Arms Control: Arms Control With and Without Agreements

O fall the emotions arising from strategic arms control today, the most profound is disappointment. In this, as in little else in the vast realm of arms control, conservatives and liberals concur-conservatives for the failure of arms control to diminish the ever more ominous Soviet strategic buildup, liberals for its failure to diminish the ever more wasteful strategic "arms race."1

Few fields of human endeavor display as great a gap between what is hoped for and what has been realized as strategic arms control. Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown said it best: "Measured against these glittering possibilities, the achievements of arms negotiations to date have been modest indeed, as are their immediate prospects. . . . In all, not much to show for 35 years of negotiations and 20 years of treaties."2

People of all ideological stripes bemoan this state of affairs. They long for a breath of fresh air in this all too stagnant endeavor. "Arms control theory is now at a dead end," Henry Kissinger recently observed. "The stalemate in negotiations reflects an impasse in thought."3 We should not have an impasse in thought. With a half-generation of experience, we should now have enough data to judge what in strategic arms control works and what does not. We ought to be able to glean what new approaches might offer. We should, for instance, complement traditional arms control with a new or refurbished approach: arms control without agreements. But first, four basic questions: What is the problem? What did we expect? What should we expect? How do we get there?

II

At first glance, the problem seems clear: we have ratified no nuclear arms control agreement for more than a decade, and Moscow has furnished scant evidence that we can do so anytime soon.

But is this really the problem? Thinking it is stresses the existence of an arms agreement rather than its effect, a misplaced emphasis. For the objective is not an agreement for its own sake; were it so, an agreement could be readily obtained (most easily by signing up to the Soviet proposal). Any nation can conclude an agreement with another if it yields to terms sufficiently favorable to that other state.

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