What will historians say when they start writing about the 1987 INF Treaty, and about the disarray into which it threw the Western alliance? Continuing dissent over the treaty is either genuinely designed to clarify certain issues about verification or, as some commentators suggest, to delay or even frustrate ratification by the Senate. NATO, too, has not as yet resolved its problems about the post-INF “restructuring” of its remaining and vast arsenal. But however these matters are sorted out, and whatever aspect of the story on which historians may choose to concentrate, the signing of the treaty will emerge as a watershed in international relations and a moment when the nuclear strategies of both East and West were exposed in all their nakedness. My guess is that most scholars will conclude that the specific provisions President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev agreed upon—to dismantle and destroy costly nuclear rockets—were the least important outcome of the long negotiations in which the two had been engaged. Some will judge that what was more significant was that agreement was reached despite the powerfully nurtured belief that the Russians can never be trusted, that they would never allow a sufficient measure of intrusive on-site inspection to satisfy the critics that they could be trusted—not that people such as Senator Jesse Helms could ever be satisfied. No doubt there will be a few who consequently ask whether the issue of “verification,” of which so much has been made in the arms-control negotiations of the postwar years, has not been exposed for what it has sometimes seemed—a political smoke-screen to hide the fact that one or the other side never wanted the negotiations to succeed.

Other historians may regard as more significant the fact that the agreement revealed the emptiness of the previously held belief that it was necessary to deploy particular categories of nuclear armaments in order to deter one side from attacking the other or, if it came to war, to match nuclear blow with nuclear blow. That was the view that General Bernard Rogers, NATO’s Supreme Commander until June 26, 1987, had repeatedly expounded. As he saw it, INF weapons with a range of 300 to 3,400 kilometers—the ones to be eliminated under the treaty—were essential to the security of the Western powers. It did not matter what the Russians did with their SS20s. Were NATO’s Pershing IIs and cruise missiles to be removed, compensatory additions would have to be made to the West’s nuclear armory.

Bernard Rogers was repeating the doctrine of an earlier Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). During the late Fifties and early Sixties, General Lauris Norstad was SACEUR. He also wanted INF weapons—then styled Medium Range Ballistic Missiles. He had the support of President Eisenhower and the State Department. But the European partners of the US failed to see any military jutification in what was being proposed. The decision twenty-five years later to deploy cruise and Pershing IIs, ostensibly to offset the new Russian SS20s, was again not a consequence of some carefully formulated military policy. In the final analysis it was a response to Helmut Schmidt’s 1977 appeal to the US to manifest by some additional practical sign that its security was “coupled” to that of its European allies.

Neither on our own nor on the Russian side had the INF class of weapons been designed for use in field warfare against targets that offer themselves to one or another side in the course of battle—“targets of opportunity,” as they are called. The missiles were programmed to strike cities, towns, ports, airfields—many if not all of which were probably already covered by other programmed warheads. In 1985, it was reported that the Supreme Commander’s planners had pinpointed 18,500 short and mid-range Warsaw Pact targets for nuclear strike, of which about 2000 were designated “priority targets.”1 When General John Galvin, today’s Supreme Commander of the Western alliance, was specifically asked on British television, five months after he had taken office, whether, given an INF deal, he agreed with General Rogers about the need for compensatory nuclear deployments, he replied, No, he didn’t. There was no such need. The question was put again. The words of his answer are worth quoting:

I can carry out my mission of deterrence and defense with the nuclear capability and the conventional capability that is left in Europe under NATO after the treaty is ratified.2

General Galvin’s forthright rejection of the views of General Rogers was almost immediately and unconditionally endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in whose eyes—whatever they may have thought before—the INF agreement was “sound militarily.”3 Presumably the Russian chiefs of staff correspondingly regarded it as sound military policy that the Warsaw Pact could safely sacrifice four nuclear warheads for every one removed by the Western alliance.


Historians may well conclude that the abrupt switches in the advice tendered to the military leaders of the East and West by their respective planning staffs implied that on neither side did anyone know what size or kind of nuclear armory was needed to pose a credible deterrent to aggression, or to fight a nuclear war were one to start. We know that by the time of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 both superpowers already had it in their power to wipe out in a flash a few of each other’s major centers of population, either in a first strike or as an act of retaliation after being attacked. The unforgettable picture of Hiroshima after a single atom bomb had been exploded about a third of a mile above it should always be kept in mind as signifying a basic unit of nuclear destruction. The bomb had a destructive force equivalent to that of about 15 kilotons of dynamite, a kiloton (kt) equaling a thousand tons. A nuclear megaton is equivalent in destructive force to a million tons of dynamite. At the time of the Cuban crisis NATO’s nuclear arsenal contained warheads in the multimegaton range, some reported to have been above twenty megatons, each powerful enough to destroy utterly the largest city in the world. Since those days, adding to what both already possessed has made no discernible difference to their mutual fear of embarking on military adventures against each other.

Hiroshima gave the atom bomb the label the “ultimate” weapon. That was when a widespread nuclear “mind-set” started to form. On both sides the buildup of nuclear armaments over the years has been a response to suspicion and fear, fueled from quarters with a vested interest in the design and production of nuclear weapons. Herbert York, the first director of the Lawrence Livermore Weapons Laboratory, has admitted that he and his staff decided on their own what warheads to design, “confident that the military would find a use” for whatever they were offered.4 There can be no doubt that York’s Russian opposite number was doing likewise.

Both were simply upholding the same article of faith—that weapons necessarily achieve a greater military and strategic utility as their range, precision, and destructiveness increase. Each side accepted that if the other improved the presumed effectiveness of his nuclear armory it would become necessary to follow suit. Each also tried to devise defensive measures and tactics by which, given hostilities, the aggressor would; it was hoped, be defeated.

That these simple historical generalizations were not applicable to weapons whose destructive power was unlimited and unprecedented was immediately realized by Niels Bohr and a few of the other scientists who had been involved during the Forties in the development of “the bomb,” including Glenn Seaborg—to whose recent book I refer later. Unfortunately this basic fact was not appreciated in the obiter dicta of Albert Wohlstetter and Thomas Schelling and other early armchair strategists of the post-Hiroshima nuclear era. While they correctly perceived that the destructive power of the new weapons implied a unique quality of deterrence, at the same time they treated them as armaments that like all others could be used in the kind of operations that had ravaged Western Europe and the USSR during the six years of the Second World War.

The confusion is made abundantly clear when one refers to a recent article by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., in which he details what he finds wrong with the INF Treaty.5 Gaffney, who was Richard Perle’s deputy in the Pentagon until the latter’s retirement, and who then for a time chaired NATO’s High Level (Nuclear) Group, defends the view that nuclear weapons should be “modernized” with the analogy of fire extinguishers that must be in an adequate state to deal with a fire started by “an arsonist.” His analogy holds only if one believes in “nuclear war fighting.” What he fails to point out is that whatever state they may be in, fire extinguishers would not add fuel to the flames, whereas responding to a nuclear strike with nuclear weapons would merely compound the subsequent destruction. Doing so would be the equivalent of fighting fires with extinguishers filled with petrol or some other highly inflammable liquid.

On both sides, too, military leaders from the start pursued an internally contradictory military doctrine—that instruments of destruction that were so fearful that they deterred any military action at all could at the same time be transformed into weapons with which to fight. The latter view was the one that was at first dominant. Early on it was estimated that the armies of the Western alliance should comprise a total of ninety-six divisions in order to counter the Warsaw Pact forces. When there was no sign of these ninety-six divisions materializing, the NATO Council in 1954 declared that nuclear weapons should be used to compensate for SACEUR’s presumed weakness in conventional forces. Even if there had been no worries about relative force levels, I am certain that a decision to deploy nuclear weapons would then have been taken, if for no other reason than that the Russians already knew how to make nuclear bombs.


From the very start of NATO the question of the balance of conventional forces has been a contentious issue, with intelligence estimates changing from year to year, and with politicians making what capital they wished from the figures. But the situation today does not seem to be as precarious as one might judge from some alarmist statements. Senator Carl M. Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Conventional Forces, has recently declared that “an uneasy conventional military balance exists today in Europe.”6

This conclusion emerged from an extensive review of information provided by a variety of reliable sources, including official intelligence briefings and reports of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A separate recent “net assessment” of the balance of conventional forces by the Joint Chiefs is also said to have reached the view that NATO has sufficient conventional strength to make a Soviet attack highly unlikely.7 A special report prepared for the approval of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union by its Committee on Defense Questions and Armaments states that while “the maintenance of fear is an avowed means of ensuring the cohesion of the alliance,” it is nonetheless “particularly important that estimates of Warsaw Pact military capabilities should not be exaggerated for political purposes.”8 A recent Russian comment on the question of disparities in conventional arms comes from Colonel General Nikolai Chervov of the Russian General Staff. He draws attention to asymmetries in different categories of arms—for example, that the USSR deploys more tanks but fewer antitank weapons than does NATO—but endorses the view of the International Institute of Strategic Studies that “neither side has a preponderance [in conventional arms] and that both run the risk of defeat in the event of war.”9

From the moment of the NATO Council decision of 1954 the nuclear shibboleths of today took root. The one most frequently heard is that there has been no war in Europe over the past forty years because the Western alliance possessed nuclear weapons. Another widely held belief is that the more nuclear weapons one possesses, the greater their deterrent value, and the greater one’s security—a proposition that the INF has now shown to be invalid. A third, and perhaps the only unassailable nuclear “truth,” is that neither side will ever take the risk of throwing away all its nuclear arms without an absolute guarantee that the other is doing likewise.

A fourth presumed truth—that nuclear weapons are both “deterrents” to war and weapons that can be used in war—threw considerable confusion into the NATO summit of March 1988. For the UK, Margaret Thatcher argued that the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear missiles made it necessary to “modernize,” i.e., replace with more “survivable” and accurate warheads one or more of the shorter-range nuclear weapons that are not affected by the INF agreement. How, she asked, can you expect to deter with an obsolete weapon? But Mrs. Thatcher uses the term “to deter” as interchangeable with “to defend,” as would be legitimate for armament designed for conventional warfare.10

Chancellor Kohl took a different line. He has pointed out that the shorter-range weapons that might be modernized are based in West Germany and would not reach beyond East Germany. He, like his opposite number, Herr Honecker of East Germany,11 was fearful of war breaking out in Europe, given the very strong likelihood that nuclear weapons would then be used in the two Germanies. A nuclear war fought on German territory would destroy it utterly. The crucial difference between the views of the UK and those of the Federal Republic was papered over in the final communiqué by replacing the word “modernized” with the phrase “kept up to date where necessary.” Whether the summit spent much time considering how the Russians would react were NATO’s “shorter-range” nuclear weapons to be “modernized” was not reported.

The divergence in the views of the two European leaders will not surprise anyone who has been involved from the start in arguments about the use of nuclear weapons in field warfare. More than seventy years ago, in the days of chemical explosives, Clemenceau observed that war had become too serious to be left to the generals. Which generals are our political leaders to believe in this nuclear age? Realistic and sophisticated war games, carried out by divisional commanders experienced in battle, had by the early Sixties made all too plain what would happen if nuclear weapons were used in an East–West European war: victory for neither, disaster for both, with untold numbers of civilian deaths in the midst of widespread and enduring radioactive devastation—in short, mutual suicide.12

On both sides more and more military leaders who have held the highest office have endorsed this conclusion.13 West German military planners ask whether it makes sense to suppose that Russian armies, given that any were left after a nuclear field-war, would want to occupy a radioactive desert. Yet one still meets service officers who not only accept as holy writ the doctrine of nuclear field-war that is spelled out in handbooks of tactics, but who are also ready to formulate the escalatory steps that would take us to an “all-out” nuclear exchange that would destroy the northern hemisphere. Small wonder that in educational TV programs one is shown earnest young officers explaining the wonders of the ICBMs that could be fired at the USSR from silos, without anything being said about the reciprocal destructive wonders of the Russian warheads that would be bursting on American soil.

Chancellor Kohl has every reason to wonder how nuclear weapons, which because of their unacceptable destructive power are presumed to deter aggression, could then be used as weapons to “defend” were war to break out. The chancellor also obviously realizes that the elimination of INF missiles would not make the territories of the two Germanies any less vulnerable to nuclear devastation than they had been before. Much of Western Europe and western USSR could still be wiped out by a fraction of the short-range nuclear weapons, which are now formally categorized as battlefield weapons, and most of which have war-heads with yields in excess of one kiloton. For example, NATO’s 203 mm howitzer, which has a range of some nineteen miles and a firing rate of one round every two minutes, fires shells with a yield of as much as 10 kt. The smaller 155 mm howitzer fires 0.1 kt shells—shells with a destructive power equivalent to one hundred tons of conventional explosive—and it can do this at a rate of four a minute up to a range of some 30 kilometers. The short-range Lance missile fires warheads with yields of up to 100 kt—over six times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. The Warsaw Pact’s short-range “battlefield” rockets launch warheads with yields reported to range from 40 kt to almost a megaton.14

By comparison, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped in the Second World War weighed no more than ten tons, and contained an explosive charge with less than a fiftieth of the destructive power of a 1 kt nuclear warhead. It passes all understanding how anyone could ever have supposed that there was a need for howitzers that fired shells, each of which could eliminate in a flash anything from a large village to a medium-sized town. What manner of artillery duel was being envisaged? One’s mind reels when one reads that the Supreme Commander has a list of two thousand “priority targets” that are designated for nuclear elimination. These targets presumably include harbors, towns that are communication centers, and so-called choke points where enemy forces would, by the nature of a country’s terrain, be forced to concentrate. How many are there on the Russian list? What thought, if any, was ever given to the way troops and civilians would react in an environment of mushroom clouds and radioactive fallout?


The INF deal has not only provoked debate in Europe on issues such as these; it has once again raised questions about the American nuclear umbrella that is supposed to protect Western Europe against Communist Russia. In the early days of NATO, the stated nuclear policy of the Western alliance was “massive retaliation,” meaning, in the words of John Foster Dulles, then the secretary of state, that any Russian aggression would be met by the US with all its nuclear might, “by means and at places of our own choosing.” A different strategy was demanded when the US’s European allies started worrying about the likely consequences to them of such a policy when executed against a nuclear-armed USSR. As a token of “nuclear sharing” and, in theory, to allow the European leaders a say in the control of the nuclear button, Robert McNamara, when he became defense secretary, arranged for the setting up of a High-Level Nuclear Planning Group, and for the insertion into NATO’s nuclear vocabulary of the words “flexible response.” But “flexible response,” while it sounds less terrifying than “massive retaliation,” in the final analysis simply means that NATO’s forces would resort to the use of nuclear fire were an assault by the Russians not halted by conventional means. The term never implied any lessening of the vulnerability of the two Germanies—or for that matter of the rest of Europe or of the USSR.

Today Mr. McNamara warns that “flexible response” has as little meaning as did “massive retaliation.”15 He, like other distinguished men who have filled major political office in different US administrations, reminds us that if it ever came to the crunch, an American president would be no more inclined to authorize the use of American nuclear weapons that are now deployed on European soil than he would be to give the green light to a launch of the ICBMs based in the US. What point would there be in adding the destruction of the US to that of Europe and the USSR? To deter war is real policy, one that makes sense. Posthumous revenge helps nobody. Would any candidate for the American presidency be elected if he said that he would be ready to see Chicago destroyed if Frankfurt had been, or to exchange New York for Paris? As Henry Kissinger put it in 1979, the European allies of the US should not keep asking the US “to multiply strategic assurances that we cannot possibly mean or, if we do mean, we should not want to execute, because if we execute we risk the destruction of civilization.”16

This blunt warning is repeated in the much-publicized recent report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, and in words even more explicit:

To help defend our allies and to defend our interests abroad, we cannot rely on threats expected to provoke our own annihilation if carried out. In peacetime, a strategy based on such threats would undermine support for national defense. In a crisis, reliance on such threats could fail catastrophically for lack of public support.17

How could there be any other view? When the chips are down, commanders in chief do not order their army commanders to embark on operations that carry an overwhelming risk of their own annihilation, nor would they be allowed to do so by their political masters.18 And that applies to both sides. This is what needs to be read into the often repeated statement that the peace that Europe has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War has been due to the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.

To maintain the prevailing environment of mutual deterrence both sides have nonetheless to declare as genuine policy that there are circumstances in which they would resort to the use of nuclear weapons—NATO in conformity with the supposed policy of “flexible response,” the USSR in retaliation. It is a general view that uncertainty enhances deterrence, which also means that since suicide does not constitute a defensible political or military option in a rational world, both sides would be wondering how the other would react were the theoretical circumstances in which they have declared they would “go nuclear” ever to materialize. We are all now engaged in an obligatory but highly dangerous game of make-believe.19 Those who ride tigers dare not dismount.

The Russians are ready to sacrifice four warheads for every one that the West gives up, and to assure confidence that this has been done, to allow the necessary inspection. This means they have dared to indicate by deed that they accept what political leaders have repeatedly declared—that the world can be destroyed by a fraction of the nuclear weapons that now exist; that when it comes to nuclear weaponry fewer warheads do not necessarily imply a sacrifice of security; and that since there can be no victor in so-called nuclear war-fighting—only destruction and countless lives lost—there is no point in piling up nuclear armaments above the level that would deter attack.

The INF deal also means that both sides now implicitly admit that between them they have wasted billions and billions of dollars in a fruitless effort to outbid each other in nuclear armament. They have discovered that weapons whose unit destructive power is both theoretically variable and for all practical purposes limitless cannot be accommodated within the frame of an arms race that makes logical sense only as it applies to conventional armament that can be precisely counted, and the consequences of whose use are within human control. The realists also know that there is no way that the superpowers can change the nuclear stalemate into which they have impelled themselves—however many more billions they might spend in the attempt.

It took great political courage and skill on both sides to open the way to the INF deal and to the further arms-control agreements that are now in the wind. More will be needed if the present negotiations are not to be blown off course. The divergent national goals of East and West and the deep-rooted hostility and suspicions that divide the peoples of the Western and Warsaw Pact alliances are not going to fade away over-night simply because their leaders have become far more flexible and more willing to agree to sensible compromises than they were before. Of course, it is not only in the US that people argue about the way to deal with Gorbachev’s Russia. The confusion is every bit as great in the other countries of the Western alliance. As sovereign powers they do not speak with one political voice,20 any more than NATO has developed a coherent defense policy that would take account of the enormous military burdens the United States has assumed outside the European theater. Angry noises are made about the presumed conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact powers, but few, if indeed any, of America’s allies have shown themselves eager to help the US by increasing their own defense spending. What all call for is a “balanced” reduction and a restructuring of both Warsaw Pact and NATO forces, a reduction made overtly to enhance confidence in each other’s pacific intentions. But essentially it is called for because all feel the need to reduce the enormous costs of maintaining and equipping vast armies.21

This issue of costs is a crucial one in which the interests of the superpowers are clearly the same. There is another issue, and it is becoming even more urgent. Both have to avoid any risk of becoming directly embroiled in one of the many fighting wars that are now raging in different parts of the globe, and where in pursuit of their national policies they have been indirectly supporting the opposing sides. This issue is of particular relevance in the Middle East and in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, where it is possible that nuclear weapons will suddenly make unilateral appearances.22 It may already be too late to prevent this from happening, but any possibility that it can be depends largely on the concerted action of the US and the USSR. In the past the two often opposed each other on the issues concerned. The circumstances today are totally different. The imminence of a common danger is driving them to act together.


The background to this recent development comes out clearly in Glenn Seaborg’s book on the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Seaborg was one of the prominent scientists involved in the development of “the bomb.” He was also a member of the small group that signed the manifesto that was issued before Hiroshima and that recommended to the US government that the international control of atomic energy had become the best hope for American as well as world security. His book reminds us that the first meeting of the UN General Assembly in January of 1946 established an Atomic Energy Commission that was charged with the responsibility of devising methods for the international control of atomic weapons. He explains why it was inevitable that the USSR would reject an asymmetrical plan—the Baruch Plan—that the US put forward some six months later for the international control of nuclear technology. (The plan demanded that the statutory veto of the permanent five members of the Security Council should not be used to prevent punitive action being taken against any state that contravened the proposed treaty. Since the Soviets had already resumed work on the bomb, this meant action against the USSR.)

That was when proliferation started—with the USSR becoming a “weapons power” in 1949, the UK in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. During all these years, world concern about what was happening kept increasing, until in 1968 the present Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was agreed on and signed by the US, the Soviet Union, and sixty other nations. The treaty began by referring to the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger.” It acknowledged “the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology” and the right of all nations “to participate in the fullest possible exchange of scientific information” for “the further development of the applications of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.” Its first article then enjoined each of the nuclear-weapon states that were party to the treaty—the US, the USSR, and the UK—“not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices…and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons.”

Article 6 of the treaty was specifically directed to those countries which had already developed nuclear weapons and which agreed to be party to the treaty. They had to undertake “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

As chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971, Seaborg was an intimate participant in all that was happening. His excellent book explains blow by blow the difficulties that the US and the USSR had to overcome before they, the major players on the international stage, agreed on the terms of the treaty.

His book also deals expertly with the attempt to put a stop to nuclear tests, which from the start was recognized as one of the measures that would have to be agreed on if the spread of explosive nuclear devices were to be stopped. Here again, as he points out, the mutual hostility of the US and the USSR prevented decisive action. The failure in the early 1960s to achieve more than a limited test ban agreement arose from the belief of American and Russian weapons officials of the day, together with their military and political supporters, that the concept of nuclear war fighting was rational and practical; therefore new warheads had to be developed and tested. To the public, the overt reason for the failure to agree on a total ban on testing was the contention that it was impossible by seismic means to differentiate underground tests from explosions, and that the Russians, taking advantage of this fact, would cheat. To guard against this, intrusive onsite inspections were therefore demanded jointly by the US and the UK, a demand which the Russians, not unexpectedly, rejected.

The position today is different in almost every respect. The Russians have withdrawn their objections to on-site inspections and have offered other measures to satisfy doubters about cheating. Second, it can no longer be legitimately argued that there is any strategic significance to our inability to differentiate, by seismic techniques, minor earthquakes from underground disturbances due to small explosions. The argument occasionally heard as a justification for testing—that it is necessary in order to check the condition of weapons in stockpile—is as empty today as when it was first advanced. In short, the issue of nuclear testing now needs to be judged from the political point of view of national security, not from that of a technical competition in the design of warheads.

If the preparatory work is completed in time and the forthcoming Moscow summit proves fruitful, the President and the General Secretary have indicated they hope to crown the INF Treaty with an agreement that enjoins the US and the USSR to reduce the size of their respective “strategic” nuclear arsenals by half. Whether or not this happens, it is urgently in their mutual interest that they also turn their attention to the question of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The time is propitious. The INF agreement constitutes an abrupt reversal of “vertical proliferation”—the continued multiplication and elaboration of the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers. Such proliferation was a factor in the refusal of certain countries, such as India, Israel, and South Africa, to become party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. That the three nuclear-weapon states which helped bring about the treaty—the US, the USSR, and the UK—have signally failed to comply with this obligation and have instead continued to develop nuclear weapons was a major source of contention at the NPT review conferences of 1975, 1980, and 1985.

In 1985 the debate finally crystallized in a resolution that called on the three nuclear weapons powers to resume the negotiations for a comprehensive ban on testing that had been broken off by President Reagan in 1980. Of the 130 countries now party to the treaty, only two voted against the resolution—the US and the UK. The USSR voted with the majority. The original treaty, some of the participants recalled, specifically referred to the need for a comprehensive test ban if nuclear proliferation was to be halted. As Seaborg puts it, the 1995 vote on the extension of the treaty “could be critically dangerous [to the treaty’s survival] if the superpowers do not in the interim take substantial steps toward fulfilling their treaty obligations.”

Until now, the US and the USSR have turned a blind eye to each other’s failure to live up to the injunctions of the NPT. Having now been brought closer together by the INF Treaty, the question that both need to ask is whether such inevitably strategically impotent advances as might still be made in warhead technology are sufficient justification for holding back from a comprehensive test ban that might just help prevent some “threshold” nuclear-weapon states from becoming overtly nuclear.

The next NPT review conference is due to take place in 1995, seven years from now. Within that time Pakistan as well as India could become effective nuclear-weapon states. That India has it in its power to develop a nuclear bomb is clear from its explosion of a nuclear device in an underground test in May of 1974, at the same time declaring that it was doing so for “peaceful purposes only.” Pakistan has almost certainly already built the separation and reprocessing plants that are needed to provide the fissionable materials required to make nuclear war-heads. It has also for years opposed any restrictions on “nuclear technology transfers” and is known to have purchased abroad materials needed to develop its nuclear plants. The clear implication is that Pakistan is providing itself with fissionable material for use in weapons. Israel’s position has been made only too obvious by the recent trial of Mordechai Vanunu, the technician in the Dimona Nuclear Center who succeeded in revealing secrets about the plant to an English newspaper.

It may already be too late for what Lewis A. Dunn calls “a concerted US-Soviet–orchestrated international effort involving world leaders” 23 to prevent further proliferation from taking place. But I can think of nothing that would have a more hopeful and galvanizing impact on world opinion than were the US and the USSR to get together as dramatically as they did over the INF, and just as rapidly—together with the UK and, if possible, France and China—conclude a comprehensive test ban that sets both a finite term to further testing, say five or ten years, and a precise annual limit on such further nuclear tests as may be needed to complete whatever the nuclear weapons program on which they may still be engaged.

This cannot happen without the same determination at the top as brought about the INF Treaty, and, to quote Seaborg, the same single and unambiguous control from the top as will prevent national security policies from seeming like “a rudderless ship, zigging and zagging and sometimes reversing course and sowing confusion.” The possibility that nuclear weapons could ever be made impotent depends far more on the attainable reality of a superpower comprehensive test ban treaty than on any number of dreams of space-based defenses, which strategically would change nothing.

May 5, 1988

This Issue

June 2, 1988