—SS-20s, Pershing IIs, and cruise missiles—by which the two sides threaten each other in the European theater, should be withdrawn and dismantled. In what must have been a moment of euphoria, the two leaders even agreed on the ultimate, but in real life unrealizable, goal that all nuclear weapons should be eliminated. They even said by the year 2000.


Unfortunately, the moment the news flashed from Reykjavik that the two leaders had agreed in principle to withdraw their intermediate range ballistic missiles, the NATO military command protested. It did not want to be deprived of its Pershing IIs and cruise missiles, regardless of the fact that Gorbachev had agreed to leave out of account the British and French nuclear forces, an issue that had been one of the stumbling blocks in the INF talks that ended unsuccessfully at the end of 1983. As well as destroying all the SS-20s that pointed west, he was even prepared to limit those deployed east of the Urals to one hundred warheads. But no, the NATO high command wanted none of it. Lord Carrington, the secretary general of the alliance, had to remind General Bernard Rogers, the Supreme Allied Commander, that the zero-zero option, the plan to eliminate all the medium-range missiles which the two sides would deploy against each other, had been unanimously agreed on in 1979 by the political leaders of the alliance before they had started the arduous and unsuccessful INF or “dualtrack” negotiations—celebrated for Paul Nitze’s “walk in the woods.” When these talks ended in stalemate, the Western military leaders had ostensibly shared the public’s disappointment, even though preparations for the deployment of cruise and Pershing II missiles had been started months before.

The basic reasons for the appearance on the scene of the medium-range missiles were political and psychological. Helmut Schmidt had brought the INF issue to the fore in 1977 in an attempt to assure that the US was “coupled” to Western Europe. Now that the USSR is ready to agree to the conditions which he had helped formulate when chancellor, he has said he is dismayed to find that the NATO military—and the Pentagon—are no longer in favor of an agreement.7 On the other hand, Chancellor Kohl, Helmut Schmidt’s successor, soon gave the NATO military command some—if not full—support, as did, somewhat more ambiguously, Margaret Thatcher.

The USSR’s unconditional, even if belated, acceptance of the zero-zero option that the US proposed five years ago can be regarded as an indication of the value of standing firm when negotiating. Many of us in the West then regarded the offer as highly favorable to our side. The Russians were being asked to remove and dismantle weapons they had already deployed in return for an undertaking that the US would not introduce into Europe a new set of weapons which—until the issue of decoupling was raised by Helmut Schmidt in 1977, it had presumably no intention of deploying. To argue now, as does the NATO military command—apparently supported by the political authority of some members of the alliance—that shorter-range nuclear weapons should be dealt with at the same time could imperil a deal on intermediaterange missiles that has come within reach.

In some quarters it would also almost certainly cast doubt on the genuineness of the American offer in the first place—and indeed it has already done so. The short-range weapons did not form part of President Reagan’s 1981 “zero-zero option.” That was a straightforward offer by the US not to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles if the Russians withdrew their SS-20s—an offer that translated into action the “dual-track” approach to the Russians that the NATO political authority had agreed on before negotiations started in 1982. In his formal acceptance of the offer, Mr. Gorbachev has said that the USSR is willing to begin talks now to reach an agreement about reducing the numbers of short-range weapons in their and NATO’s arsenals. Would this not be the wisest way to proceed, rather than risk becoming ensnared in pointless argument, both political and technical? What advantage could possibly be gained by now delaying an agreement on intermediate-range weapons?

It would be obvious to anyone who has followed the evolution of events from the beginning that from the moment in the early 1950s when the US started to stockpile nuclear weapons, the NATO high command—like that of the USSR on their side—welcomed their deployment. They did so from a background of knowledge about the unique nature of nuclear weapons that was little better than that of the man in the street.

Is the present hesitant reaction of the NATO military chiefs to the zero-zero option anything but a reluctance to relinquish weapons systems that they have so recently acquired? Do these weapons systems now add something essential to the range of armaments that underlie the state of deterrence in Europe? Have they made that state firmer now than it was before—or have they added to the risk of its breakdown? If fighting were ever to break out between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, for what purposes would they and other nuclear weapons really be used? The “targets” on which the new medium-range missiles are trained were presumably always “covered” by other weapons, including sea-based missiles. It is taken as an act of faith that NATO’s conventional forces are far weaker than those which they oppose, and that if Warsaw Pact forces were to attack, nuclear weapons would have to be used almost at the outset. Echoing what Field Marshal Montgomery said in the early days of NATO, General Rogers has even declared that this might be necessary before the required political authority could be given. One would then have to assume that nuclear warheads would be exploding not only within the zone of contact of the opposing forces, but over and on “interdiction targets”—airfields, rail centers, and presumed troop concentrations within range of the INF missiles—that is to say, up to one thousand kilometers into enemy territory, and reciprocally into our own. To what end? we need to ask. To test Russian resolve? To test our own? To trigger an all-out nuclear exchange? To prove that Washington would be ready to see New York destroyed if London were? To prove that the US would join Europe and Russia in a mutual suicide pact?


In an era of nuclear superfluity, what kind of sense can be read into terms such as nuclear superiority or parity? They are meaningless. What difference would one or two thousand warheads make between enemies when the reciprocal exchange of a fraction of what each has would spell total disaster for both? The concepts of nuclear superiority and inferiority have become strategically pointless in East–West relations, both in the aggregate of nuclear destructive power and within different classes of nuclear weapons. The Russian leadership is not going to be any more deterred from embarking on military adventures in Europe than it already is were NATO now to start deploying more short-range (up to five-hundred-kilometer) weapons to match the number the USSR is reported to have in the field. Those NATO political authorities who are rumored to be calling for such a move have simply become mesmerized by the nuclear numbers game.

In the early 1950s there may have been some military merit in the proposition that nuclear firepower could compensate for conventional inferiority. There is none when neither side could prevail by force of nuclear arms, and when resort to them would mean mutual destruction. That is one of the main points Mr. McNamara makes in his book. Even Mr. Reagan, who, despite the moral tones with which he launched SDI, is regarded as a nuclear firebrand, has said that NATO has relied too long on its nuclear “crutch.” Oddly enough, that is what gives point to the British Labour party’s emphasis on the need to reinforce Britain’s contribution to conventional forces in NATO, even though Mr. Kinnock, the Labour leader, unfortunately did not stop to consider that there could be circumstances, however remote, when a nuclear-armed opponent, who would otherwise be deterred, might threaten to use his superior firepower against an enemy not similarly supported by nuclear weapons. What the debate in the UK is now doing is to throw a spotlight on the basic fact that, while nuclear weapons clearly deter, defense requires adequate conventional forces.

In his recent book Watershed in Europe, Jonathan Dean, a professional US diplomat who knows Europe well, and who has represented the US at the everlasting but so far all but futile negotiations for Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, also underlines this critical point. It is the actual presence of US forces, he writes, that “is correctly regarded as the most effective deterrent to Soviet conventional” or indeed nuclear adventures in Western Europe. He also believes that the East–West military confrontation in Europe, which now consumes “at least two-thirds of the total yearly expenditure for armed forces of all the countries of the globe,” has passed its “high point,” both militarily and politically.

In a chapter that he contributed to Empty Promise: The Growing Case Against Star Wars,8 Dean argues, again in my view correctly, that Europeans are unlikely to be impressed by pie-in-the-sky promises that a space-based defense can be invented against Russian intermediaterange ballistic missiles. And recent events prove that he was seeing clearly when he wrote that

Western Europe will remain apprehensive over SDI as long as the superpowers fail to reach agreement on strategic defenses. And Western Europe will oppose American or European actions on testing and development that place at risk existing or possible US-Soviet arms control agreements. If there is no US-Soviet agreement on the subject and no change in administration policy, this resistance from our allies will be an obstacle to SDI deployment. It will also be an important source of US-European friction, which can deeply erode the alliance.

SDI as a dream does not frighten Europeans. The possibility that SDI enthusiasts might be permitted to carry their experiments into space, either, for example, with antisatellite weapons or with nuclear-pumped X-ray lasers, or any other nuclear devices, does frighten them. So does talk of early deployment. And impatience is bound to grow if nothing comes of the belated acceptance by the Russians of the zero-zero option, and if rumors about deep cuts being made in strategic nuclear forces fail to assume a semblance of reality.

Negotiations about nuclear weapons are no longer a domestic affair that just concerns the US and the USSR. The international dimension of the nuclear debate came out clearly in a symposium that was held in 1985 under the auspices of the Groupe de Bellerive in Geneva, and of which an excellent-account, edited by Sadruddin Aga Khan, has recently appeared. The meeting took place not long before the assassination of Olof Palme, who, in opening the symposium, bluntly insisted that the future of all civilizations could not be left “in the hands of only one or two or five nuclear-weapon States.” There would be no neutrals in a nuclear war. Nuclear explosions have no regard for national boundaries. That was proved by Chernobyl—a relatively minor nuclear accident compared to what the explosion of a nuclear warhead could do. Whereas in the past the destruction caused by war has been suffered only by the contestants, this would no longer be so in a war in which nuclear weapons were used.

As professor of international relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Curt Gasteyger, the author of Searching for World Security, has for years been in an admirable position to watch the failure of all manner of arms-control negotiations, even in what he calls “marginal” sectors of disarmament. It is his view, too, that negotiations have failed not only because of a fundamental reluctance of states to reduce their armaments, but also because of “the fact that states are utterly reluctant to touch what they still consider to be untouchable, i.e., their quasi-sacrosanct sovereignty.” Tension in the international system, he points out, is due basically to the fact that national “objectives and policies” are formulated “on a purely domestic basis.” The more, therefore, the two superpowers continue to deal with each other in an atmosphere of total suspicion, the more certain it is that tension in the rest of the world will increase.

Dr. Gasteyger also warns that we have become accustomed to treating the danger of nuclear proliferation far too lightly, and that so long as the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers continues, the more likely it is that some nonnuclear states now embroiled in fighting one another in different regions of the world—in the Middle and Near East, on the Indian subcontinent, in Central America—will aspire to become members of the nuclear club. We now hear rumors that Pakistan has at last succeeded in its ambition to achieve “nuclear status.” What country will be next?

The Bellerive symposium was a remarkable one, not only for its international flavor and the prominence of the experts who participated, but also for the realism and, on occasion, the antagonisms of some of the contributors. Readers will find in Prince Sadruddin’s book, as they also will in that of Curt Gasteyger, much that explains how the whole international stage has become so dominated by the East–West nuclear problem, and why SDI has become a global issue. It is urgent that the nuclear arms race between the superpowers should end. At the symposium, Dr. David Owen, the leader of the new centrist Social Democratic party in the UK, spelled out the argument for the immediate need of a comprehensive test ban treaty. What he said was endorsed by Prince Sadruddin, and in my view the point cannot be made often enough. It is the basic issue that needs to be dealt with if, to quote the late Harold Macmillan, prime minister of the UK when it was party to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, a halt is to be imposed on the weaponeers who wish “to go on indefinitely with experiments…refining and perfecting the art of nuclear weapons.”9 But here, as in every other aspect of the arms control debate, and as John Kenneth Galbraith emphasized in his contribution to the symposium, success is dependent on a workable relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. “There is little prospect of success in an atmosphere of mutual insult, condemnation, recrimination and associated mistrust.”

A few years ago I wrote in Nuclear Illusion and Reality that it is a fact of history that with every delay in reaching an agreement on the control of nuclear arms, nuclear weapons change and build up so fast that the best that could be achieved later is worse than the worst that might have been concluded a year or two before. This generalization I owe to Henry Kissinger. Its importance is reemphasized by Mr. McNamara when he reminds us that:

We consistently tend to exaggerate the risks associated with an agreement, while failing to recognize the consequences of proceeding with no constraints. It is correct to point out that every attempt to control the arms race is likely to carry risk with it. But it is equally correct to emphasize that failure to accept mutual restraints often carries risk as well.

Today SDI, with its remote and admittedly limited technological promise, stands in the way of agreements that could bring much greater and immediate benefit to the West—and the world—than the pursuit of the President’s dream could ever do. Mr. McNamara tells us that what stopped him and President Kennedy in 1963 from making a comprehensive test ban treaty their goal—a goal for which Harold Macmillan was working—was essentially the realization that such a treaty would never be ratified by the Senate, the majority of whose members had been mesmerized by visions of military supremacy that had been painted for them by the generals, who themselves were mesmerized by the promises of the men in governmental and industrial weapons laboratories.

It is in the laboratories, therefore, that one should look for the roots of the political difficulties that have characterized every phase of the nuclear arms race. This is no new discovery. As long ago as January 1946, Dean Acheson, then the deputy secretary of state, protested that General Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, “was determining and almost running foreign policy.”10 The two men were on opposite sides of the argument about the United States surrendering its then monopoly of nuclear expertise to the United Nations. Bertrand Goldschmidt, a pioneer physicist in the French nuclear program, and an international negotiator who was a member of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, considers this failure, at a time when the US still possessed no more than two dozen warheads, to be the moment when the “chance for humanity to return to a world free from nuclear weapons vanished for an indefinite period.” 11 How long is “indefinite”?


A Step Back

Mr. McNamara reminds us in his book that “We have reached the present dangerous and absurd confrontation by a long series of steps, many of which seemed to be rational in their time. Step-by-step we can undo much of the damage.”

In my view, a first step will have to be to impose sophisticated political oversight of the men in the weapons laboratories, and to curb their dyed-in-the-wool military, industrial, and commercial agents or supporters. Basic research cannot and should not be inhibited. What needs to be controlled is the way ideas for new nuclear weapons systems—defensive as well as offensive—or improvements to existing ones are sold to the customer, whether he be a military officer or an entrepreneurial politician. Will democratic leaders ever have the influence and power to do this, and so help the leaders of the USSR to do the same? For this step to have a chance of succeeding, it will be necessary to resolve for the man and woman in the street, for our political and military leadership, the difficulties which they all now face in trying to understand the technical arguments about SDI.

One needs to remember that the history of military R&D is largely the story of abandoned projects, the graveyard of billions of dollars that could have been put to some more effective use. Occasionally something may be learned as a project makes its way to the scrap heap; usually nothing is. The belief of the technical critics is that SDI is going to turn out to be another Skybolt—to mention only one of a host of ideas that at the time proved to be technically impossible—but on a vastly greater scale. Most of those who are already working on the project, one has to assume, would think not. But in science, truth is not established through a counting of heads.

It was clearly not the end of the matter when a Cornell poll of members of the National Academy of Sciences showed that 80 percent opposed SDI—any more than one would be surprised if a higher proportion of the engineers and applied scientists whose work is supported by SDI money declared themselves in favor of the program. George Rathjens, himself a former deputy director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, found that the great majority of the scientists and engineers who participated publicly in the ABM debate of the early 1970s, and who claimed that ABM defenses were a practicality, received their financial “research support” from the Pentagon, while most of those who denied that ABM defense could ever be effective had no vested interest in the matter.12

It is not surprising, therefore, that General Abrahamson has said that he “absolutely rejected assertions that his efforts to make SDI work would fail,” giving as his main reason that failure had not yet been demonstrated by his critics.13 But since negatives cannot be proved, in effect what the general is seeking is an open-ended commitment to continue the SDI research program without limit. He could always argue that if they only waited a few more years, his critics would see the error of their ways. But he also surely knows that the same argument might have been employed about, for example, the now forgotten and abandoned project to build a nuclear-powered bomber, a Polaris of the skies. In military R&D there have to be those who judge when enough is enough. One cannot go on forever trying to prove, let us say, that water can be made to run uphill.

Jerome Wiesner, chief science adviser to President Kennedy and later the president of MIT, and Kosta Tsipis, an MIT physicist, have suggested that since “support of star wars has now become a measure of loyalty around the Reagan White House,” the President should set up a panel to resolve and depoliticize the arguments about SDI, and “to provide responsible and uncensored scientific advice.”14 Their idea is that in addition to “distinguished scientists,” the panel should include statesmen and military people. The proposal is a good one, but one needs to ask whether any single body of men could satisfy both sides in all aspects of the SDI dispute. If SDI were to be technologically and financially feasible, and strategically and diplomatically desirable, there would be little to argue about. If it were found wanting in any of these aspects, there would be much to argue about.

The fact that the second report on SDI of Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment was dismissed by the representatives of the pro-SDI High Frontier group who served on its advisory panel is a warning. They simply did not like its skeptical conclusions. Nor, obviously, did Donald Hicks, an industrialist who is an under secretary in the Pentagon, and who has stated that he would deny research grants to any scientists who are critical of SDI.15

Andrei Sakharov, the most famous Soviet dissident of our times, and at the same time a distinguished nuclear physicist, has endorsed the view that it will be much easier and cheaper to devise and deploy countermeasures than to create space defenses. He is, I suppose, esteemed in High Frontier pro-SDI as well as in other American circles. Would his opinion carry weight with those who now accept an opposite view, I wonder? All of Caspar Weinberger’s predecessors in the office of defense secretary have expressed their skepticism about, and even opposition to, SDI. Harold Brown, Weinberger’s immediate predecessor, and previously director of defense research and engineering, and before that director of Livermore, has looked at SDI from all technical angles, on the assumption that a vigorous program of R&D would continue to the year “2010 and beyond.”16 His conclusion is that the problem of defending populations against nuclear attack would not have been solved by then, and that the prospects of ever finding a solution would still be poor. But whatever the critics say, General Abrahamson’s optimism remains unshaken.

The one part of the debate that it should, in theory, be possible to settle by the jury system, as proposed by Wiesner and Tsipis, would relate only to scientific fact, divorced from expressions of faith or hope. The entire spectrum of technical problems should be broken down into sections. For example, one section would list a series of questions that would lead to definitive answers to the wider question whether it is more or less practical today to make a missile effectively invulnerable in its boost phase than to destroy it. Scientists such as Frederick Seitz and William Nierenberg of the Marshall Institute group should be ready to debate their scientific reasons for taking the affirmative side on this issue against those who take the opposite view. It should be a true scientific debate, not one that allows the participants to retreat into separate strongholds of prejudice.

A year ago I suggested in these columns that the debate should be an open one and, like any discussion in any scientific forum, strictly limited to questions of fact and to legitimate deductions from fact. 17 Those who participate in the debate obviously should not have an interest in the expenditure of public money in work that is unique to SDI. My hope would be that if such a debate could be organized, it would at the least make it difficult for laymen prematurely to take sides on contentious scientific or technological matters on which they have no background of R&D experience. As I have already said, scientific or technical truth is not established by counting heads or by the number of decibels with which a point of view is proclaimed—or by political authority. That was the way the false and disastrous teachings of Lysenko about plant breeding and genetics became the established dogma of prewar USSR, and how some branches of science assumed their horrifying flavor in Hitler’s Germany.

To satisfy President Reagan and Mr. Weinberger, an open scientific debate, in a forum with the prestige of the National Academy of Sciences, or in a forum, even an international one, convened for the purpose, should also attempt to settle for this era whether an effective space defense system against ballistic missiles could ever be planned, given that the Russians were free to devise countermeasures. The outcome might help the White House toward an agreement with Congress about the level of expenditure that it would be sensible to maintain in the pursuit of such ABM research as is allowed under the 1972 treaty, and toward an agreement about what would be technically sensible to do “outside the laboratory” without contravening the strict interpretation of the treaty. People could then appreciate why General Abrahamson and others who are deeply involved in the SDI program say they cannot guarantee nuclear protection of the kind implied by the President’s speech announcing SDI of March 1983. They could also appreciate what is being sacrificed in arms control in the ICBM field by the President’s insistence that the SDI program is sacrosanct. The model provided by the Tower Commission bears witness to the value of such an approach.

It is already clear that a decision on whether SDI will ever be “cost-effective at the margin” is likely to prove a highly expensive business. Mr. McNamara’s step-by-step return to reality means that the final step will have to be a mutual realization that the empty void of space is a far more dangerous environment for the deployment of weapons systems—defensive or offensive—than are the seas, the earth, and the skies below.

Postscript: In the previous installment of this essay (NYR, April 23), I referred to an article by Henry Kissinger that had been published in the March 8 issue of The Washington Post. Paul Nitze, the President’s special adviser on arms control, has also recently given his answers to Kissinger’s arguments (The Washington Post, March 30). He is as critical as I am about the support Kissinger now gives to Caspar Weinberger’s demands for a commitment to proceed with the testing and deployment of a space-based defensive system. No one, so Nitze writes, can yet say that any “prospective defenses would be survivable…. There is nothing to be gained by deploying defenses that could not survive an attack; in fact, such an action could be seriously destabilizing.” This forthright contribution to the public debate about SDI, and offered as it is at this moment, is to be welcomed. The day may not be too far distant when Nitze joins the company of those who hold that whatever might be deployed, whenever and over however lengthy a period, will prove dangerously destabilizing.

Nitze also disagrees with Kissinger’s view that the Russian acceptance of the zero-zero option that was unsuccessfully proposed in 1981 by President Reagan has now become a bad thing because it would be a step toward the decoupling of the US from its European partners in NATO. This belief, as Nitze points out, has no substance. The removal of the 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles, whose introduction into Europe started only at the end of 1983, and is not yet completed, would still leave in Europe the same vast US nuclear armory whose presence over the years has helped deter the USSR from any aggressive military adventures. The US would be no less coupled to NATO after the removal of its intermediaterange missiles than it was before their introduction.

Kenneth Adelman, the director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has also recently underlined this fact (International Herald Tribune, March 31, reprinted from The Washington Post). “The vast majority of NATO nuclear systems” would be unaffected by an INF agreement, which, so he writes, “would solve the problem that NATO set out to solve in 1979, the problem of the SS-20 missiles targeted on NATO.” Adelman goes on to say that “the goal is to restore the status quo ante 1976 as regards INF systems and to improve on it, since the 600 SS-4s and SS-5s then targeted on Western Europe will be gone as well.”

In the light of these statements it is surprising to find that John Deutch, Brent Scowcroft, and R. James Woolsey (The Washington Post, March 31) have now joined those who regard such an outcome unfavorably. They see some military disadvantage to NATO were this class of weapon to be removed, since the USSR would still have more short-range nuclear weapon systems. I find it difficult to share their concern. Do they really conceive of a war when some of these weapons, let alone hundreds, would actually be used in military operations? The idea is absurd. NATO’s nuclear weapons are there to deter. So are the Russians’. Given the thousands both sides have available, what conceivable difference does it make whether one deploys a hundred or a few hundreds more than the other? Were any ever fired, the likely outcome would be disaster for both sides, including the 300,000 US military personnel now stationed in Europe. There may be some obscure psychological reason for advocating an increase in the number of nuclear weapons in the short-range class that are deployed by NATO; there is surely no military reason. Nor, if General Bernard Rogers is to be believed when he declares that were the Russians to attack, NATO would be compelled to resort with practically no delay to the use of nuclear fire, is there any reason to increase NATO’s conventional manpower. If this is how the concept of “flexible response” is now being interpreted by the supreme commander, the logic would lead to the conclusion that all that NATO needs in the way of foot soldiers and other conventional forces is “a thin red line.” That way, at least, fewer soldiers would vanish in a nuclear holocaust.

When referring to such increases as possible ways of redressing the disadvantage they imagine might result from the removal of medium-range armament, John Deutch and his coauthors do, however, recognize that in practice what they have proposed could well prove unrealizable. If there is a real problem, maybe their suggestion of an agreed partial removal at the start is the answer. It is unfortunate, however, that in casting doubt on the wisdom of both sides getting rid of a class of weapons that has no military utility, they are inadvertently promoting the contrary proposition, which is certainly entertained in some quarters, that the situation would be better than it now is were more rather than fewer such systems introduced into Europe. After all, there is no magic in the figure of 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles. The same arguments about the disadvantages of removal would no doubt have surfaced if the figure had been a thousand or a hundred.

The simple fact is that Europe is safe so long as a state of mutual nuclear deterrence remains assured. Such a state prevailed when the number of warheads on the two sides were only a fraction of what they now are. As I have already said, the idea of nuclear parity is meaningless when both sides possess armories that are vast beyond any threshold of reason. There never has been parity in every class of nuclear system. There is no need to seek it now. Until that golden day dawns when the lion and the lamb lie down together, when swords are beaten into plowshares, all that is needed is for the West—and the East—to remain possessed of no more than sufficient nuclear strength to underwrite the environment of deterrence in which we have learned to live.

—April 8, 1987

This is the last of three articles on SDI.

This Issue

May 7, 1987