The contemporary strategic era, dominated by ballistic missiles, has appeared to possess a curious kind of stability. Despite its uncertainties and dangers, two factors were apparently beyond dispute. On the one hand, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could eliminate the other's missile forces in a first strike or effectively defend against a retaliatory missile strike. The offense seemed to have made a quantum jump against the defense: the old pattern of oscillation between defensive and offensive superiority had apparently been superseded by a period in which, for the foreseeable future, defense would be definitely inferior and incapable of matching offensive gains. On the other hand, missiles were so expensive and required so much technical sophistication that very few countries could either afford them or build them. The vexing problem of nuclear proliferation thus appeared in a new light. Even if a state could develop a nuclear bomb, it was assumed that it could not be a truly "effective" member of the nuclear club unless it also developed a missile to deliver it somewhere. The double task of building a bomb and a sophisticated delivery system inevitably seemed so difficult that the problem of preventing a thoroughly destabilizing nuclear proliferation appeared relatively simple. At worst, the process could be "managed."

We may, however, be entering a strategic era in which neither factor holds true. Whether ballistic missile defense ever achieves the level of effectiveness (near perfect) some of its proponents foresee in the next decade, and whether the costs and difficulties of developing rocket vehicles are as sharply reduced as others contend (so that the ability to deliver the bomb in high style spreads rapidly) are obviously uncertain. But to the degree that these prophecies are accurate, or believed, the stability of the missile era may prove to have been very transitory.

At any rate, one point deserves emphasis. Deployment of an ABM system and the beginning of a process of nuclear diffusion (which may be directly related to the ABM decision), irrespective of whether they occur because of political or technological reasons, may thrust us into a new strategic environment in which even the tenuous stability of the present will evoke nostalgia. In the circumstances, policies which would have appeared dangerous or unnecessarily provocative yesterday may perhaps begin to appear more prudential and realistic today or tomorrow.

II

The recent announcement of the decision to begin installing a "thin" ABM system elicited a great deal of negative comment in the American and European press. This is hardly surprising for, on the basis of publicly available information, the arguments against the ABM seemed much more persuasive than those for it. In fact, anyone who troubled to read Mr. McNamara's statement on the budget in January 1967 would come away quite convinced that the arguments justifying early installation of an ABM system were at best premature and at worst spurious. Yet within the year Mr. McNamara had apparently changed his mind and committed the United States to early deployment of a partial ABM system. The San Francisco speech in which he announced the decision may, perhaps, be read as an ambiguous and even anguished justification for the ABM; but it still may have committed us decisively.

It is possible, of course, that there were objective military and political reasons for Mr. McNamara's about-face. A new technological breakthrough might have occurred or intelligence might have yielded firmer and more dangerous information about Soviet or Chinese capabilities or intentions. To a certain extent this indeed appears to have happened. Soviet development of a "fractional orbital bombardment system" (FOBS), reports of heavy Soviet investment in both offensive and defensive missile systems, new predictions about Chinese capabilities and significant advances in our own ballistic missile defense research (especially with X-ray warheads) all tended to point in the same direction: prompt deployment of a "thin" ABM system.

Now, it is a mistake to argue as if the installation of an ABM system would have only negative consequences and that a delay would have only positive consequences. Decisions such as these are a wager about the future and they are made-or ought to be made-"on balance," and with full realization that the possibility of unanticipated consequences or mistaken consequences is very high. In the circumstances, there is great temptation to buy insurance by developing everything that can be developed, and to do everything possible to reestablish or maintain a situation which seems to be advantageous. The virtues which the Joint Chiefs of Staff have seen in immediate deployment of the ABM system may be regarded in this light. Their arguments, in isolation, seem persuasive: more effective deterrence, a reduction in the number of lives lost should deterrence fail, a reduction in the possibility of accidental or "catalytic" wars, a halt to nuclear proliferation and, above all, a stabilization of the existing strategic balance (i.e. one in which the United States possesses "dominance"). ABM deployment, according to the Chiefs, would "continue the Cuba power environment in the world. ... At the time of Cuba, the strategic nuclear balance was such that the Soviets did not have an exploitable capability because of our vastly superior nuclear strength."

None of these arguments is as clear and uncontroversial as the Joint Chiefs of Staff appear to assume. Mr. McNamara himself apparently found them unconvincing as recently as a year ago. Under some circumstances, and in certain future contexts, an ABM system promised several limited advantages; on balance, however, they were apparently outweighed by the disadvantages. Under the best of circumstances, the ABM seemed prone to obsolescence (as new offensive missiles appeared), uncertainly effective,1 enormously expensive and politically inexpedient. The obvious question is whether various technological developments in the past year, as well as new uncertainties about Soviet and Chinese behavior, justified a reshuffling of priorities and a definite decision to plunge into a new strategic environment. Even for those with access to all the available information it must have been an agonizing choice: the stakes are frighteningly high.

It ought to be said, however, that there are a number of very knowledgeable people in Washington who maintain that the foregoing considerations were irrelevant. They contend that the decision was almost completely a response to domestic political pressures.

While the argument is not very subtle, it is also not entirely implausible. With the political costs of the Vietnamese war accelerating, the Johnson Administration may well have felt that it could not risk providing the right wing (both Democratic and Republican) with another security issue in the forthcoming elections. It may be, as some have said, that the Administration overestimated the degree of Congressional pressure for an ABM system. However, it was quality not quantity which was probably decisive: the Congressmen who were most vociferous on this issue were also among those who could harm Mr. Johnson most in the next year. In addition, the Joint Chiefs, whose discontent is frequently noted, had to be pacified: their leverage on the President and the Secretary of Defense went up as their threats to resign became increasingly dangerous in political terms.

That the decision to begin deployment of a "thin" ABM system was not the result of a considered evaluation of all the military and political evidence may perhaps be inferred from the confused manner in which it was publicly justified. While it was said to be aimed solely at the emerging dangers of a Chinese nuclear strike against the United States, and not at the Soviet Union, against which it was patently ineffective, both Mr. McNamara and various military officers indicated that it would indeed have an indirect effect on the Soviet-American strategic balance. By providing point defense for our Minutemen it clearly would cut down the effectiveness of a Soviet strike against them. However, since the Administration was in the throes of a public and private effort to convince the Soviets that the ABM deployment was not aimed at them, and that discussions to curtail ABM deployment were necessary and possible, "clarification" was needed.

A public speech by Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul C. Warnke attempted to provide it. Mr. Warnke argued "that our Chinese-oriented ABM deployment should make it easier, and not harder, for countries in Asia to sign the NPT [nonproliferation treaty]." The ABM, he maintained, would make the American commitment to defend Asia credible, since henceforth Detroit or Los Angeles, etc., would be safe from Chinese retaliation. He also maintained that it would emphasize the "unique disparity" between the United States and China, and thus make it "even clearer" to the Asians that they could safely sign the nonproliferation treaty. He concluded by declaring that the Soviets "knew" that the system was not designed for use against them, and therefore need not respond to it-surely one of the more naïve imputations of faith in recent years, especially given the contradictory testimony from other officials of his own Department.

Mr. Warnke's analysis of the possible effects of the ABM is peculiar in that he apparently presumes that it can be deployed while everything else in the strategic and political environment remains static. The Russians will not respond, or will respond by agreeing to arms-control measures, because they believe in our good intentions. The Asians will agree to forego nuclear weapons because their faith in our good intentions will rise. The Chinese, who have no faith in our good intentions, will "finally" realize that we can destroy them and will behave more rationally. And our European allies will, of course, realize that, as we have from time to time maintained, our efforts to improve our own defense have nothing to do with our commitment to come to their aid; and it is merely a nasty impertinence to insinuate in Gaullist style that we are leaving them exposed and ignored.

Many of our strategic analysts have tended to view strategic problems from a systemic point of view, almost to the exclusion of other vantage points. As a result, particular events or developments have been assessed primarily from the global perspective of the superpowers. Since the strategic configuration which has existed over the last twenty years has, for the most part, reflected conditions of American dominance and relative stability, new developments have inevitably been foreseen as destabilizing unless they were controlled by, or symmetrically limited to, the superpowers.

The response to the problem of proliferation is a case in point. Granted it is potentially very destabilizing, how does one prevent it? The usual answer has been by persuading potential nuclear powers that their efforts will be extremely costly and that, anyway, they will be useless if not counter-productive against the United States or the Soviet Union. That is, the systemic perspective has been maintained: the behavior of small and middle powers has been evaluated almost wholly in terms of its possible impact on the whole system. Since we have favored the status quo, our efforts have been limited to trying to convince others not to rock the boat. The whole syndrome can be perceived in the arguments designed to convince France not to join the nuclear club; they were perfectly logical but also irrelevant. To Paris, and perhaps to many potential nuclear powers, the problem appeared in a wholly different perspective when evaluated in terms of national (i.e. sub-systemic) interests.

Mr. Warnke's speech may be read in this light. Again, it is assumed that other states will perceive the situation in the same way as we do and will be as concerned with international stability as we are. There is no attempt to examine the problem from other points of view. If we do attempt to interpret the impact of the ABM decision from local perspectives, the picture which emerges is not nearly as optimistic as the one drawn by Mr. Warnke.

III

We can begin by discussing China's possible reactions. It is doubtful that anyone seriously believes that the ABM, as currently described, is aimed at China. However, since public justifications have insisted that the essential aim of the ABM system is deterrence or defense against Chinese threats, the argument must be examined.

It should be clear that the political and psychological advantages of China's nuclear weapons are not directly related to American defensive capabilities. There is thus no sense in the simplistic argument that an ABM system will actually induce the Chinese to forego missile development. In addition, the assumption that the Chinese will react to an increase in our defensive capabilities by decreasing their offensive capabilities is not psychologically convincing: the opposite reaction may be more likely.

The usual contention, however, is not that the Chinese will give up their missile program but that a "thin" ABM system will substantially lessen the impact of a Chinese nuclear attack. What is the probability of such an attack? To some, the likelihood is high; the Chinese are more aggressive and less rational than the Soviets and will strike rather than accept humiliation. In effect, a Cuban missile crisis with the Chinese is destined to have a different scenario. To others, the behavior of the Chinese has been as cautious and nonprovocative as that of the Soviets and the probability that they would strike the United States seems very low. Acceptance of the latter point of view has to be tempered by several considerations. The first, obviously, is the current internal instability of China, which might lead to extreme or irrational behavior in a crisis. Another point is that China has not yet reached the stage where war-as the fashionable argument goes-becomes increasingly unpalatable and unlikely as energies are concentrated on the accomplishment of domestic tasks. Finally, the Chinese tradition is different from our own, we have miscalculated their response before, their standards of rationality may diverge as much from ours as Japan's did in 1941-and so on. In short, it is not altogether unreasonable to worry about aggressive and irrational behavior by the Chinese. The critical question concerns the relationship between that assumption and the installation of an ABM system.

Reports on Chinese missile capabilities suggest that they might have a small but operational ICBM force in the early 1970s. What damage that force could inflict upon the United States depends on a range of factors which defy simple summation. The "thin" ABM system promises area coverage of the whole land mass of this country against a light attack. Thus even if the Chinese were willing to trade payload for range (and reach cities considerably east of the Mississippi), it would do them little good since those cities would be as protected by the ABM as our west-coast cities. They could, in theory, saturate one or a few areas with all their missile strength, but the effectiveness of that tactic would depend on the capability of our ABM system and the actual number of ICBMs the Chinese could launch.

It is difficult to take these calculations very seriously. It is hard to imagine a set of circumstances in which the Chinese would actually strike first with their small ICBM force, and one is inevitably obliged to create scenarios of ever increasing degrees of improbability. They could, in some Götterdämmerung fashion, launch all of their force against San Francisco; or they could spread it out in the belief that our ballistic missile defense was a "paper wall;" or they could gamble on odd forms of delivery (the proverbial bomb in the cargo hold, or nuclear torpedos against coastal cities, or small planes launched from ships and carrying small bombs, etc.). But the probability of their doing so is surely very low. And since we cannot prepare for all potential dangers, regardless of plausibility, and since even reasonably prudential calculations suggest that a Chinese ICBM attack on the United States is highly improbable, an ABM system justified by reference to Chinese threats to ourselves does not make much sense. This is the more true because lead times are such that we could still meet the threat if it became less improbable at a later date.

The case seems even stronger if we try to foresee the response Peking might make to our ABM system. It is very unclear at the moment, especially to anyone not privy to whatever information we are collecting about the mainland, just what the Chinese are attempting to develop. They will probably produce some ICBMs, if only to prove that they can do so. However, they are most likely to concentrate on medium-range missiles in order to threaten neighboring states in Asia. This would allow them to delay investing heavily in an ICBM until they are capable of producing an improved second-generation weapon. The Chinese could, in a sense, hope to duplicate the efforts of the Soviets in the late 1940s and 1950s, when, being clearly inferior to the United States in strategic power, they deployed their ground forces and short-range missiles to threaten Western Europe. The message was clear. If we attacked Moscow, confident that we would not be hurt badly, we were warned that Europe would be devastated in the process. An asymmetric balance seemed to exist, and the weaker side appeared to deter the stronger by threatening an area which the stronger valued but could not easily protect.

Though the analogy is obviously imprecise, the odds definitely favor a Chinese strategy designed to threaten us only indirectly, at least until that day, probably in the late 1970s or 1980s, when the Chinese are able to produce a force capable of achieving nuclear parity or stalemate with ours (and the Soviets'). In the meantime, the ABM system we are committed to install will rapidly become obsolescent. In sum, against the Chinese, our ABM system promises advantages only if the Chinese are foolish enough to launch an attack on us with their first generation ICBMs.

Presumably, then, the ABM system must serve other purposes. The one most frequently cited is the possibility that it will enhance the credibility of any commitment we offer to a non-nuclear country (e.g. India or Japan) threatened by a nuclear power. The idea has a certain plausibility in that, in a world in which all calculations were rational, the possibility of limiting destruction to ourselves ought to convince our friends that we are more likely to live up to our commitments to them. If true, they will not need to develop their own nuclear weapons and can then sign the nonproliferation treaty, for they will be assured that we will counter mortal threats to their existence.

It is difficult to speculate on this point, for the evidence is both slight and ambiguous. The Suez episode of 1956 provides one illustration of a nuclear threat against a non-nuclear state (France), but it is probably not a reliable analogy. At any rate, it did nothing to convince the French that they were better off without nuclear weapons of their own. India's reaction to the Chinese bomb is also ambiguous: at the least, India has begun to consider seriously the possibility of becoming a nuclear power.

Unfortunately, one is left with the impression that the contention that our ABM system will facilitate nonproliferation reflects profound hopes and desires, but not a very realistic judgment about how other states will view their own interests. Improvement in our defenses is likely to be of only marginal significance in affecting Asian calculations. Given the inherently low credibility of our nuclear guarantees outside Western Europe (and it has not been spectacularly high there either), the critical question is not our "damage limiting" capability, but that of the Asians. Japan or India, threatened by a Chinese nuclear attack, will undoubtedly prefer an American guarantee to nothing at all. But it is possible (even probable?) that they will view it as only a temporary umbrella while launching a crash program to develop their own nuclear weapons.

The only way to short-circuit this process may be to provide threatened states with an effective ABM defense of their own. If we really want them to forego developing nuclear weapons, we must provide a direct defense of their territories. This could be accomplished in several ways, but some combination of an explicit American guarantee, the provision of a reasonably effective area ABM system (preferably at least initially under our control), and perhaps even the promise of a small, offensive nuclear force if a threat of a specified nature arises-all these may be necessary to make our guarantee credible and thus inhibit the process of proliferation.2 It is an extreme policy, and can be justified only in terms of the kind of environment it may be forced to contend with. The costs would be very high, not least in the sense that promising or providing a nation with an ABM system may be the first step toward its acquiring offensive nuclear weapons-on the uncertain but not implausible presumption that an ABM system without a complementary offensive capability is as unsatisfactory as entering a battle with a shield but without a sword. Moreover, the problem of defending against an MRBM is almost insuperable, given their limited flight time, and especially if they are delivered in number. Hence, the pressure for offensive weapons as a deterrent will be heavy.

This suggests that the possibility of signing an effective nonproliferation treaty is bound to decline rather sharply in the near future; that many states will be seeking their own nuclear defenses; and that we shall have to consider new nuclear arrangements if we want to do more than wring our hands piously as the environment becomes more and more dangerous.

IV

What effect may our ABM system have on our relations with the Soviet Union and our European allies? The argument that an ABM system would "continue the Cuba power environment in the world," and thus reinforce our ability to deter the Soviet Union, is superficially plausible until it is placed in context. The assumption that the installation of an ABM system will enhance our ability to deter the Soviets depends on what kind of system we build and how the Soviets respond to it. Some systems and the responses they evoked would decrease our ability and increase the chance of an even more destructive war.

All the denials notwithstanding, our ABM system is primarily designed to counter an apparently growing Soviet threat. In the past, we have tended to assume that the way in which we developed or deployed our weapons systems signaled something to our enemies about our military intentions. It has never been very clear that the Soviets actually read these signals in the desired fashion. They may simply have been following their own technological genie wherever it led them: that is, they may have developed and deployed weapons not in response to what we did but simply as a response to their own technological capabilities.

At any rate, it is difficult to resist some such reasoning in the light of the Soviet decision to begin installing their own ABM system. After all, if they were "reading" us accurately, they should have known that we would respond by building our own ABM system and by increasing our offensive missile capability to penetrate their defenses. They would then be in an even more inferior strategic position and would have expended scarce rubles for very little return in security. Our rearmament in 1950-53 and our reaction to the "missile gap" are only the most obvious illustrations of our unwillingness to remain behind.

Yet the Soviets have apparently rebuffed all efforts to reach an agreement prohibiting ABM deployment-almost as if our response left them indifferent. The normal explanation offered by Western analysts is the extreme defense- mindedness of the Soviet Government and people. Marxist theory, a history of invasions and fears of encirclement apparently justify what seems to be an excessive concentration on defense-a phenomenon the Anglo-Saxon powers have always found, for obvious reasons, difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, defense-mindedness alone does not seem a sufficient explanation for Soviet behavior.

Another rationale is that, as a relatively weaker power, the Soviets may feel considerably more threatened by the proliferation of small nuclear forces than we do. The French and Chinese nuclear forces, and the possibility of a West German force, not only have the potential of inflicting considerable damage on the Soviet Union but also-given Soviet history and predilections-might appear more likely to be actually used than we presume. To a weaker state, weaker nuclear forces appear more dangerous: the attacking smaller state could no doubt be destroyed in retaliation, but in the meanwhile it might have hurt the Soviets grievously and exposed them to American retaliation. If one presumes that they have reordered their hierarchy of threats and have upgraded the dangers of living in a "world of nuclear powers," the installation of a primitive ABM system does not look quite so "irrational." That it simultaneously worsens relations with the United States could be accepted as a reasonable price to pay.

Still, this argument could be completely wrong. The Soviets may still see us as the prime threat, and the ABM system may be designed to deter us and to limit damage in the event of a major war. The geographical placement of their ABM sites would seem to confirm this. In that case, the rationale for the Soviet decision remains very unclear, and the disagreements on this issue among Soviet leadership groups very understandable. To many Western observers, however, the Soviet decision seems to be a manifestation of a kind of intellectual lag in strategic thinking which has persisted for two decades. The Soviets have seemed to be several years behind us not only in weaponry but also in drawing the political, psychological and military implications of various technological developments. Current ABM systems thus seem more effective when compared with the capabilities of an earlier generation of missiles. The Soviets may in fact have much greater faith in the technological capacities of their ABM than we tend to credit them with- a circumstance which could be dangerous.

What effect will the mutual emplacement of ABM systems have on the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union? There is no clear and unambiguous answer. It will obviously depend on the kind and extent of the systems installed, and, perhaps even more, on each side's subjective estimates of the likelihood of war or probable behavior of its antagonist in major crises.

It can be said, though, that ABM defense-at least a less than perfect defense-is of more relative utility to the aggressor than to the defender, whose retaliatory force must strike back in a weakened condition against a fully alerted defensive force. And since there is no situation in which striking first is not of some relative advantage, defensive forces can have a very destabilizing impact on any strategic balance to the degree that they make it appear as if striking first is becoming a more and more "attractive" possibility to either or both sides. This is especially true if one side is aware that it holds the weaker cards in any strategic exchange and is less than firmly convinced of the peaceful intentions of its adversary. Its propensity to gamble on striking first in a crisis may then be fairly high. This is a familiar syndrome and it suggests why many analysts argue that installation of an ABM system will force a return to the dangerous and unstable years in which we were troubled by the "consequences of expecting surprise attack."

The way in which each side deploys its ABM system is thus of great significance. But as long as the Soviets remain the weaker side, their decisions are somewhat less important than ours. That is, we possess a larger margin of error and therefore can be more flexible. If our system is designed only or primarily to protect our retaliatory missiles, the decision may not be too destabilizing; the Soviets will still retain the capability to destroy our cities in retaliation, just as we would theirs. However, the area system we are on the point of installing is, for the moment anyway, designed to protect cities from weak missile attacks. It is not intended to protect our Minutemen. It looks as if it is designed to handle a Chinese attack or some sort of accidental firing by virtually anyone. But it may not be read that way by Soviet leaders.

Unfortunately, many hints and suggestions are already appearing that the system ought to be expanded. We cannot have it both ways: if it is to deter the Chinese, extension of the system is unnecessary, for they do not have a technological capability to endanger our missile sites. If it is against the Soviet Union, official spokesmen are not only lying about our true intentions but also have begun installation from the wrong direction: obviously protection of missile sites is the first task.

These circumstances suggest that it is a fair presumption that our "thin" system will shortly begin to put on weight. Whether it is in reaction to Soviet offensive or defensive moves, or whether it is done in response to other considerations (e.g. domestic political pressures), is not especially important. In either case we will have begun a major new phase of arms competition with the Soviet Union. Whatever else one can say about the resulting situation, it is unlikely that it will be very stable or that it will actually reduce damages in a war. In effect, an ABM system guarantees decreased casualties only if both sides refrain from simultaneously increasing their offensive capabilities, or if the system achieves virtual perfection. Both are unlikely. Moreover, by another familiar dynamic-the "self-fulfilling prophecy"-we may actually increase the likelihood of war by acting as if it is more and more possible. Our ability to deter the Soviets may decline as we begin to threaten them in a more dangerous fashion, and our ability to defend more successfully (to lower casualties) may also decline as offensive force levels increase.

The decision to expand the "thin" ABM system may not be inevitable. The burden of the foregoing argument is that it ought to be resisted as long as this remains feasible. The point is not that installation of a larger ABM system is wrong in all circumstances; rather, that, on balance, it seems wrong in the set of circumstances determining strategic calculations at the moment and for the next few years. Compared to us, the Soviet Union is clearly the weaker power. The choices before it on the ABM issue are not only fewer but also starker. They have to respond to our actions, whatever the cost, unless they willingly accept an acknowledged state of conspicuous inferiority. We are not so narrowly constrained (except domestically): as the stronger power we need not meet every Soviet increase in strength with a symmetrical increase in our own force structure.

The underlying rationale for restraint on our part is twofold. On the one hand, given our current superiority and given our lead-time advantages, we do have some time in which we can safely delay expansion of the ABM system- at least until we believe that the Soviet ABM system represents a significant threat to our retaliatory force. On the other hand, restraint now represents what may be our last significant opportunity to delay the emergence of an environment in which stability is increasingly tenuous. In so far as possible, we should not only refrain from expanding our ABM system but should also limit the expansion of our offensive forces to whatever minimum seems safe. A too extensive expansion of our offensive force, so that it appeared capable of a credible first-strike attack, could be as destabilizing as the installation of the wrong kind of defensive system.3

It is still much easier to increase the striking power of offensive forces than the damage-limiting capabilities of defensive forces. It is possible, therefore, to limit our response to increasing our offensive capability to penetrate the Soviet ABM system; our cities would still be hostage to a Soviet strike and the Russians would not necessarily have to increase their own retaliatory force substantially. We could still penetrate their defenses and they could still penetrate ours, defense expenditures would not be extravagant, and some element of stability-albeit the uncertain stability of a nuclear balance-might still persist.

V

Something ought to be said about the presumed impact of our ABM system on our European allies. Official spokesmen have been very quiet on this aspect of the decision. When pressed, they have contented themselves with platitudes about common interests and the like: anything we do to improve our defenses must, by definition, improve Europe's defensive situation also.

The Europeans do not see it this way. Many of them, and not only Gaullists, see the ABM as increasing their vulnerability. They stand wholly exposed between our missiles and Soviet missiles. Moreover, the British and French nuclear forces are inevitably downgraded as deterrents, for the ABM systems have a much higher probability of success against small strikes. Some of our commentators have seen this as a virtue, since it presumably would inhibit potential nuclear powers from joining the club and perhaps even induce the French to bring their force under our umbrella.4 Unfortunately, this is likely to be true only if the French and other potential nuclear states have developed or will develop their nuclear forces to garner military advantages vis-à-vis the superpowers. That is not the case: their nuclear forces have been, and will be, designed to extract political and psychological advantages from the superpowers and to serve a military purpose only on the local level.

Great Britain and France are not going to dispense with their nuclear forces, or turn them over to our control, solely because of developments in ABM technology. On the contrary, our defensive efforts will probably succeed only in exacerbating present disagreements. Our minimal effort to consult our allies before making decisions is not conducive to good relations. Worse yet, they may respond by seeking their own ABM systems. This would probably signal the end of the nonproliferation treaty, for signing it would preclude independent development of the necessary technology. While the Europeans may not rate the probability of Soviet military action very high, they will not be able wholly to ignore the military significance of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow. Moreover, the task may be so difficult (since the direct threat against Europe consists of a large number of medium and short-range missiles against which the defensive problem is fantastically difficult and expensive) that they will prefer to decrease their ties with the United States. It may appear that this is the only way in which they can reduce their chances of being an exposed pawn in a resurgent cold war.

This article has suggested that the deployment of ABM systems may have a number of unfortunate consequences, none of which have been sufficiently stressed-and, perhaps, understood-by official spokesmen. There are undoubtedly ways in which these developments can be avoided or at least mitigated. If they do come about, it will not be because we are prisoners of some inexorable technological process or because the demands of security can be met only by policies which are ultimately self-defeating, but because of very human errors of will and foresight.

Finally, if this writer has not been misguided, two propositions must be emphasized: first, in our own security interests we should under-respond to Soviet ABM deployments, at least in the immediate future; and second, our friends and allies have every right, not to say obligation, to place what we (and they) can do for their security-not what we can do to limit damage to ourselves-in the center of their calculations. 1 As one Department of Defense expert has noted: "Any defensive system can really do no more than to raise the entrance price which an attacker must pay in order to destroy a target." Charles M. Herzfeld, "BMD and National Security," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1965, reprinted in Survival, March 1966, p. 74. The best analysis of the ABM problem which I have found is J. I. Coffey, "The ABM Debate," Foreign Affairs, April 1967. 2 The worst danger of a guarantee policy is that it might commit us to involvements we would prefer to avoid; the decisive question, which cannot be discussed here, is the extent to which we really have a viable option of noninvolvement open to us. The idea of a seaborne ABM force under our control may be worth investigating and might even be reasonably effective against a relatively small and unsophisticated Chinese missile force. 3 After this article was written, Secretary McNamara, in his farewell report, announced that the Soviets are apparently not installing a full- scale ABM system (though they have substantially increased the size of their ICBM force). He said that the Galosh system around Moscow had not been expanded or extended to other cities and that the Tallinn system across the Soviets' northwestern approaches is no longer believed to have "any significant ABM capability." It is difficult to take a charitable view of why a different impression had been given earlier, for serious doubts about the reliability of the evidence concerning Soviet ABM installations have been justified from the beginning. At any rate the arguments in this article are reinforced by the Secretary's admission; there is even stronger reason to slow down (if not halt) our own installation of an ABM system; thus far no move has been made to do so. 4 Thus one writer argues that "possession of ABM systems by the great powers could deter non-nuclear countries from obtaining nuclear weapons while at the same time increasing the deterrent value of the great powers' nuclear forces." (Lewis A. Frank, "ABM and Nonproliferation: Related Issues," Orbis, Spring 1967.) This piece seems to me a classic example of the tendency to overemphasize the degree to which decisions by the United States and the Soviet Union about their forces will affect the decisions of non-nuclear states.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now