The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
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.
The cause for the malaise is much deeper. It is not merely due to a misunderstanding of what arms control can and cannot do, which could be cleared up by bringing lofty objectives down to more realistic levels. Arms control is in crisis for more fundamental reasons: the international environment does not now seem to lend itself to serious compromise; current and future strategic concerns seem to find too little reflection in the present arms control approach; and the tools for controlling arms, for limiting forces, and for military options seem in themselves no longer adequate to the job. Unless arms control policies again address these basic problems, there can be little effective regulation of military competition except through unilaterally offsetting the military power of the other side-a reversion to the pre-arms control era whose dangers arms control was precisely designed to avoid.
Successful arms control requires a favorable international climate, domestic support, and credible instruments. The present situation is lacking all three.
A favorable international climate. It is possible to see, both in the United States and the Soviet Union, a willingness to sit down and negotiate; but it is much harder to discern a readiness to make the kind of concessions that agreement requires. This might be different if arms control could be isolated from the general problems between East and West, if somehow it could be protected against the manifestations of rivalry and antagonism that apply across the board in the political relationship. But we have all learned from the events of the past few years that this is impossible. SALT I, negotiated in less than half the time it took for SALT II, was possible not only because the American and the Soviet sides were willing to agree on some arms limitations, but primarily because they saw a value in their overall mutual relationship-for the Soviet Union the value of recognition as an equal by the only power whose recognition mattered, for the United States the value of domesticating Soviet disruptive power through a network of agreements. If one or both of the major powers no longer attribute a general value to their mutual political relationship, the need for arms control may well be greater; but a reliable political basis for agreements-and that means concessions-does not exist.
Today, with the United States doubtful over the possibility and even the desirability of cooperative arrangements with Moscow, and the Soviet Union at the same time confident in its military strength, worried over the insecurities that confront it at home and abroad, and skeptical about U.S. consistency, the political basis which arms control requires is not there. That one cannot isolate arms control from the overall political relationship was amply demonstrated over SALT II: a Soviet brigade in Cuba and Soviet divisions in Afghanistan were enough to jeopardize the chances of a sensible, serious treaty whose ratification would be in the interest of the United States and its allies.
Domestic support. Here again the contrast between SALT I and SALT II is revealing. The former was widely welcomed, not least in the U.S. Congress, as a major achievement, the latter widely denigrated as marginal. This cannot be fully explained by any fundamental difference in the negotiating procedure, in the techniques of restraint applied, or even in the political presentation and support provided by the President and his administration. The reason for the contrast lies elsewhere. While SALT I responded to the dominant strategic concerns of the early 1970s, SALT II does not respond to those of the late 1970s: it cannot preserve the invulnerability of the American Minuteman force, constrain the overall extension of Soviet military power, or cope with the growing threat of Third World conflicts. No doubt the repeated delays in the SALT II negotiations contributed to the growing discrepancy between the objectives of the negotiators and the concerns of the ratifiers, but the lesson seems clear. Unless arms control agreements are seen to be relevant to the security problems at the time of ratification, domestic support will be at best lukewarm, at worst absent. It was this, rather than the arguments of the SALT II opponents, which put the agreement on ice. Those arguments were generally convincingly repudiated by the Administration once it came to the Senate hearings. But the Administration's response had only a limited effect because SALT was no longer seen as central to America's security.
The instrument is wearing out. For SALT I, Gerard C. Smith, the chief negotiator, noted that the text was "carefully tailored so as to be simple to verify."2 Since then, the subject matter of arms control has become increasingly complex, and verification will inevitably become more difficult. More important, the hope that to limit military competition one only needs to limit the numbers of specific weapon systems has been profoundly disappointed. Military competition in the nuclear strategic (or any other) field has not been less but more intense under SALT; specific limitations on specific weapon systems have spawned new efforts in the unconstrained areas, as witness the "gray area" problem with European Theater Nuclear Forces (TNF). And as the thrust of arms competition has moved from the quantitative to the qualitative, numerical ceilings of the kind negotiated in SALT or attempted in the Vienna mutual and balanced force reduction talks (MBFR) can no longer, like the worn-out escapement on a clock wheel, interrupt the movement and thus regulate it.
There is, therefore, no quick repair for arms control, and even more modest expectations are not enough to give arms control a more than marginal role in the implementation of security policy. For those who wish a more prominent role for arms control, as this author does, the question must, therefore, be how to recreate the conditions under which arms control can work properly. Elements of the answer follow from the preceding analysis. If it is correct, then we must seek to achieve a relationship between East and West in which restraints on military competition seem worth accepting for both sides; arms control must again address the dominant security concerns; and the tool has to be adapted to the new requirements. None of this will be easy or rapid.
The political framework for Soviet-American détente needs to be rebuilt. This will be more difficult than it was in the 1950s. Then, America's power and international position not only prompted the Soviet wish for recognition and the Soviet readiness to pay a price for it, but also allowed the United States to view détente with the confidence of strength. If many in the United States today feel that détente has served the Soviet but not the American interest, this often seems to result less from a detailed analysis of détente than from a general uneasiness over the role and position of the United States in the world of the 1980s.
That uneasiness may now be giving way to a new consensus in favor of a stronger, more self-reliant, more assertive America, and perhaps a new confidence in détente may emerge with it. If it does, then the notion of détente should not merely serve-as has been the established phrase-to prevent nuclear war; the danger of nuclear war between the two superpowers is among the lesser dangers today and alone cannot justify why the United States should seek, in addition to deterrence and containment, détente. Rather, it would be appropriate to return to the comprehensive concept formulated repeatedly by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during his time in office though never really tried: competition, if possible according to agreed rules; effective incentives for cooperative, and credible sanctions against disruptive, Soviet behavior.3 It must not only be risky again for the Soviet Union to undermine Western security interests but also worth its while to respect them.
Is the Soviet Union willing and able to enter into a détente relationship of mutual advantage? The combination of fears of encirclement and confidence of power, which marks the current mood of the Soviet leadership, may give a lower priority to the search for a "special relationship" with the United States, but does not foreclose it. The recent Soviet agreement to discuss constraints on medium-range missiles, even in the absence of a SALT II ratification, underlines the Soviet Union's interest in the arms control process. Both the traditional Soviet respect for America's regenerative capability and the Soviet longing for predictability in international affairs argue for a continued, if reduced, Soviet emphasis on-admittedly, selective-détente with the other superpower.
But how does one rebuild détente between the superpowers? Two of the more popular suggestions among détente supporters in the West are unlikely to do the job: European initiatives and arms control.
The first-the idea that West European initiatives could move both major powers toward a renewed interest in détente-was the official explanation behind the visits to President Leonid Brezhnev undertaken by France's President Giscard d'Estaing and West Germany's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in the first half of 1980. It is true that stability in Europe is a symbol of détente, and it is difficult to think of a more convincing one. But it does not follow that Europe can also be a motor for Soviet-American rapprochement. On the contrary, such attempts would risk strengthening those in the Soviet Union who believe that Soviet military preponderance has a sobering effect on West European governments, and those in the United States who interpret differences of view between Europe and America as a lack of solidarity on the part of America's allies. Unless the major powers themselves want to deal with each other, there will be no rapprochement.
The other popular suggestion is that arms control should be the horse that can pull the cart of détente out of its present mud. Hence the proposals that the European Security Review Conference, now underway in Madrid, should address itself to "military détente," and the hope for new negotiations, such as those on medium-range missiles. However, this view suggests not only that the lessons of the past years have not been learned: Soviet-American relations, after all, deteriorated despite the ongoing SALT process. It also confuses the political effect of agreements with the effect of negotiations. While an agreement on arms limitation can serve as an important symbol of détente, which is one reason why ratification of SALT II would have helped, negotiations on arms control are détente-consuming, not détente-producing, since they highlight military asymmetries, generate concerns over military disadvantages, tempt linkages, and thus tend to increase rather than attenuate military and political distrust.
This underlines the obvious: there are no shortcuts to a superpower relationship in which both sides have a substantive interest in détente. It has to be built by the major powers themselves, and in the wider political, not in the narrow arms control context. There are, today, few signs that the Soviet Union or the United States is willing to minimize frictions and maximize consideration for the interests of the other. Until they are willing to do so-and that may have to wait, in the United States, for a new confidence about America's role in the world and, in the Soviet Union, for a new leadership less bent on accumulating military power and more conscious of long-term economic needs-the political climate for imaginative and constructive arms control will not be there.
The second condition for successful arms control, domestic support, will be equally difficult to meet. It requires that arms control once again become relevant to major security concerns. But this raises another, prior condition: unless we first know the requirements for our security, we cannot define the contribution that arms control can make to it. The central difficulty in defining the purpose of arms control for the 1980s lies in the difficulty of defining our security requirements under new technological and political circumstances. Today, the security no less than the arms control debate is marked by conceptual uncertainties. Three examples may illustrate this.
Short-term concerns dominate much of the nuclear strategic debate. The vulnerability of land-based systems is seen by many as the major challenge to strategic stability as traditionally defined, and the new mobile MX missile, possibly together with some active defenses, is seen as the answer to the problem: once the gap is filled, invulnerability will be restored. But is this really the problem? The thrust of delivery technology goes in the general direction of declining invulnerability for strategic launchers. What we are witnessing today for fixed land-based missiles, we may see in a more distant future for sea-based missiles as well: no abrupt change, but a creeping process toward vulnerability. The claim that the vulnerability of U.S. land-based missiles offers a temporary strategic advantage to the Soviet Union, the so-called window of vulnerability, has obscured this trend.
Similarly, the recently announced "new strategic doctrine" of Presidential Directive 59, which emphasizes the selective use of nuclear weapons, raises more questions than it answers.4 Is the ability to wage protracted nuclear war through a series of selective strikes a means of deterrence or a scenario for use? Since both sides can conduct selective strikes, can such a doctrine be implemented without much greater emphasis on active missile defense? What are the doctrinal and technical requirements for secure strike forces? And, since there are no conceptual limits to the size of strategic forces built into the doctrine, how much is enough?
The second example of the prevailing uncertainty in defining the requirements for security concerns the extension of America's deterrence to her allies. Together, the trend of the technology, Soviet-American nuclear parity, and the concern over the survivability of nuclear delivery systems will make a NATO doctrine that assumes a first use of nuclear weapons by the West gradually but increasingly uncertain. This will not only affect the purpose of nuclear modernization programs in Europe as to whether the alliance should seek, through the introduction of longer range delivery systems in Europe, to replace or to facilitate America's strategic deterrence. It will also affect conventional force structures in Europe, for if conventional deficiencies can no longer be offset by the threat of nuclear weapons, how can conventional forces best serve to deter? And, given the overall decline in available manpower throughout the West, how realistic are options which call for more conventional forces?
The third example is the implication of Third World conflict for our security and the relevance of military force to deal with it. We are only beginning to sort out these questions. What can be the functions of outside military force in Third World contingencies? What options are needed? When are expeditionary forces counterproductive, what should be their size, what reserve capabilities would be needed and from where?
Unless the questions raised in these three examples are tackled, we cannot define Western military requirements for the 1980s. It follows that it is also not possible to define the objective of arms control in such a way that it will correspond to the strategic concerns of this decade. If there is no consensus on the requirements for nuclear strategic deterrence, there can be little on the purpose of strategic arms control. Unless there is a durable concept for medium-range delivery systems in NATO's doctrine, any bargain will be struck without a clear idea of the consequences. And the possibility of having to draw on U.S. forces stationed in Europe for Third World contingencies will affect the basis of the Vienna negotiations between East and West over the reduction of conventional forces in Europe, since they would restrict the ability of European forces to make up for American reductions. Without a clearer notion of the military requirements of our security, there can be no concept for arms control agreements that are more than politically and militarily marginal, and possibly even counterproductive.
Again, the conceptual rethinking will take time. The strategic studies community inside and outside of governments is still dominated by technological preoccupations, not conceptual ones. Moreover, in spite of the vast increase in nuclear arsenals and the refinement of nuclear plans, the notion of deterrence is still a surprisingly primitive one-how to make war for the other side so costly that it will not be launched. Too little thought is given to another aspect of deterrence-how to discourage the other side from embarking on weapons programs which, from one's own perspective, are undesirable for strategic stability. Indeed, the ability of Western strategists to put themselves into Soviet shoes-the essential condition for defining effective deterrence-remains underdeveloped. In its decision to introduce new, longer range theater nuclear missiles in December 1979, NATO gave little serious thought to the possible Soviet reaction, in spite of Brezhnev's warning two months earlier that the introduction of these weapons would "change essentially the strategic situation on the continent."5
Similarly, the cavalier fashion in which the so-called new strategic doctrine of the Carter Administration was issued through deliberate newspaper leaks not only demonstrated a surprising disregard for the awe in which public opinion the world over rightly holds all nuclear matters; it also seems to have been issued with too little consideration as to how the Soviets would read the document, how they would react to it, and whether that reaction would be in America's and the West's interest. The prevailing Western view of deterrence is still that what the Soviets dislike most deters them best. But can this offer a basis for a stable deterrence relationship?
Finally, in addition to generating interest in a cooperative East-West relationship and to clarifying the military requirements of our security, we will have to rethink the tools for arms control and develop them to cope better with the tasks ahead. The poverty of new ideas on the substance of arms control is underlined by the wealth in procedural proposals: for Europe, the French and the Warsaw Pact plans calling for multilateral arms control negotiations; for SALT, the debate over the respective merits of comprehensive versus installment approaches. But suppose the procedures were all agreed upon, the agendas fixed, and the negotiators had sat down around the table. We would still be in no better position to know how to achieve effective arms control against a dynamic technological background, or how to verify the agreements satisfactorily.
There are not many new ideas around for an approach to arms control that can fit the conditions of military competition in the 1980s.6 At the moment, only a few basic elements of future arms control are emerging: that it is no longer sufficient, at a time of rapid technological change, to concentrate on quantitative ceilings for specific types of weapons; that rather than restrict specific weapon systems-the military input-one should seek to restrict specific military missions which are deemed mutually undesirable-the military output; and that verification by "national technical means" will have to be complemented by a much greater willingness, particularly but not only on the part of the Soviet Union, to make military programs and intentions more transparent. But it is one thing to identify the elements, another to bring them together for a practicable approach.
All this argues not for major new initiatives but for a lot of rethinking to be done before arms control can again make a major contribution to international order. Yet arms control is too political a theme to wait so long. It is on the agenda now. Nor is it reasonable to expect that the Soviet Union will not make propaganda appeals to the hopes held by many, particularly in Europe, for a slowdown in military competition, just as it is unrealistic to expect political leaders in election campaigns not to identify with these hopes. Arms control policies, therefore, will not wait until a new conceptual framework is ready.
In this interim period, three types of action seem appropriate: maintain the process, negotiate step by step, and emphasize confidence-building.
First, maintain the process. This means that current negotiations should be continued and radical departures avoided. The frustrations of conducting the SALT, MBFR or other current negotiations may be considerable, but the political cost of their breakdown and the political effort required to relaunch them would be significantly more so. President Carter's attempt, in March 1977, to redefine the objective of the SALT II negotiations brought perhaps marginal improvements in the agreement but these could not offset the delay and the distrust that ensued, from which SALT II never recovered; one can only hope that in the light of this experience, future administrations will rein in any ambitions for changing course in the midst of negotiations.
A breakdown of the SALT process, moreover, would have a profound political effect; in Western Europe, for instance, NATO's nuclear modernization program would rapidly run out of political support if the United States were seen to abandon the process, since the political support in Europe for the new weapons rests on the American readiness to negotiate in earnest over their limitation. Today, as ratification of SALT II seems no longer realistic to expect, American political leaders therefore will have to make clear that this is by no means the end of the SALT process, perhaps by an undertaking to respect the SALT I and II limits, and an invitation to the Soviet Union to explore together the agenda for a longer term agreement on strategic forces.
Second, negotiate step by step. The search for comprehensive agreements is both too cumbersome and, at the present juncture of conceptual uncertainties, too ambitious. In practice, this will mean identifying those issues which are both pressing and can be dealt with separately, and then proceeding to negotiations. Modesty is warranted not only by the complexities of the issues but also by the uncertainty over the basis on which to judge the impact of constraints. The objective, therefore, should be to regulate rather than reduce military competition. And special care will have to be given to ensuring, through new procedures within national bureaucracies as well as within the alliance, that the implications of each separate negotiation can be assessed on the basis of their interrelationships, i.e., on a continuous, not merely an ad hoc basis.
Third, emphasize confidence-building. There is value in agreements on restricting troop movements and maneuvers in sensitive regions such as Europe, and in generally increasing the transparency of the military effort. A number of measures can serve this purpose: advance notification of missile tests, a successful conclusion to the MBFR debate on Soviet and East European military data, exchange of information in Standing Consultative Committees such as the one created for SALT, etc. And if the French proposal for a European Disarmament Conference should succeed in extending the zone for military restrictions to all the European part of the Soviet Union-the only European territory not covered by the confidence-building commitments agreed upon at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe-this would be an important precedent for future agreements.
How would these recommendations translate into propositions for the negotiations, begun in Vienna in mid-October 1980, between the Soviet Union and the United States on medium-range missiles in Europe?
The Soviet readiness to sit down and negotiate appears to be meant seriously, and the West is certainly not in a position to refuse to negotiate. Instead of insisting on unrealistic conditions, such as the inclusion of French and British strategic systems or the prior ratification of SALT II, the Soviets have accepted a bilateral negotiation with the United States, to deal with medium-range missiles and "forward-based systems"-U.S. delivery systems stationed in Europe and capable of carrying nuclear bombs against targets in the Soviet Union. It is true that to include the latter in negotiations will prove a major complication-for example, NATO's many dual-capable aircraft-but this has for too long been on the list of Soviet arms control priorities for it to be dismissed as a mere gimmick. Indeed, from the Soviet perspective the inclusion of both U.S. missiles and U.S. nuclear-capable aircraft makes sense; the Soviet Union sees in them an additional U.S. option for nuclear threats against itself and views its own medium-range systems as related to it.
What should be the aim of the negotiations? The December 1979 NATO communiqué spells out one set: a common ceiling on medium-range nuclear missiles, if possible lower than the number of systems envisaged in the modernization decision. This would include, on the Soviet side, the SS-20 (and possibly the old SS-4 and SS-5) medium-range missiles, and on the NATO side, the Pershing II and cruise missiles.
This is scarcely an ideal starting point for the West. For one thing, the Soviet systems are in place and new SS-20 launchers are being deployed at an estimated rate of one every five days; deployment on the Western side will not begin for some time. Moreover, it strengthens the unfortunate link that NATO politicians and generals have established between the Soviet SS-20 and the Western modernization program. This link is analytically dubious, for the primary military requirement for the NATO program, namely the need to reduce the vulnerability of European-based nuclear delivery systems to Soviet attack, will persist whether the SS-20 program is halted or not; indeed, many of the shorter range Soviet nuclear missiles that are stationed in Eastern Europe and are currently being modernized-such as the SS-21 or 22-can cover NATO's nuclear installations in Europe and are often more appropriate for that task than the SS-20. The link is also politically unwise, for it gives the Soviet Union a powerful lever with which to undermine NATO's program by announcing, once the Soviet program is completed, a halt to SS-20s on the condition that no new systems are introduced on the Western side. It is true that there would be some value in obtaining limitations on the Soviet program and in establishing the principle of parity in European long-range delivery systems, assuming the limitations were effective and parity definable. But there is some question as to whether this can offset the de facto restrictions on Western modernization programs that the SS-20 link could entail.
Both the presentation of the issues and their negotiation must take this into account. It calls for a full presentation of the Soviet nuclear threat in Europe rather than the singling out of medium-range missiles alone. In the negotiations, the West could respond to the Soviet insistence on the inclusion of forward-based systems by calling for restrictions on all other Soviet weapons in Europe-like the SS-21 and 22-which can threaten American nuclear delivery systems in the theater and are not yet limited in SALT. The West might, under the agreement, suggest a separate ceiling for the Soviet SS-4 and -5 missiles, so that the Soviets cannot replace these old systems with new SS-20s. The West might also want to put a ceiling on the number of warheads that each missile should be allowed to carry, following the precedent set by the SALT II agreement.
Verification problems are compounded by the fact that both the SS-20 and the new American systems that are to be deployed in Europe will be mobile, and even more so the shorter range nuclear missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft, if they were to be included. Among the many thorny issues of negotiations on theater nuclear forces, this may well be the most difficult one to resolve. Confidence-building measures, designed to reduce the ambiguity inherent in the weapon systems, will be needed to make up, at least partly, for the limits of verifiability. These could include advance notification when missiles or aircraft or their respective platforms are moved; visible distinctions between aircraft for nuclear delivery and non-nuclear aircraft to reduce the ambiguity over mission and range that the inclusion of aircraft in a theater ceiling would pose; and the inclusion of medium-range issues in the SALT Standing Consultative Committee or, possibly, a similar body which includes representatives of the countries in which these systems are based. This would also force the Western alliance to consider the issues of nuclear weapons comprehensively even if the negotiations address only parts of the problem.
If any additional evidence were needed to demonstrate the limitations of the "modest approach" to arms control, the negotiations on medium-range systems in Europe would provide it. First, these negotiations confirm the need for a political climate between East and West that is conducive to a serious, mutual search for agreement; yet they are opening at a time when the political relationship is at its lowest ebb in the last ten years. They also offer the Soviet Union a potential for influencing directly, through appeals to European public opinion, NATO's military decisions and their implementation-a doubtful contribution to political trust between East and West.
Second, they confirm the need for defining the requirements of our security before defining the objectives of arms control. Given the conceptual uncertainties over the future of extended deterrence, the limits of concessions that can be made without damaging Western options cannot be properly defined, just as the value of any Soviet concessions, if they should be made, cannot be fully assessed.
Third, the new negotiations underline the fact that much of the traditional arms control equipment has become inadequate and that new instruments will have to be developed. In the regional context of Europe, even more than in the strategic nuclear area, the limiting of certain weapon systems, unless the functions they serve are also limited, will invite either ambiguity or circumvention or both.
The general problems for arms control that this article has pointed to apply beyond the specific issue of negotiations on theater nuclear forces. What we have encountered here is symptomatic of the problem as a whole. Business can no longer be conducted as usual, because the basis has changed and a new framework has not yet been established which would define the objective, the tools and, above all, the contribution of arms control to the maintenance of security of the 1980s.
Paradoxically, in the absence of other, regular forums for dialogue and conflict management between East and West, it is particularly important to maintain the existing arms control process in this period of transition. But unless we start now to develop new concepts for our security in the 1980s and 1990s and, on that basis, define what arms control can do to contribute to it, the process could become not just marginal but irrelevant.
2 Gerard C. Smith, "Negotiating with the Soviets," The New York Times Magazine, February 27, 1977, p. 18.
4 See Richard Burt, "U.S. Stresses Limited Nuclear War in Sharp Shift on Military Strategy," The New York Times, August 6, 1980, p. 1.
5 See his East Berlin speech of October 6, 1979, reprinted in Survival, January/February 1980, p. 29.
6 Those who have tried include Alton Frye, "Confidence-Building Measures in SALT," in Jonathan Alford, ed., "Confidence-Building Measures," Adelphi Paper No. 149, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1979; and myself, "Arms Control and Technological Change: Elements of a New Approach," Adelphi Paper No. 146, 1978.