Courtesy Reuters

Strategic Build-Down: A Context for Restraint

The search for national security is a dialectic of hope and fear. Fear of war spawns demand for weapons; hope for peace feeds demand to control those weapons. Judging by the rampant growth of weaponry in modern times, fear is more fruitful than hope. If foreign policy is the management of contradictions, national security policy requires a synthesis of hope and fear, a prudent blend of arms and arms control.

That synthesis has proved elusive. Now a new approach has emerged in the idea known as "build-down." In essence the build-down principle says that no new weapons should be deployed unless a larger number of existing weapons are destroyed. Conceived and refined over the last two years, the build-down seeks to apply a relatively simple principle to the complex realities of international competition in the development and deployment of weapons. The concept has aroused interest initially as a novel scheme to dampen the continuing expansion of Soviet and American strategic nuclear forces, but it could have broader applicability. After months of intricate political dialogue with a congressional coalition led by Senators William Cohen (R.-Maine) and Sam Nunn (D.-Georgia), President Reagan adopted the build-down principle in October 1983 as a basic element in the U.S. proposals at the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) in Geneva.1

One needs to contrast the build-down proposal with the prior American position in START. Previously, the United States had concentrated on schemes to restructure the current Soviet forces, demanding not only that total missile warheads be cut to 5,000 on each side, but that the Soviets phase out large numbers of their biggest missiles. That would diminish, but not eliminate, the great disparity between the two nations in missile throw-weight, in which Moscow holds a considerable edge. Limits on heavy bombers, a category in which the U.S. lead is substantial and growing, were vague and inconsequential: the United States would have been free to go ahead with a planned growth in the number of air-launched

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