A new strategic arms limitation treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union (SALT II) is now essentially complete. As is always the case with a complicated negotiation, each side has conditioned acceptance of key provisions on the successful resolution of remaining open issues. Thus, it is always possible that the process will break down as each side plays out its end game. But at this stage, it seems extremely unlikely that the basic provisions of the agreement will change further.

The ensuing ratification debate will be one of the major foreign policy debates of the decade, and one of the most intellectually challenging. The complexities of nuclear strategy, weapons technology and our overall policy toward the Soviet Union all come together in SALT. Some will evaluate the treaty primarily from a political perspective, assessing its role in both domestic and international politics; others will focus on predominantly technical questions, such as the extent to which the treaty actually limits the nuclear deployments of the two sides. Yet SALT is much more than either a political exercise or arms control for its own sake. To be successful, SALT must improve our security by helping to stabilize the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. Evaluating strategic stability involves complex technical questions, and even among the experts there is no consensus on how to measure the strategic balance. But, in the end, no final judgment on the new treaty's worth can be rendered without considering the projected stability of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic relationship during the next decade.

Other considerations, such as the success of our negotiators in obtaining Soviet agreement to our positions, our ability to verify Soviet compliance, and the agreement's effect on our allies are also important in assessing the worth of the new treaty. The following sections contain analyses of the new agreement according to each of these criteria, as well as an evaluation of its likely effect on the strategic balance between the Soviet Union and the United States. I believe these analyses demonstrate that those who examine the technical provisions of the new agreement carefully will find little to criticize. SALT II will undoubtedly stimulate intense debate, but in the end, this debate is likely to focus on the pros and cons of the SALT process itself, rather than those of this particular treaty.1


The negotiation of the SALT II treaty that is now nearing completion has been underway for four years - since President Ford and President Brezhnev agreed on the basic framework at Vladivostok in November 1974. Not surprisingly, a negotiation of this duration has resulted in significant changes and additions to the original agreement.

The new treaty's numerical limits provide an illuminating example of these changes. The key result of the Vladivostok negotiations was to limit both strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (the sum of land-based intercontinental-range ballistic missiles [ICBMs], submarine-launched ballistic missiles [SLBMs], long-range air-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers) and MIRVed missiles (missiles equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) to equal numbers for each side - 2,400 delivery vehicles and 1,320 MIRVed missiles.2 The Ford Administration received significant criticism of the 2,400 and 1,320 limitations, primarily that they were so high that they represented little real constraint on the programs of either side.3 Secretary of State Kissinger continued to push the Soviets for lower numbers in subsequent negotiations, and by the time the Carter Administration took office, the Soviets had already agreed to reduce the overall ceiling to a number "below 2,300." They have now accepted a final limit of 2,250 rather than 2,400 on the total number of launchers, and also agreed to reduce the limit on MIRVed missiles from 1,320 to 1,200. A new sub-limit of 820 on land-based MIRVed missiles will also be set.

While these revised limits are not as low as some would like, they do have a significant effect on Soviet programs. The reduction in the overall ceiling to 2,250 will require the Soviets to dismantle an additional 150 older systems, although it will have no effect on U.S. force levels. The limit of 1,200 on MIRV launchers cuts somewhat into the U.S. plan to deploy 1,238 MIRVs by 1985, but it will almost certainly require a greater cutback in the Soviet MIRV program. The new sub-limit of 820 on land-based MIRVs is perhaps the most important of the revised ceilings; when combined with the limitation on reentry vehicles (warheads) discussed below, it sets an overall ceiling on the total number of Soviet land-based warheads. It also sets an important precedent for including special limitations on land-based MIRVs, the most potentially destabilizing components of the two sides' force structures.

One of the most contentious issues in the negotiations has been that of limits on cruise missiles. The two sides have disagreed on cruise missile limits since immediately after the Vladivostok negotiations.4 The Soviets took the position that air-launched cruise missiles of a range greater than 600 kilometers should count within the 2,400 ceiling, and that testing and deployment of ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles with a range of over 600 kilometers should be banned. The U.S. position was that there should be no limits on cruise missiles.

In the agreement finally reached, air-launched cruise missiles on heavy bombers, which are especially important to the U.S. defense program, are permitted with no limit on their range. The only limits affecting these systems result from the inclusion of aircraft equipped with long-range cruise missiles within the various numerical ceilings specified by the treaty. Such aircraft will have to count as heavy bombers within the 2,250 overall ceiling on strategic nuclear launchers, as well as within a combined ceiling of 1,320 on MIRVed missiles and cruise missile-equipped aircraft. Furthermore, the average number of cruise missiles on the aircraft equipped to carry them is limited to approximately 30.5

These limits have the overall effect of permitting the United States to deploy at least 3,000 long-range cruise missiles on strategic aircraft without having to make any offsetting reduction in other strategic forces.6 Even more cruise missiles could be deployed by reducing the number of MIRVed missiles on a one-for-one basis as each cruise missile carrier is deployed, but it seems unlikely that the United States would desire to deploy more than 3,000 nuclear-armed cruise missiles, each with a 200-400 kiloton warhead, over the next seven years.

The situation with respect to long-range ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles is somewhat more complicated. The position of each side on this issue has changed several times in the course of the negotiations. No mention of these systems was made at Vladivostok, or in the subsequent aide mémoire. But as mentioned above, shortly thereafter the Soviets took the position that the deployment of ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles should be banned. During the 1975 Helsinki summit meeting between President Ford and President Brezhnev, the Soviets proposed to count only intercontinental-range (greater than 5,500 kilometers) ground-launched cruise missiles. The United States later decided that it preferred a 2,500-kilometer limit, at which point the Soviets returned to their demand for a 600-kilometer limit. Clearly, neither side has been sure even of its own position in these negotiations.

The final agreement includes no limits on these systems in the treaty itself, but a protocol to the treaty prohibits the deployment of all ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles with a range greater than 600 kilometers for three years. The United States has no capability to deploy such systems during the next three years, and there are no limits on testing cruise missiles, should we decide it is in our interest to continue developing them for later deployment. Thus, in a technical and legal sense, there is no effective limit on U.S. land-based or sea-based cruise missiles. Nevertheless, as I discuss subsequently, the protocol has significant political implications for both U.S.-European relations and the dynamics of the SALT III negotiations. It will undoubtedly receive considerable attention as the SALT II debate continues.

The major U.S. objective of limiting "qualitative" force improvements (improvements in the capabilities of individual delivery vehicles) has also been achieved. The Soviets agreed over three years ago to limit the throw-weight of individual missiles to that of the largest missiles now deployed in each class - about 7,000 pounds for "light" missiles and 15,000 pounds for "heavy" missiles. But, more importantly, limits have now been placed on new types of land-based missiles and on the number of warheads permitted on each MIRVed missile.

With respect to new land-based missiles, each side has agreed to limit its deployment of new ICBMs to one type over the term of the treaty. The agreement's definition of a "new type" of missile, however, will not necessarily require that either side stop developing all but one new generation of land-based missile, since new missiles do not have to count as a "new type" if they are substantially the same as the older generation they replace. For example, the Soviets' new "fifth generation" systems, which have not yet been fully tested, may in the end not be limited at all by this provision. But if the Soviets act as expected and use their allowance of one new ICBM type to develop a single warhead missile to replace their existing SS-11s, any "modernization" of their land-base MIRV force with a new "fifth generation" will result in replacing existing missiles with new missiles of very similar dimensions and propulsion characteristics.

The number of reentry vehicles (warheads) on each new type of MIRVed missile will be limited by the new agreement to something no greater than ten on ICBMs (the exact limits are not yet agreed) and to 14 on SLBMs. The number of warheads on each existing type of missile is frozen at its present level. These provisions solve a major military problem for U.S. force planners, making a "multiple aim point" (MAP) system - having more hardened shelters than there are missiles with the missiles clandestinely shuffled about among the shelters - at least theoretically feasible for the United States.7 Without such a limit, proliferating the number of aim points (targets) that the Soviet Union would have to attack if it wished to destroy our land-based missile force could lead to no more than a continuing race between our deployment of additional aim points and the Soviets' deployment of additional warheads. But the treaty will restrain the number of Soviet counterforce warheads to a practical limit of about 9,000, setting this as the worst case situation for which U.S. force planners might have to prepare.

As these examples illustrate, on the whole the United States has achieved almost every negotiating objective it set during the last year. This is also true with respect to its objectives in the important area of verification constraints, a subject which is discussed separately in the next section.


The Soviets have maintained from the beginning of the SALT process that the only provisions necessary to ensure adequate verification were those contained in the SALT I agreement: prohibitions on deliberate concealment and on interference with "national technical means" of verification. The United States, on the other hand, has argued that a variety of "counting rules" and "collateral constraints" are necessary to permit U.S. verification of Soviet compliance. The Soviets have strongly opposed such an approach, primarily because the U.S. proposals would require significant modifications in Soviet deployment programs, while requiring no changes at all in U.S. programs.

Nevertheless, the Soviets have now agreed to two important "counting rules" related to MIRVed missiles, 8 accepted in principle the important concept of "functionally related observable differences (FRODs),"9 agreed to terminate their SS-16 mobile ICBM program for verification reasons, and accepted an important principle on the concealment of testing results relevant to verification. Furthermore, by dropping their demand for a 2,500 kilometer upper limit on the range of air-launched cruise missiles, they have eased the problem of verifying cruise-missile range limits.

The agreement concerning the SS-16 land-based mobile ICBM provides a useful illustration of the extent to which the Soviets have been willing to accept provisions designed to facilitate verification, as well as the thoroughness with which the provisions of the treaty have been worked out. The issue arises because of the similarity of the SS-16 to the SS-20, a mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) capable of hitting targets in China and Europe, but not the United States. The SS-20 is apparently only a shortened version of the SS-16 - the two missile stages of the SS-20 are identical to the first two stages of the three-stage SS-16. Furthermore, the mobile launchers for the two systems are almost identical.

This situation led the United States to worry that an SS-16 ICBM deployment could not be distinguished from an SS-20 IRBM deployment by satellite verification methods. The SS-16 missile is considerably less capable than the other new Soviet missiles (SS-17s, SS-18s, and SS-19s); nonetheless, such a clandestine deployment would give the Soviets a certain advantage. In any event, the uncertainty about the size of the Soviet program would lead to continuing arguments about Soviet compliance with the treaty.

It has been reported that the Soviets have agreed to ban the deployment of the SS-16 as a mobile missile for the duration of the treaty, a provision that apparently eliminates the problem of distinguishing between the two systems. But if this were the extent of the treaty's handling of this problem, the provision would still be susceptible to criticism. The Soviets could continue testing and producing the SS-16 missile without deploying it in a mobile mode, and the launchers for the missile could be produced and deployed under the guise of the SS-20. Such a state of affairs would leave the Soviets only a few weeks away from being able to deploy an operational SS-16 ICBM system.

The final agreement, however, provides stronger assurance that the United States can verify compliance with this aspect of the treaty. The Soviets have now agreed to ban all deployment of the SS-16, whether in a mobile mode or at fixed sites. They have further agreed to ban the production of all missile components that are unique to the SS-16 ICBM version and to cease testing the SS-16. These provisions eliminate the possibility of developing a capability to deploy rapidly the SS-16 should the treaty be abrogated.

While the new agreement is by and large extremely comprehensive in its verification provisions, one notable absence is a rigorous definition of a missile launcher. In order to eliminate any possible ambiguity about the meaning of other provisions, such a definition should be agreed upon by the two sides. However, the United States has resisted the inclusion of such a definition, apparently because it would be difficult to write one that drew any distinction between the unMIRVed Minuteman II missile silos and the MIRVed Minuteman III silos, and because such a definition might stand in the way of an American multiple aim point ICBM-basing system.

The Minuteman II and Minuteman III silos are so similar that almost any conceivable definition would result in their both being classified as a single-launcher type. Since we have pressed for and gotten Soviet agreement to a "counting rule" requiring that any launcher of a type that has ever launched a MIRVed missile be counted as containing a MIRVed missile, a launcher definition that did not distinguish between Minuteman II and Minuteman III silos would require that we count all 450 single-warhead Minuteman II missiles within the treaty's ceilings on MIRV launchers - an unacceptable result.

The lack of a precise definition of a launcher is also important to protect America's option to deploy a multiple aim point system. As described earlier, such a system relies on the deployment of a greater number of hardened shelters than missiles, with the missiles being moved clandestinely from one shelter to another. If the "shelters" were actually additional missile silos, an approach now favored by the Air Force, and if the silos themselves were counted as "launchers," they would be prohibited under provisions carried over from SALT I banning new land-based ICBM launchers. But in the U.S. interpretation, the new agreement does not ban a multiple aim point system, because the transportable capsule containing the missile is considered the launcher, rather than the silo itself.

This is one of several examples in the new agreement where the United States has sacrificed its principles in order to avoid a constraint on its programs. In this particular case, the Soviets do not appear concerned about their ability to verify U.S. MIRV deployments; thus, they have been willing to "look the other way." One can only hope that in the end the Soviets do not attempt to take advantage of the agreement's ambiguous definition of a launcher, leading us to wish we had insisted upon a more explicit resolution of the problem.

Obtaining Soviet agreement on these verification provisions involved considerably more than convincing them to accept a set of abstract principles. The verification provisions of the new treaty will actually constrain Soviet programs. The SS-16 mobile ICBM, which was fully tested and ready for deployment, will have to be abandoned altogether. The fully tested single-warhead versions of the SS-17 and SS-18 missiles, some of which may have already been deployed, will either have to be counted as MIRVed missiles or abandoned. Finally, the Soviets probably have 120 unMIRVed missiles now deployed in modernized silos that will have to count as MIRVed missiles unless they are moved to other silos, since the silos they are now in are the same as those used to launch the MIRVed SS-19.

On balance, the new agreement embodies a sensible approach to verification. It implicitly acknowledges that any verification requires cooperation of the two sides, not only in general measures such as noninterference and nonconcealment, but in specific instances as well. By including specific verification provisions, our job is made easier; in many cases, we must verify only that the cooperative procedures are being complied with, rather than verifying compliance with the treaty directly. Finally, the treaty embodies an important shift in the emphasis of the SALT process, with relatively more weight being given to what it is we wish to limit as opposed to what limits we could most easily verify. Only a few years ago, there was almost unanimous agreement among experts that once MIRVs had been fully tested, limits on MIRVed missiles could not be verified. But such limits are one of the most important results of the SALT II agreement. It is gratifying that we sought and achieved limits on MIRVs, albeit modest ones, despite the difficulties in verification which required working out explicit "counting rules."


As discussed earlier, one cannot adequately evaluate the new treaty without considering its effect on the strategic balance between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The simplest measures of the strategic balance are "static" indicators of force quantities, such as numbers of launchers, numbers of weapons, megatonnage, "equivalent" megatonnage, throw-weight, and so forth.10 Projections are that the Soviets will lead the United States by 1980 in most of these static indicators, although the United States will retain a significant lead in the total number of weapons deployed.

The weaknesses inherent in attempting to measure the strategic balance using static indicators are well known. These indicators do not account for some of the most important characteristics of our forces, such as their survivability against a Soviet attack. It is for exactly this reason that U.S. force planners have consistently chosen not to attempt to match the Soviets in such measures, but rather to emphasize more important force characteristics. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that under the terms of the agreement, the United States could essentially match the Soviet Union in each of the commonly used static indicators of force capability, should it choose to do so. The one unequal limit in the new agreement is the freeze on "heavy" land-based missiles carried over from SALT I. Under this provision, the United States is prohibited from deploying heavy missiles, while the Soviet Union may keep the 300 it now has. Thus, the Soviets could, in theory, deploy four to five million pounds more land-based missile throw-weight than could this country, although the United States could offset this somewhat with additional throw-weight in its submarine-launched ballistic missiles or payload in its bombers. But, in practice, the United States has no interest in heavy missiles, so this apparent asymmetry is of little importance.

A more sophisticated approach to assessing the strategic balance is to examine the results of simulated force exchanges between the two countries. The United States has accepted for many years the notion that the most important criterion for assessing the adequacy of its strategic forces is that enough forces be able to withstand a Soviet surprise attack to destroy Soviet society and industry in retaliation. There is little argument about either the present or projected capability of U.S. forces to carry out this mission, with or without SALT II.11 But there are serious arguments about whether such an "assured destruction" scenario is the proper one for measuring the deterrent capacity of our forces, and whether our forces will remain adequate when their capability is assessed under more complex scenarios.

Until the Soviets began deploying MIRVs on their land-based missiles in 1973, the United States maintained an overwhelming superiority in its strategic forces. Furthermore, the SALT I treaty prohibiting antiballistic missile systems (ABMs) meant that U.S. ballistic missiles could attack the Soviet Union in a retaliatory strike without facing the uncertainties associated with having to penetrate enemy defenses. Under such circumstances, there was little reason to use complex force exchange scenarios in assessing the deterrent capacity of the U.S. force.

The advent of large, accurate MIRVs on Soviet missiles changed this situation. The extensive Soviet MIRV deployment program, coming on the heels of SALT I and the beginning of what was supposed to be a period of détente, and occurring simultaneously with Soviet initiatives in Vietnam, the Middle East and Africa, has led to a widespread questioning of Soviet motives. I have argued elsewhere that the Soviets had good military reasons for deploying large throw-weight land-based MIRVed missiles; one does not have to attribute to them a motive of attempting to achieve strategic superiority over the United States to explain these deployments.12 But the new Soviet MIRVs do create real military problems for the United States: for the first time, the Soviets appear headed for a capability to attack a major component of the U.S. deterrent force - our land-based ICBMs.

It is important to emphasize that most military planners are concerned only secondarily with what might happen once a nuclear war began. The level of destruction of any nuclear war would be so overwhelming that the primary focus must of necessity be on our ability to deter the start of any war. Thus, the concern is not so much that the Soviets might actually attempt a surprise attack against our Minuteman force, although military planners obviously must consider such an eventuality. Rather, the issue is the ability of our strategic nuclear forces to serve as a "nuclear umbrella" in a crisis, given the Soviets' newfound capability to attack our land-based ICBMs.

In the mid-1980s, the Soviets will be able theoretically to destroy virtually all of our land-based ICBM force in a surprise attack. This would leave us with only our submarine-launched ballistic missile force, our strategic bomber force (equipped with air-launched cruise missiles), and our theater nuclear forces deployed overseas and on aircraft carriers. Some of these forces are also susceptible to attack, since not all U.S. bombers are on alert at any one time, some submarines are in port, and many of our theater nuclear forces are vulnerable. Nevertheless, even in the worst case, 5,000 to 6,000 nuclear weapons on alert bombers and submarines at sea would survive a surprise attack.

This force is more than enough to destroy all major Soviet cities and Soviet industry. But defense planners argue, with good reason, that in such a situation, no President of the United States would want to be faced with only the options of doing nothing or launching an all-out attack on Soviet cities - an attack that would almost certainly lead to a Soviet counterstrike against U.S. cities, presumably left largely undamaged by the Soviets' earlier strike against our land-based ICBMs.13 Many argue that in such circumstances, the United States would be deterred from retaliating by the Soviets' retention of a large residual "assured destruction" force after attacking our Minuteman force.

I find two weaknesses in this line of thought. First, in the mid-1980s the United States will have the capability to respond to a Soviet counterforce attack with a counterforce response of its own. The United States will have 2,000 to 3,000 highly accurate cruise missiles deployed on its alert bombers, each having a 50-80 percent probability of destroying any hardened target against which it is launched. These weapons could be used in a counterforce retaliation while still leaving the alert U.S. SLBM force, with 3,000 weapons, as an "assured destruction" reserve.

Cruise missiles do have two deficiencies when used in a counterforce attack. First, they require many hours to reach their targets, making them less flexible than ICBMs, which have more "prompt" effects. Second, the Soviets could easily destroy most U.S. airfields in an initial strike, which would require a U.S. President to use his cruise missiles immediately after a full-scale Soviet attack while they remain airborne, or risk their loss. But these deficiencies are relatively minor. If the Soviets' initial attack against our Minutemen were less than all-out, surviving land-based missiles would be available for selective counterforce attacks. We would find ourselves without surviving land-based missiles, and thus without the capability to launch "prompt" counterforce attacks, only after a very large Soviet attack - a circumstance under which no U.S. President should have any hesitance about launching an all-out cruise missile counterforce retaliatory attack.

The second fallacy in using a Soviet first-strike "war-fighting" scenario to evaluate the U.S. deterrent stems from a failure to consider the situation a Soviet leader would face should he consider using his counterforce threat to extract U.S. concessions. While there are uncertainties both in force exchange calculation and in force projections for 1985, the Soviets will in all likelihood face a significantly greater potential loss from a U.S. preemptive strike than the United States would face from a Soviet preemptive strike. This stems directly from the Soviets' decision to place the majority of their forces in land-based silos, which will be vulnerable to attack in the mid-1980s. The United States has long recognized this problem and has put relatively less emphasis on its land-based missile force. By this time, the U.S. land-based missile force will be able to destroy 80 to 90 percent of the Soviet land-based MIRVed missile force in a preemptive strike, even if no new land-based missile is deployed. If the new MX missile (a land-based missile that would carry six to ten weapons, each of one to two megatons yield) is deployed, the United States could destroy virtually all Soviet land-based missiles, MIRVed and single warhead, in such a strike. Soviet submarines in port and Soviet bomber bases could also be destroyed. Thus, the Soviets could well face a situation where they had lost the mainstay of their force, their MIRVed land-based missiles, while the United States retained 7,000-9,000 weapons on its submarines and bombers. If one believes that the prospect of retaining an inadequate residual reserve force after absorbing a first strike would deter American Presidents from acting firmly in confrontations with the Soviet Union, a Soviet leader should be even more deterred from initiating a confrontation since he would face an even less favorable situation.

Although the Soviet deployment of a counterforce capability against our Minuteman missiles does not leave the United States at a relative disadvantage, it does give a more significant military advantage to the side striking first than has been the case previously, reducing the inherent stability of the nuclear balance. A preemptive strike by either side would risk an immediate retaliation that could destroy most of the attacker's society, so war is still an unlikely event. Nevertheless, in an extreme crisis, such as that which might grow out of a gradual escalation of hostilities in Europe or the Middle East, the world would be safer if neither side felt it could achieve any significant advantage by launching a preemptive strike.

The preferable solution to this problem would be to obtain Soviet agreement in SALT III to reduce fixed-point land-based missile deployments. To date, the Soviets have rejected U.S. proposals for such reductions, although past U.S. proposals have tended to be somewhat one-sided in their relatively greater effect on Soviet programs. The Soviets have already accepted separate limits on land-based MIRVed missiles in SALT II, and they have agreed to principles for SALT III calling for reductions and increasing mutual confidence in the stability of the nuclear balance. Thus, it is not inconceivable that they would negotiate a balanced proposal for ICBM reductions.

But unless the Soviets agree early in SALT III to significant reductions in land-based ICBMs, the strategic balance in the mid-1980s is likely to be determined to a much greater extent by the force deployment programs of the two sides than it is by the provisions of arms control agreements. Thus, it is important that the United States retain the flexibility it needs to undertake programs that will maintain this balance. Perhaps the most extensive program suggested to date has been that outlined by the Committee on the Present Danger, a citizens' group organized to support a stronger U.S. response to the Soviet military buildup. Stating their position that "in the short run, it is unlikely that a comprehensive SALT agreement can be negotiated," the Committee has recommended an eight-point program for restoring "both real and perceived strategic adequacy for the 1980s":

1. Urgent attention to the survivability and endurance of our information, communications, and command and control systems;

2. Rapid deployment of an alternate basing mode for our ICBMs;

3. Development of a more capable follow-on missile to replace our Minuteman IIIs;

4. Procurement of a high quality strategic bomber and cruise missile-tanker system with high pre-launch survivability and penetrability;

5. Acceleration of the TRIDENT I SLBM deployment program, TRIDENT II development, and, if possible, TRIDENT submarine construction, and renewed study and development of a smaller SLBM submarine;

6. Rehabilitation of the air defense program with AWACS, F-14/Phoenix, and new surface-to-air missiles;

7. Reexamination of the token U. S. civil defense program;

8. Reinvigoration of ABM research and development programs.14

One may or may not agree with the wisdom of the particular measures suggested by the Committee. But in assessing the effect of SALT II on the strategic balance, it is important to note that the new agreement does not prohibit the United States from carrying out any of these recommendations; all eight could be fully implemented under the terms of the agreement. As much as one might believe that the United States needs a larger strategic nuclear defense program, one cannot argue that SALT II will stand in the way of even extensive force enhancement programs such as this one.


SALT II has already stimulated considerable debate within the NATO alliance. The U.S. allies clearly see a stronger relationship between their security interests and the terms of the emerging agreement than was the case with SALT I. During SALT I, the allies' primary concern was to ensure that existing nuclear cooperation and technology transfer programs would not be jeopardized. The inclusion in SALT II of only very general "noncircumvention" provisions seems to ensure that the new agreement will pose no problems in this regard, especially since the United States explicitly rejected the more restrictive language constraining transfers of weapons technology proposed by the Soviets.

But since SALT I, the Soviets have deployed longer range tactical aircraft capable of launching nuclear attacks in Europe, the new SS-20 mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile with MIRVs, and the Backfire aircraft - an aircraft somewhat more capable than the F-111, our largest aircraft in Europe. At the same time that these deployments have occurred, the Soviets have moved to overall parity with the United States in intercontinental nuclear forces, reducing the Europeans' confidence in the capability of the U.S. "strategic nuclear umbrella" to deter Soviet attacks on them. These two events have stimulated considerable anxiety in Europe, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The difficulties associated with attempting to accommodate in arms control negotiations the "gray area" systems, such as U.S. forward-based systems and Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles and medium bombers, have been analyzed extensively elsewhere.15 My objective here is not to repeat this analysis, but rather simply to suggest that the problem of providing an adequate nuclear defense for Europe goes well beyond any difficulties the Europeans might have with the specific limits included in SALT II. This is not to claim that SALT II has no effect on Europe. The treaty does not include limits on systems such as the Backfire and the SS-20 IRBM, while it does limit U.S. SLBMs, some of which are specifically dedicated to the defense of Europe and intended to offset these Soviet systems. The three-year protocol to the treaty also limits cruise missiles, which might be used to enhance NATO's "Euro-strategic" nuclear balance. The Europeans correctly perceive a Soviet effort through SALT to limit weapons systems seen as Europe's main hope for offsetting any advantage the Soviets might obtain through their recent SS-20 and Backfire deployments, without the Soviets accepting any limits on their own deployments; the United States must be sensitive to this legitimate European concern.

To a large extent, the United States has brought about the Europeans' present state of anxiety with respect to SALT II. The United States has certainly not spoken with a single voice in its consultation with the Europeans on SALT II and theater nuclear programs. U.S. officials responsible for the SALT negotiations have tended to downplay the significance of land-based and sea-based long-range cruise missiles, while at the same time Pentagon officials have extolled the virtues of cruise missiles to their European counterparts. The fact is that ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles have significant weaknesses as nuclear weapons for use in the European theater. While the cruise missiles themselves are relatively inexpensive, the total systems, including the sea-based platforms to carry them and the ground-based launchers and associated systems, are not likely to be significantly less expensive than alternative nuclear systems. Furthermore, no reliable concepts have been developed for solving the pre-launch vulnerability problem of ground-launched cruise missiles. Hardened fixed sites will be vulnerable to Soviet attack, but serious problems exist in attempting to deploy long-range mobile nuclear systems in densely populated Western Europe. Moving nuclear-armed missiles throughout the West German countryside in peacetime is unthinkable, yet stationing them in kasernes renders them vulnerable to surprise attack. Deployments on surface ships face similar vulnerability problems, and deployments on submarines would divert valuable antisubmarine warfare systems to a less useful military mission.

All apart from the relative worth of cruise missiles as "Euro-strategic" nuclear weapons, the basic strategic dilemma associated with providing an independent European force to counter the Soviet theater-oriented forces remains much the same as it has been for the last 20 years. As long as the U.S. President controls the release of the bulk of NATO's strategic nuclear weapons, their use would immediately involve the United States in a strategic exchange with the Soviet Union, with all of the implications, both positive and negative, which that linkage involves. As the French have long realized, for a European deterrent to be truly independent, the Europeans must have complete control of it. Yet no one suspects that West Germany either desires to have or should have its own independent nuclear force, and many Europeans doubt the inherent wisdom of "decoupling" from the U.S. strategic deterrent in any event.

In my view, a threefold set of actions on the part of the United States is necessary to overcome our allies' anxiety created by the growing Soviet Euro-strategic capabilities, the fading of the boundary in SALT between intercontinental and theater forces, and continuing concern over "decoupling." First, the United States must play a more assertive and consistent leadership role in alliance nuclear affairs and demonstrate increased sensitivity to legitimate European defense needs. The enhanced radiation warhead (neutron bomb) affair provides an excellent example of how these almost trite principles seem to have been overlooked in recent months. The United States put the issue to the German government for decision in such a way that it was inevitably propelled into a public debate. The German government was required to choose between rejecting a weapon it thought might be important to Germany's defense (although they would have to look to the United States for a more thorough technical judgment in this respect), or accepting the domestic political consequences of pushing for a new weapon that had come to have particularly distasteful moral implications in the public mind. The German political system, especially while the Social Democratic Party is in power, simply could not be expected to generate a rational policy under such circumstances.

Second, our European allies must more thoroughly accept, nearly 20 years after it was first put forth, the proposition that the "nuclear umbrella" can only go so far in providing adequate security for Europe. The best way to enhance European security is to improve Europe's own conventional defense capability, and any available additional European defense resources should be allocated principally to this task.

Finally, the United States must make clear to the Soviets that large-scale SS-20 and Backfire deployments will be met by comparable U.S. programs - either cruise missiles, extended-range Pershing deployments, or additional nuclear-capable aircraft - unless the Soviets agree to reasonable limits on their "Euro-strategic" forces, or demonstrate unilateral restraint. While one might allow that too many exclusively European-based American nuclear forces could lead to an undesirable "decoupling" of the U.S. strategic deterrent, it seems clear that too extreme an imbalance in the other direction would also have a similar "decoupling" effect. An overwhelming local nuclear superiority might well tempt the Soviets in a confrontation to assume that their intercontinental forces could deter U.S. intercontinental forces, leading them to push for concessions in Europe. Thus, it is absolutely unrealistic for the Soviets to expect the United States to accept SALT III limits on systems useful primarily in the European theater without restraints being placed on comparable Soviet systems.

If the United States adopts a firm position on these issues in SALT III, there should be little need for complicated new forums for negotiating "gray area" systems. As I discuss in the concluding section, the Soviets are likely to agree to negotiate on Euro-strategic forces in SALT III as the three-year protocol limiting deployment of long-range ground-based and sea-based cruise missiles nears expiration. If U.S. programs make it clear to the Soviets that this country fully intends to deploy new systems designed to redress the imbalance in Euro-strategic forces created by Backfire and SS-20 deployments, the Soviets should be willing to negotiate reasonable limits on these systems.


The new SALT agreement is, in many respects, more than the sum of its individual provisions. It differs significantly from its predecessors in both its form and in its basic approach, and it sets important precedents for the future.

It is important to review the history of SALT in order to compare the two approaches. SALT I consisted of two parts: a permanent treaty banning antiballistic missile systems (ABMs), and a five-year interim agreement freezing deployment levels of strategic missiles. The ABM treaty has caused very little controversy and remains the preeminent achievement of SALT to date. Without ABMs, it is virtually impossible for either side to eliminate the retaliatory deterrent force of the other side. We have the luxury to debate issues such as the importance of emerging Minuteman vulnerability only because the ABM treaty exists. If both sides had proceeded with antiballistic missile programs, the stability of our deterrent would be dramatically reduced, and the size of the deployment program needed to maintain our deterrent correspondingly increased.

The criticisms of SALT I focused on the offensive forces agreement. Even during the negotiating process, there was considerable controversy concerning whether or not any attempt at all should be made to negotiate offensive limits. In the end, it was the United States that insisted upon the linkage between the offensive agreement and the ABM treaty.16 The Nixon Administration argued that achieving any offensive forces agreement was a major accomplishment since the Soviets were deploying new missiles at a rapid rate, while the United States had no new deployments underway. Thus, it was argued that the interim offensive agreement stopped the Soviet deployment program, while having no effect on U.S. programs.

Nevertheless, the critics, led by Senator Henry Jackson, focused on the offensive agreement, particularly on the fact that the ban on additional launchers left missile launchers frozen at unequal levels for the two sides - approximately 2,400 for the Soviet Union, versus 1,700 for the United States. Later, further controversy arose on two grounds. First, the terms of the agreement itself proved subject to differing interpretations. Terms such as "light missile" and "deliberate concealment" were interpreted quite differently by the United States and the Soviet Union. Second, it quickly became apparent that limiting deployments of new missile launchers had very little effect on the offensive arms race between the two countries. Both sides continued modernizing their forces, with the Soviets pursuing an aggressive program of replacing older single-warhead missiles with larger more capable MIRVed ICBM's.

Since SALT I, there has been considerable debate concerning the best way to proceed with offensive force limitations. Some have argued that the focus on quantitative limits is not itself a problem, but that the limits imposed so far are simply too high to have any effect. Others have argued that massive reductions are not in the cards and perhaps not even desirable, and that only a direct assault on advancing technology through limits on qualitative force characteristics can be of any real arms control use. Finally, some have argued that the greatest utility of SALT is likely to come from ruling out destabilizing missions, such as hard target counterforce,17 or, at a minimum, focusing on measures that will enhance strategic stability, such as limiting the numbers of land-based MIRVs - the weapons that could most easily be used to attack the land-based ICBMs of the other side.

The new treaty at least takes steps toward meeting almost all of these earlier objections. The numerical limits are equal for both sides, which meets Senator Jackson's main criticism of SALT I. The final numerical limits have been reduced from those agreed at Vladivostok and represent a real constraint on future Soviet programs, even requiring that the Soviets dismantle over 250 older systems. Even though the numerical limits themselves still leave room for increases in the capabilities of each side through qualitative improvements, they do eliminate the "worst case" projections of future force levels which would otherwise be considered by force planners in each country. Finally, the new agreement does represent an evolution of SALT in the direction the United States has long argued that SALT must go if it is to continue to play a significant role in stabilizing the nuclear balance. There are modest but significant qualitative limits in the treaty, through the ban on more than one new type of ICBM and the ceilings on the number of weapons each missile or bomber can carry. Furthermore, the various limits on land-based ICBMs, as well as the continuation of the ABM treaty, demonstrate at least an implicit acceptance of the basic U.S. strategic view that insuring the survival of secure second-strike retaliatory forces even after a first strike should be SALT's major military contribution.

The new SALT treaty also demonstrates an implicit understanding and acknowledgment of the limits of arms control agreements. Strategic arms agreements will not eliminate nuclear weapons, or even eliminate the military problems faced by the United States in maintaining its deterrent capability against the Soviet Union. The best we can hope for is that they will moderate the competition, reduce the level of hostility, and clarify the intentions of each side. In the long run, it can be hoped that such agreements will set firm limits on the total nuclear capabilities of each side, effectively stopping the arms race. But they cannot, as was attempted by the Administration's March 1977 "comprehensive" proposal, redress what we perceive to be Soviet advantages in the strategic balance - at least not without our offering major concessions in terms of our deployment programs.

Admittedly, this means that the United States faces something of a dilemma. On the one hand, neither our political system nor our objective of rational defense planning is likely to permit us to undertake major force deployments strictly for the purpose of developing SALT "bargaining chips." Yet without programs to trade, we cannot expect the Soviets to make major unilateral concessions, simply because we have chosen unilaterally to forego certain programs on our own.

Perhaps the solution to this problem is inherent in another new direction set by this treaty when compared to SALT I. By including a set of principles for governing SALT III, the new agreement establishes SALT as an ongoing process, rather than as an individual treaty required to stand by itself. Since many of the limitations accepted by the Soviet Union in the negotiation of SALT II represent at least implicit acceptance of arms control principles the United States has always put forward (adequate verification, emphasis on protecting the deterrent forces of the two sides, rigorous definitions, mutual exchange of data, and true limits on overall force capabilities), there remains substantial hope that SALT III will be able to constrain new programs before they are so far underway that the vested interests and bureaucracies on each side make it impossible to curb them.


Much of the criticism of SALT II has focused either on the specific provisions of the Vladivostok accord on which the agreement is based, or on the deficiencies of the treaty when compared to the more ambitious "comprehensive" approach set forth by the Administration in March 1977. But if one puts aside preconceptions based on these earlier efforts and examines the treaty which has actually been negotiated, it is difficult to see how it can be opposed on its technical merits. The treaty embodies a substantial amount of "true arms control," in that it requires actual dismantling of some Soviet systems, cuts off certain areas of possible new competition, and eliminates the "worst case" force projections which have tended to drive the deployment programs of each side. At the same time, the new agreement does not stand in the way of necessary defense programs. It permits the United States to carry on with any necessary modernization of its strategic triad, whether it be a new bomber or cruise missile carrier, a multiple-aim-point system of ICBM launchers, a new land-based missile, or new types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The treaty language is extremely carefully drafted, so that subsequent misunderstandings between the two sides should be small in number, especially when compared to those which occurred in SALT I, and the Soviets have accepted the special verification "counting rules" sought by the United States. The treaty should provide a framework within which the United States can develop a stable strategic program to respond to recent Soviet deployments, knowing that major surprises in the Soviet program are unlikely to occur. This should permit setting aside the present diversionary debate over strategic forces and moving on to focus our defense planning on correcting more serious weaknesses in conventional forces.

Given these technical characteristics of the new agreement, the debate over treaty ratification is likely to focus on predominantly political questions. There is a legitimate issue about whether or not the United States should enter into any additional agreements with the Soviet Union as long as the Soviets continue with their worldwide military buildup and expansionist policies. There will also be a political debate about the relationship between the new agreement and the defense budget, with some arguing that the treaty is unacceptable without a significant increase in the defense budget, including approval of major new strategic nuclear programs, and others cautioning against linking treaty approval to increased defense spending, lest we mortgage our ability to proceed with further arms control measures. Finally, there will be considerable debate about the treaty's three-year protocol.

The protocol will cause particular concern because it limits weapons systems which could potentially be of vital importance to the United States in overcoming what are perhaps the two most significant strategic nuclear problems the nation will face in the 1980s. The protocol limits the testing and deployment of mobile land-based ICBMs (such as the multiple-aim-point system discussed earlier), systems whose main purpose would be to eliminate the emerging vulnerability of our Minuteman ICBMs. The protocol also limits ground-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles, systems proposed primarily to counter the growing imbalance in Euro-strategic forces brought about by Soviet deployments of new systems such as the Backfire and the SS-20. Given the potential importance that mobile ICBMs and cruise missiles could have for the U.S. defense program, any agreement placing limits on these systems would be controversial. The fact that the protocol contains no reciprocal limits on Soviet systems, such as the SS-20 or the Backfire, makes it even more controversial.18

As I have pointed out earlier, the protocol will expire before the United States could conceivably deploy any of the systems limited by it, so that in a technical sense, it represents no real constraint on U.S. programs. But it is always difficult politically for the United States to end a deployment moratorium, since the American public never wishes to support what might be seen as unnecessary military competition. Moreover, the protocol does set a precedent for U.S. acceptance of continuing limits on cruise missiles and mobile land-based ICBMs in SALT III.

My own view is that in the absence of a serious SALT III negotiation, political pressures will not inevitably require the United States to continue with the protocol limits. But the Soviets are unlikely to turn down a serious SALT III negotiation, or even to reject a negotiation that includes the important questions of the Euro-strategic balance and Minuteman vulnerability. Initially, they will resist U.S. demands in these areas. But as the expiration of the protocol nears, they will offer enough tangible concessions to induce the United States to extend the protocol's moratoria as the negotiations continue. For the United States, there would be great benefit in obtaining a negotiated solution to the problems of Minuteman vulnerability and Euro-strategic balance, since the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe or a mobile ICBM in the United States are not attractive options from a technical standpoint. Thus, if the protocol serves to engage the Soviets in a serious negotiation on these issues, it will have served a useful purpose. One can only hope that the United States will remain firm in its insistence that the Soviets agree to serious and balanced provisions in both areas, rather than continuing the protocol limits indefinitely while the Soviets continue to threaten both our land-based ICBMs and our European allies.

Most of the political issues raised by SALT II, including the protocol limitations, relate to a more fundamental concern that the United States has lost its will to maintain adequate defenses in the face of Soviet expansion. The strong anti-defense reaction brought about by the years of Vietnam and Watergate, and the hopes that détente with the Soviet Union would mean a greater degree of Soviet restraint in weapons deployments and geopolitical expansionism, led to a period of perhaps excessive reductions in real defense spending. But recent events indicate that this trend has now ended, and that there is a strong and increasing national will to maintain adequate defenses. Public opinion polls indicate that the American people are willing to support higher spending on defense, despite the growing negative reaction to government spending in general and the emergence of the "taxpayer's revolt."19 President Carter has successfully increased the defense budget and is publicly committed to a three percent annual real growth in our spending on defense. Nor is there any evidence that Congress will oppose necessary defense spending; the defense appropriations veto fight that occurred this year was not over the level of spending, but rather over the best way to spend the available dollars.

Even if one believes that the nation's main defense problem is the need to demonstrate a strong will to respond to Soviet force deployments and geopolitical expansion, it is not at all clear that Senate rejection of the SALT II agreement would demonstrate such will. If the treaty contained serious technical flaws, or if it explicitly prohibited necessary defense programs, its rejection would perhaps be seen as a demonstration of renewed American strength. But this agreement does not contain such deficiencies. Therefore, in my view its rejection would more likely convey a different set of signals. It would indicate first of all that the U.S. political system cannot generate a stable national consensus on even the most crucial foreign policy issues. Second, rejection would make it clear to our allies that a relaxation of East-West tensions is not likely to come about from bilateral U.S.-U.S.S.R. negotiations; thus, if they wish to pursue a political détente, they will have to do so on their own. Finally, a rejection would imply that we have no confidence in our own defense programs - that we are seriously worried about our military position relative to that of the Soviet Union, and feel that even the modest limits within the treaty would stand in the way of redressing any imbalance.

If there were no other reason to accept the new treaty than to avoid the negative consequences which might flow from its rejection, one could hardly expect more than reluctant acquiescence of either the Senate or the American public. But the new treaty deserves more than this. As this essay has argued, it is a treaty very much in the U.S. interest, and it sets important and positive precedents for a continuation of the SALT process. Given the quality of the treaty, its rejection would lead the rest of the world to see the United States as hesitant, insecure, and incapable of mounting an effective political and military effort to establish a stable peace in the nuclear age.


As this article goes to press, apparently only two issues remain open whose final resolution could significantly affect an overall evaluation of the new agreement. One concerns a U.S. proposed ban on concealing test results through telemetry encryption, an issue on which the Soviets now seem to be retracting their apparent willingness to cooperate. The other concerns the Soviets' long-standing insistence that all cruise missiles, even if equipped with conventional warheads, be subject to the agreement's cruise missile provisions. The United States maintains that on aircraft other than heavy bombers only nuclear-armed cruise missiles are covered by the agreement, and that conventionally armed cruise missiles should not count if they can be distinguished from nuclear cruise missiles by externally observable characteristics.

2 The term "missiles" is shorthand in this connection. Technically the number of missiles is not limited by the treaty. Rather, the treaty's limits apply to missile launchers.

3 The 2,400 limit would require the Soviets to dismantle about 100 older systems, but it would still permit them to modernize their remaining systems, leading to a dramatic increase in their overall strategic nuclear capability. The 1,320 limit was above the existing deployment level of either side, permitting both to build up further. It was even above the projected 1985 U.S. program, which includes only 1,238 MIRVed missiles. Furthermore, the 1,320 limit, while below projected Soviet deployment levels, was not enough of a constraint on the Soviets' new generation of MIRVed land-based ICBMs to prevent them from eventually posing a serious threat to the U.S. land-based Minuteman ICBM force.

4 The words "cruise missile" were never mentioned in the Vladivostok negotiations. However, air-to-surface missiles were discussed, and the United States did agree to count ballistic air-to-surface missiles with a range greater than 600 kilometers in the 2,400 ceiling.

5 The exact limit has not yet been agreed by both sides, but it will probably be in the range of 25-35.

6 The 1,320 is 120 above the 1,200 limit on MIRVed missiles; thus, the first 120 cruise missile-equipped aircraft can be considered "free." Nor is the 2,250 ceiling a constraint, since no foreseeable U.S. program would reach that limit. Taken together, these provisions mean that if an average of 30 missiles are permitted on each of the 120 "free" cruise missile carriers, a total of 3,600 could be deployed without affecting any other U.S. strategic program.

7 The United States has agreed that deployment of such a system is prohibited for a three-year period by treaty protocol provisions covering land-mobile ICBMs, but has stated that it would be free to deploy a MAP system when the protocol expires.

8 These two counting rules require first that any missile of a type ever tested with MIRVs must be counted as a MIRVed missile, and second, that any launcher of a type that has ever launched a MIRVed missile must count as a MIRV launcher. Additional rules require that if new launchers are to avoid being counted as MIRV launchers, they must differ from launchers that have been tested launching MIRVed missiles.

9 This concept is an important example of the innovative solutions our negotiators have found to complicated verification problems. A long-standing issue in SALT has been how to distinguish between two aircraft of the same type when one is used as a heavy bomber and another is not. This is a problem for both sides in SALT; the United States would like to retain the option of using existing wide-body airframes for a new cruise missile carrier, and the Soviets' Bear and Bison aircraft are used not only as heavy bombers, but also as naval reconnaissance and tanker aircraft.

While the exact details of the treaty language are not yet worked out, the new agreement is likely to permit the use of bomber aircraft in multiple roles, but require that all such aircraft be counted as heavy bombers unless there are observable differences clearly related to the function of the aircraft between the bombers and the nonbombers. For example, the Soviets' Bison tankers have refueling probes, so that they are observably different from Bison bombers. However, some of these tankers also have bomb bays. Since the existence of a refueling probe is not "functionally related" to the ability to drop bombs, these aircraft will all have to count as heavy bombers, unless they are modified to eliminate the bomb bays. In an analogous fashion, the United States could use an existing wide-body aircraft type for its new cruise missile carrier without having to count all aircraft of that type as heavy bombers, since existing transport aircraft would not contain the bomb bays or external mounting racks necessary to carry cruise missiles.

10 Equivalent megatonnage is a measure of blast damage against soft-area targets, and throw-weight is roughly the weight of warheads and MIRV-related devices carried out of the atmosphere by the missile.

11 Some have argued that Soviet civil defense measures could reduce civilian casualties in such an attack to under ten million. I find such arguments implausible, but will not repeat the debate here. See United States/Soviet Strategic Options, Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 95th Cong., 1st Sess., January 16, January 19, and March 16, 1977, Washington: GPO, 1977, for a discussion of both sides of the issue, and Soviet Civil Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, July 1978, for the CIA's view. I should point out, however, that if Soviet civil defense is a significant worry, the redeployment of a relatively small number of stockpiled large megatonnage bombs on our alert bomber force could dramatically increase the radioactive fallout associated with a U.S. retaliatory attack, substantially offsetting the Soviet civil defense program.

12 Jan M. Lodal, "Assuring Strategic Stability: An Alternative View," Foreign Affairs, April 1976, p. 467.

13 There are serious questions about the Soviets' ability to carry out an effective counterforce strike without killing significant numbers of Americans - a key assumption behind the argument that a nuclear exchange could be limited to military targets. See Analyses of the Threat of Limited Nuclear Warfare, Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, September 1975, and Effects of Limited Nuclear Warfare, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Arms Control, International Organizations and Security Agreements, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., September 18, 1975, Washington: GPO, 1975.

14 Is America Becoming Number 2? Current Trends in the U.S.-Soviet Military Balance, Washington, D.C.: Committee on the Present Danger, October 5, 1978.

17 Christoph Bertram, "Arms Control and Technological Change: Elements of a New Approach," Adelphi Paper No. 146, London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Summer 1978.

19 For example, see the Harris poll released September 7, 1978, reporting on results of a poll taken in late June 1978 in which 36 percent favored an increase in the defense budget, 18 percent a decrease, 41 percent the same, and 5 percent no opinion.

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  • Jan M. Lodal is Executive Vice President of American Management Systems, Inc. He was Director of Program Analysis for the National Security Council, 1973-75, and Director of the NATO and General Purpose Force Analysis Division in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1969-70.
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