Rethinking Arms Control

That arms control as a concept for international order and as a tool for restricting military competition is in deep trouble today, is so obvious that it has become almost a truism. The lessons that both skeptics and supporters of arms control have learned from this experience are very different. The skeptics, though often paying lip service to "true arms control," feel certain that effective arms control, in the sense of serving the security interests of the West, is simply illusory so long as the Soviet Union and the United States are locked in continuing rivalry. The supporters see the reasons for the disappointing record of arms control not in the concept but in its political presentation; the failure of arms control, to them, is due to hopes having been too high and expectations too great. Arms control can be revitalized, they argue, if we begin to be more modest in our objectives and expectations.1

Neither of these positions is fully convincing. Rivalry, however deep-rooted, does not exclude limited compromise; indeed, with concern in Moscow mounting over the emerging Western reactions to earlier Soviet weapons programs as well as over internal economic strains, Soviet readiness to accept effective restraints on their own programs in exchange for restraints on Western efforts may well increase; the past ten years are no reliable guide for the next ten. Nor does modesty alone promise satisfactory results. "More of the same but less so" may avoid some of the problems that have, in the past, delayed effective regulation of the East-West military competition; but again this implies that we can project the past decade into the future, that the basis on which arms control policies were once built can remain the same.

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