Like the stock market, U.S.-Soviet relations are subject to mysterious rhythms. Despite occasional bullish pronouncements from Washington and Moscow, the downturn in relations that began when the euphoria of détente wore off in 1976 continues. Both countries are poised at the brink of major new weapons programs. The United States has openly befriended China, a nation regarded in Moscow as a mortal enemy. The risks of U.S.-Cuban and U.S.-Soviet confrontation in Africa grow as political compromises over southern Africa become more difficult. The strategic arms limitation (SALT) negotiations in Geneva and Moscow have been exhausting and the arguments over ratification in Washington promise to be embittering. The process has not led to an improved international climate. Indeed, a strong case can be made that in the last few years the SALT negotiations have exacerbated tensions between the two superpowers.

The unfavorable political climate for the development of better U.S.-Soviet relations that has developed in the United States is a predictable, perhaps inevitable, consequence of the process of negotiation. One reason why the opposition to SALT is more enthusiastic than the support is that the goals of SALT are not entirely clear. The opponents can rightly note that any agreement, however minimal, raises the emotion-laden issue of whether we can trust the Russians. But the supporters cannot maintain that the arms race will be stopped or "capped," since the technological competition is intensifying. The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress recently compiled an imposing list of strategic weapons that can be built lawfully under the SALT II agreement-and which, in the present climate, no doubt will be built.1 The military buildup of each adversary can be interpreted by the other either as an effort to amass "bargaining chips" for future negotiations, as an indication of lack of faith in the possibilities of negotiation, or as a strategy of increased reliance on military power to achieve political goals.

The most important function of arms agreements is to reduce the element of ambiguity in U.S.-Soviet relations and to clarify intentions in such a way as to build confidence and political support in both societies. For this, a new approach to U.S.-Soviet negotiations is needed, whether the SALT II agreement is signed and ratified or not. The ambiguity in the U.S.-Soviet relationship cannot be sufficiently reduced through the painfully slow process of bilateral negotiations focused on narrow technical issues. The U.S.-Soviet strategic balance and the security of Europe are now discussed in a wholly separate and unrelated way, one in the SALT talks in Geneva and the other in the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks in Vienna, but they are integrally related. There will be no significant progress in either forum until the goals of the superpowers are made clearer and a broader framework for moving step by step toward those goals is adopted. This article is an effort to explore what such an alternative framework might look like.


Whether any agreement on arms is feasible depends upon the intentions of the two powers. Most Americans assume that U.S. intentions are clear, and they focus on Soviet intentions. Indeed, the debate over SALT really comes down to a disagreement about Soviet goals, a fact that tends to be masked by discussions of numbers, throw-weights, and other technical details. American opponents of an agreement believe that this country should not accept limitations on the right to acquire, test, deploy, and use weapons (unless the agreements are clearly one-sided) because Soviet leaders are bent on expanding their military power one way or another. Creating uncertainty, to their mind, is the best guarantee of security. They would argue that stabilization of the nuclear arms race decreases uncertainty, creates illusions for Soviet leaders that they might bring off a successful surprise attack, and thus increases the risk that they may resort to war or the threat of war.

The proponents of arms control argue, on the other hand, that Soviet leaders have no such fixed intentions. There are already enough nuclear weapons in the world to make any rational leader sufficiently uncertain about the consequences to his own society of starting a nuclear war that he would never launch one as an instrument of national policy. But increasing the level of uncertainty increases the risk of preemptive war, because it creates a tense military environment in which Russian fears about what the United States is about to do may cause them to strike first. In the nuclear age no one chooses war over peace, but there are circumstances in which one might well choose war now over war later if those were believed to be the only choices.

The opponents of arms reduction believe that military power is assuming an ever greater importance in Soviet policy because the Soviet system has lost some of its attraction for other countries and military power is the best, perhaps the only, vehicle available to them for protecting their influence. This leads to a belief that the Soviets are uninterested in any significant arms reduction except under clearly one-sided agreements and that, accordingly, it would be unsafe for us to commit ourselves to that effort. The proponents of arms reduction stress the historic concern of the Russians with territorial security, their growing apprehension about the de facto NATO-Chinese alliance, and the fact that their weapons programs, military doctrines, and political uses of military power have been imitative of and responsive to U.S. programs, doctrines and operations. The role of military power in Soviet foreign policy will be determined, they maintain, largely by what other powers, principally the United States and China, do.

There is a third view of Soviet intentions, which says that since those intentions are unknowable they should be ignored. The classic military approach is to prepare against capabilities and assume the worst intentions. But that is a prescription for an unending arms race, and almost certainly for a war, since in that situation each side will consider itself secure only if it makes pessimistic assumptions and ensures that its capabilities exceed those of its adversary. What one side regards as a responsible "defensive" response to a threatening military posture looks to the other side like a preparation for aggressive war or political blackmail.

There is no way, then, of avoiding a serious assessment of Soviet intentions in developing a sensible arms policy. Such assessments are in fact always made, either explicitly or implicitly. To adopt either the view of the pessimists-that the U.S.S.R. will relentlessly project its power by military means until opposed by equal or greater power-or the view of the optimists-that it is a status quo power beset with internal problems-is unwise and unnecessary. A serious view of Soviet intentions must be dynamic, that is, it must try to understand the relationship between Soviet decisions and external pressures, particularly the impact of U.S. policies. Arms reduction agreements should be designed to create controlled situations for testing intentions. In order to do so, they must be sufficiently broad and unambiguous to provide a framework for a significant demilitarization of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union that is quite different from the regulated arms race provided by SALT II.

To create situations for testing intentions requires a hypothesis about Soviet behavior from which to start. What do the Soviets want? Their 62-year history suggests that, like the leaders of most nations, the managers of the Soviet state have a hierarchy of foreign policy objectives. The most basic is to safeguard the physical security of the czarist empire they inherited. The next is to maintain control over the ancient kingdoms of Eastern Europe and the half of Germany they occupied during the Second World War. The third is to project their political influence in the world on a scale equal to the United States, and some day to become the number one power. There is no clash between the first objective and American security. It is a long time since this country defined its security as requiring the return of capitalism to Russia. As for the second objective, the situation in Eastern Europe is not ideal from a human rights standpoint, to say the least, but it does not threaten the United States, nor is there any way that the intrusion of U.S. military power could change the status quo. That was shown long ago in the streets of Budapest, when it proved impossible to turn Captive Nations Day rhetoric into an effective American foreign policy. The real clash between Soviet and American objectives concerns the role the Soviet Union aspires to play on the world stage.

Ever since the end of World War II the Soviet Union has tried to establish its legitimacy as a world power. In the beginning the strategy was merely to assert the claim. "The Soviet Union should take the place that is due it and therefore should have bases in the Mediterranean for its merchant fleet," said Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov at the London Foreign Ministers Conference in December 1945. In the same period they also asked for a share in the occupation of Japan. When the claims were summarily rejected by the West, nothing more was said about them. The early crises of the cold war-the Czechoslovak coup, the tightening of control over Eastern Europe, the Berlin Blockade-were attempts to consolidate power over the World War II conquests.

As the Soviet Union recovered from the war it became more active abroad. In the Khrushchev years (1957-63), a time Zbigniew Brzezinski has called the era of "premature Soviet globalism," the Soviet Union gave aid to such far-flung regimes as Sukarno's in Indonesia and Castro's in Cuba. At the same time, a general support for "wars of national liberation" was proclaimed, although actual support was selective and, except for Vietnam and Cuba, largely ineffective. The culmination of the era of "premature globalism" was the Cuban missile crisis, which had two objectives: first, to defend the communist regime 90 miles from Florida with the same sort of bold stroke the United States had used many times to protect Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon, its clients close to the Soviet Union; second, to proclaim that the era of U.S. nuclear superiority had come to an end. The Soviets could now directly threaten U.S. territory and bring their missiles to bear on political crises as the United States had done so many times. The move succeeded in its first purpose and failed in its second. Indeed, the confrontation dramatized the reality that the United States had a huge military superiority which, American officials immediately made clear, they intended to keep. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told a Senate Committee in 1964 that "any disarmament treaty or agreement . . . that we participate in must be one in which we maintain what I call our favorable differential balance of power." The theory remained that U.S. strategic power to threaten the Soviet homeland and the capacity to project conventional forces to every corner of the globe were necessary to contain Soviet expansionism.

The Soviets immediately launched a military buildup that was designed to erase the American political advantage, and to make sure, as their diplomats kept saying, that future confrontations would never be resolved in the same humiliating way. In the intervening years the military buildup has continued at a steady pace; Soviet rhetoric is much more moderate than in Khrushchev's time, with the former chairman openly condemned as an adventurer; and as the Soviets have built up their missiles they have stopped rattling them. But they are exhibiting a greater willingness to project power at a distance where the opportunity presents itself, notably in Africa.

Just as in military hardware the Soviet Union has been three to five years behind the United States in developing major new weapons systems, so in acquiring the political accoutrements of superpower status-"show the flag" naval power, proxy armies, military aid-the Soviets have been imitators. Compared with the far-flung network of bases, alliances, aid programs and covert operations maintained over the years by the United States, the Soviet effort is modest; but we should assume that in the present environment it will increase. Like their now impressive military forces, the increased propensity to take political risks in, say, Africa, are designed to make a statement: anything the United States can do, we can do-perhaps not on the same scale, but for the first time we are now in the same league.

As Soviet military power has increased, their political problems have multiplied. The Chinese enmity is an obsession and the U.S.-China rapprochement poses the nightmare of a two-front war. The splintering of the international communist movement has made it clear, if illusions ever existed, that the triumph of political movements in other countries calling themselves Marxist does not necessarily add to the power of the Soviet state. The record of Soviet expulsions from the Middle East and Africa-Egypt, Sudan, Somalia-suggests that even in areas of great political vulnerability for the United States, the Soviet Union finds it hard to triumph. In summary, fantasies about world leadership may indeed motivate Soviet leaders but, as they themselves are aware, their practical prospects in a world in unbelievably rapid transition are most uncertain. One thing is clear, however: because of the enormous changes that have taken place in the world, no nation can reasonably aspire to the position of supremacy the United States, by virtue of the unique circumstances of the postwar world, occupied from 1945 to 1965. For this reason, Soviet aspirations in themselves are not a proper benchmark for setting U.S. policy.

There is nothing to suggest from the history of the arms race so far that either a weapons buildup by the United States or the achievement of marginal arms control arrangements will cause the Soviet Union to downgrade the importance of military power in its foreign policy. Indeed, the contrary is true. It is vital to U.S. security and to its economic health to induce the Soviet Union to accept a significant demilitarization of superpower relationships, because such a step is crucial for reducing the growing risks of nuclear war. It is also a precondition for limiting the worldwide arms traffic and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.


A negotiating framework for demilitarizing the U.S.-Soviet relationship and for reversing the arms race would need to have clear goals and make explicit recognition of the interrelatedness of such crucial matters as strategic weapons, conventional forces in Europe and overseas bases. Such a framework would really represent a return to the approach embodied in the McCloy-Zorin Agreement of Principles of 1961 for staged comprehensive disarmament agreements leading to "general and complete disarmament." That approach was abandoned in the mid-1960s in favor of piecemeal negotiations on strategic weapons systems and later on conventional force reductions in Europe, because broad agreements were considered visionary or-worse-cynical propaganda. Step-by-step negotiations were considered the "serious" way to confront the arms race. When the Soviets stopped talking about "general and complete disarmament" and entered negotiations for the control of ICBMs, they demonstrated, as Henry Kissinger and others used to say, that they were "serious." But for many reasons-the relentless pace of technological development, the volatility of political moods in the United States, the cumbersome Soviet bureaucracy-small agreements may turn out to be more visionary than substantial agreements, that is, agreements with benefits for both sides that clearly outweigh the risks, and with the ability to communicate unambiguous intentions.

Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can embrace "general and complete disarmament" as an operational goal at this point; for this reason, the rhetoric in President Carter's inaugural address about moving to "zero nuclear weapons" was not particularly helpful. But both powers can establish a realistic set of common goals for substantial disarmament and demilitarization that could significantly improve the political climate, reduce the risks of confrontation, and improve the security of both the American and Soviet peoples.

What are the criteria for practical arms limitation agreements that can create a positive political climate in which it becomes possible to reverse the arms race? Four, I believe, are crucial. The first requirement is that the agreement demonstrably increase perceptions of security on both sides. Since limitations on nuclear weapons may appear to favor one side or the other if the conventional arms race continues, both must be included in the same negotiating framework-superpower relations and the security of Europe must be dealt with together. Second, the new arms relationship should have clear economic payoffs for both sides. Third, the principle of "rough equivalence" should be extended not only to numbers and characteristics of weapons systems, but to other aspects of the military relationship, including the right to acquire bases and to threaten the homeland of either power from such bases. Fourth, the primary purpose of the agreement should be to remove ambiguities about intentions. To that end, agreements that require and produce significant internal changes in the national security establishments of both societies would provide in themselves the best sort of verification, for they show clear political commitment and direction which is not easy to reverse. Thus, a serious program for conversion of military industry in both countries would be an important source of reassurance, for it would require the willingness of leaders in both societies to confront powerful interests with a bureaucratic and ideological commitment to the arms race.

The single most important measure toward fulfilling the four criteria I have proposed would be a mutually agreed-upon three-year moratorium on the procurement, testing and deployment of all bombers, missiles and warheads. During that period, the signatories would undertake to negotiate a formula for making across-the-board reductions in their strategic nuclear arsenals. The mutual moratorium, not unlike that which preceded the negotiation of the atmospheric test ban, would enable the negotiators to keep ahead of technological development and would create a much more favorable climate for the ratification of long-term agreements.

The greatest perceived threats are not the weapons already built, although they are more than adequate to destroy both societies, but the weapons about to be built. New weapons systems convey threatening intentions and raise unanswerable questions: Are the Soviets seeking "superiority"? If so, is it to neutralize the effects of 30 years of U.S. "superiority," or do they really expect to play a similar role themselves in the next 30 years? No one can provide definitive answers about these matters. To have the questions occupy center stage is already disturbing the political atmosphere, and introducing a note of hysteria into a set of issues on which the soberest judgments must be made.

The question of ultimate intentions cannot be answered, but it can be rendered irrelevant by an agreement which is sufficiently clear and comprehensive. Within a controlled but continuing nuclear arms race there is always room for arguing that the agreement favors one side or the other. However, a freeze on all new nuclear weapons systems would make it clear that both sides indeed intend to stop the arms race.

It is in the interest of the United States to press for a halt of nuclear weapons and missile production this year. A rough balance of nuclear forces now exists-a balance which, in the view of the Administration, still favors the United States. The next round of the arms race can only work to the economic and strategic disadvantage of this country and create new perils for the entire world. The Soviet Union has made a public proposal for an end to new nuclear weapons systems, although its exact significance cannot be assessed until it becomes the subject of negotiation.

To supplement a moratorium on the nuclear buildup, the United States and the Soviet Union should enter into a "no-firstuse" agreement. This suggestion has been made often in the past and the Soviets periodically propose it, but the United States has always insisted upon reserving its right to use nuclear weapons first because the option is considered crucial for the defense of Europe. However, in the context of a broad negotiating framework for reversing the arms race, a no-first-use declaration is in the interest of the West. It is some inhibition against the resort to nuclear blackmail-the very threat the next escalation of the arms race presumably is designed to counter. It would codify an international consensus that nuclear warheads are neither legitimate weapons of war, nor instruments of diplomatic pressure, but only instruments of punishment for the crime of using nuclear weapons. A permissive attitude toward making nuclear threats plays into the hands of terrorists, small powers, dissident groups and the like, and can only work against the interests of every great power. The no-first-use agreement would set a political context within which each side could undertake a series of unilateral steps with respect to nuclear deployments and doctrine for the purpose of eliciting reciprocation and providing reassurance. Such steps should include shifting away from counterforce weapons, war-fighting technology, preemptive strike doctrines, and other apparatus for initiating controlled nuclear war.

The argument that a no-first-use agreement would undermine the defense of Europe is unpersuasive, since the capability of the Soviet Union to overrun Western Europe cannot be effectively countered by the threat to use nuclear weapons. Turning the expanse between the Seine and the Elbe into a radioactive wasteland, as has happened in various NATO war games, is no defense. The threat to spark a worldwide nuclear war, which is all a nuclear strategy for defending Europe is, merely emphasizes the weakness and contradiction in the present NATO security strategy. The ritualistic pledge to "defend your land as if it were our own" that President Carter delivered in Germany last May, implying as it does the sacrifice of Chicago and Detroit to "save" Frankfort and Munich, simply underscores the fundamental dilemma of Western defense.

Given European perceptions about the need to be "defended" by nuclear weapons, however, a no-first-use agreement should be linked to a phased elimination of Soviet missiles aimed at Western Europe. Thus, while a no-first-use agreement should apply equally everywhere, it should come into force only when agreements for redeployment of forces in Europe are also implemented.

The third element of a comprehensive framework for reversing the arms race would deal with European theater forces and overseas bases. Geographical asymmetries have always complicated arms negotiations. The Soviet Union enjoys a military advantage in Europe by virtue of the fact that it is a continental power and can bring its military might to bear on Europe more easily than can the United States, while the United States has a far greater geopolitical reach around the world. Although the Soviet navy is expanding in numbers and in its missions, at this point there is no comparison between the U.S. global network of bases, ships, and alliances and Soviet capabilities for projecting military, diplomatic or economic power at a distance. Since neither instance of military superiority can be translated into stable political power, there may be a mutual interest in trading one off against the other.

The MBFR talks, a technical sideshow in U.S.-Soviet negotiations, reflect the low priority both sides now assign to the crucial goal of stabilizing and reversing the arms race in Europe. These talks should be incorporated into the broader negotiating framework. By giving new importance to the issue, the two alliances would have a better chance of coming to agreement on substantial troop reductions and redeployments to reduce the threat of surprise attack. Within this context the Soviet Union should be asked to agree to the phased elimination of its nuclear missiles aimed at Europe.

In return for this asymmetrical Soviet concession, the United States would agree to phase out all foreign bases now used to station nuclear strike forces capable of hitting the Soviet Union. Such U.S. forward bases are a prime example of a structure that served a function in one generation that cannot be continued in the next. As a symbol of U.S. economic and military preeminence, those bases, it could be argued, provided forms of international stability in the bipolar world of the postwar era. But that world has now gone. The principal argument against the proposal that I have offered is that a substantial dismantling of those bases in return for a halt on Soviet deployments would create instability, because it might provide incentive for the acquisition of independent military capabilities by a variety of actors.

Competition with the Soviets over troop deployment and bases will hardly contribute to stability. Maintaining a U.S. military shield for the global array of nations we used to call the "free world" is no longer feasible. The collapse of the Shah is a good example of the inherent instability of the old arrangements based on exporting enormous quantities of U.S. military technology and stationing large numbers of Americans abroad. Since the United States finds it increasingly difficult to defend embattled regimes with military power in the face of local factors over which it has no control, the prospects for stability will depend more and more upon building an international consensus for demilitarization and on insulating local conflicts from superpower rivalries to the greatest possible extent.

A substantial portion of the U.S. military budget goes for the projection of military power abroad, not for the defense of the continental territory. The United States is unlikely to acquire any new bases, while the Soviets have better prospects of doing so, particularly in Africa. The acquisition of Soviet bases creates the possibility of dangerous confrontation, as almost happened over the Cienfuegos base in Cuba. A freeze on the acquisition of bases would now be clearly in the interest of the United States. It would be in the interest of the Soviet Union, too, if the United States agreed to remove certain bases which the U.S.S.R. finds particularly threatening. To negotiate U.S. withdrawal from or demilitarization of a variety of military installations around the world would be a significant concession in the eyes of the Soviets. (Some bases on the periphery of the Soviet Union are, it is true, used for intelligence, and would serve a verification function in an arms control arrangement. Such bases could be demilitarized and retained for verification purposes, and perhaps be put under international supervision. The French have recently proposed an international verification system.)

A substantial U.S. withdrawal from foreign bases would symbolize the fact that the global ground rules under which the two superpowers are operating are becoming more nearly equal. For exactly that reason, such ideas have always been fiercely resisted by most U.S. strategists. But the reality is that power shifts have taken place and that the Soviets will try to change the ground rules to make them reflect more accurately the new power realities in the world. The attempts may well come in the form of tests of strength and will in local confrontations where the risks of war by miscalculation are considerable. It would be far better to arrive at an understanding of the new ground rules by negotiation than through replays of the Cuban missile crisis under circumstances far less favorable to the United States.


The freeze on new strategic systems, the change in nuclear doctrine symbolized by the no-first-use agreement, the ban on proliferation of bases, base withdrawals, force reductions and redeployments in Europe make up a framework of negotiation that could lead to a significant demilitarization of the U.S.-Soviet competition and to a demonstrably safer world. It will no doubt be argued that to link nuclear to conventional arms and super-power relations to the issue of European security, while throwing in the long dormant issue of foreign bases, is impossibly complicated. If we have such trouble arriving at limited agreements on strategic weapons alone, how can this larger package be negotiable?

The history of the negotiations suggests that "small" agreements (they never look small to the negotiators) have a fatal flaw. Because they take a cut at one piece of the security problem, they necessarily favor or appear to favor one side. A larger package improves the chances of taking account of asymmetries of geography and military establishments, and of balancing advantages and disadvantages on all sides. Even more to the point, a comprehensive agreement along the lines I have suggested has a destination, namely, a politico-military environment which is significantly different from what we have and a great deal more attractive than what we are likely to have if the arms race continues. Within a clear framework for reversing the arms race, risks that are unacceptable in the context of a continuing arms race become more acceptable because there is a greater payoff.

There are many ways to arrive at the point I have sketched. One way is to keep the basic agreements extremely simple-a nuclear weapons production and deployment freeze, a no-first-use agreement, equal force levels in Europe, a ban on acquisition of bases-and to supplement bilateral agreements with coordinated but independent initiatives, such as a Soviet phase-out of European-targeted missiles and a U.S. unilateral base withdrawal program. To do anything, however, requires placing a higher value on the process of demilitarization than on the fairness of the "military balance" at any given moment.

The superpowers will never agree to reverse the arms race without a prior reassessment of the political value of present and projected force levels in the world they now confront. That reassessment has not yet taken place in the United States, but it is long overdue. Were it to be made, the first new national security policy for the United States in 30 years would, I believe, emerge. Reversing the arms race will not happen until disarmament agreements become instruments of, rather than contradictions to, national security policy. And only when that happens will the agreements produce positive political consequences.

Why should the United States reassess the return it is getting on its massive investment in military power? The world in which present expectations from military investment and the ground rules for realizing them were formulated was vastly different from the one we face today. It was a world emerging from the chaos of World War II and one in which the United States had a unique role to play in constructing and maintaining the postwar international structure. Whether it was the right structure, or whether the United States should have acted differently, is now beside the point. What is important is that an extraordinary combination of economic and military power at that moment in history made possible a Pax Americana that lasted 20 years, and that that moment is over. Indeed, it came to end about ten years ago.

We have yet to grasp the historical meaning of the stark events of the past decade: the inability to impose the American will upon a third-rate power in Indochina despite an enormous commitment of military might; the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary arrangements that symbolized the global rule of the dollar; the disturbance of the international economy due to the shift in power over oil; the urgent pressure for a reordering of North-South economic relations; the systemic economic problems of the Western world; inflation; unemployment; ecological deterioration; and, most serious of all, a gathering cynicism about the capacity of the modern democratic state to solve its problems. But one thing seems clear. None of these developments that threaten American society and the West as a whole can be ascribed to Soviet strategy. The neat bipolar world for which our national security policy was conceived is so far from the present complex reality that the Russians are not even in a position to benefit from any of our recent misfortunes, including the defeat in Vietnam.

Another aspect of the new reality is that none of the major threats to American power, economic stability, and prestige can be allayed by the use of military power. Just as the tragic pictures of the last U.S. planes abandoning besieged Saigon symbolized the inability of the United States to project its military power successfully into a distant revolution, so, too, do the billions of dollars worth of sophisticated military hardware lying idle beside the struck oilfields and burning buildings in Iran symbolize the irrelevance of imported military power to domestic political movements, once those movements achieve a certain sweep and dynamism. (For those who refuse to believe that the most pressing national security problems facing the United States cannot be solved by force, it is always tempting to ascribe failures like Vietnam and Iran to the wrong choices of military technology; but there is nothing to suggest that bringing in the Los Angeles Police Department rather than the F14s would have saved the Shah.) Military power will no longer enable us to shore up the dollar, to preserve access to critical resources, or to exert political influence in the way we did. Military superiority did not prevent the consolidation of the Soviet control over eastern Germany, the most impressive example of their expansion to date-and an action taken at a time when the United States alone had the atomic bomb. Nor did it intimidate Soviet leaders from making their country a dangerous military power.

The long-term interest of the United States is in the sort of political stability in the world that can support the economic relations on which the maintenance of American democracy depends. The military investment has been primarily designed to reinforce certain models of development in Third World countries and to discourage others. The fate of the Shah and the likely fate of the Mobutu regime in Zaïre suggest that a reassessment of longterm interests, and a more skeptical look at what military power can do to achieve those interests, is overdue. Our world-wide military apparatus is an anachronism in a world in which our major corporations are developing long-term relations with revolutionary regimes in China, Angola, and elsewhere.

What is true for us about the political payoffs of military power is, happily, as true or truer for the Soviet Union. Its nuclear stockpiles did not keep China from defying it; indeed the nuclear issue seems to have triggered much of the bitterness and paranoia in Peking about the "social imperialists." The vaunted Soviet superiority in conventional weapons in Europe has failed so far not only to produce "finlandization" in Paris and Bonn or any noticeable effort in that direction, but it has even failed to secure compliance in Bucharest with Moscow-directed targets for defense spending. A long list of recipients of Soviet military assistance, including Guinea, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia, have shown how grateful or intimidated they were by keeping the gifts and throwing out the givers. The complexities and perils of the new world order into which we are heading has made it difficult for the Kremlin to bring its military might to bear on the crisis in Iran, a nation on the Soviet border, a historic Russian objective and, were Soviet control to emerge, a powerful symbol of a shift in the world balance of forces. What the Soviets have developed through the acquisition of military power is the increasing capacity to neutralize U.S. military power. Thus, a relatively risk-free operation like the 1958 U.S. intervention in Lebanon is no longer feasible because of the presence of the Soviet Mediterranean fleet. Now, a similar intervention would involve risks of a naval war and therefore, presumably, would not be tried.

To achieve these diminishing returns from the accumulation of military power, both superpowers are being forced to make ever greater investments. These investments have not only an economic cost-increasingly, they have a national security cost as well. The Soviet Union, many observers believe, faces a series of fundamental domestic challenges: a sluggish economy, inefficient agriculture, the impending ascendancy of a non-Russian majority, the hazards of political succession, and the rise of a variety of dissident movements. The heavy burden of the military preempts not just scarce capital, but political energy and managerial skill needed to address the real threats facing Soviet society. Because of the military burden, the Soviet Union is unable to develop its productive capacity. Instead of developing a domestic capacity to satisfy the sharply increased expectations of Soviet citizens for a better diet and a better standard of living, Soviet leaders find themselves importing grain to support the new meat-eating habits of the population and deferring critical investments in the engines of the economy.

With respect to the United States, too, the negative correlations between increased arms spending and security are becoming clearer. The military budget is a major element in the federal deficit which is feeding a dangerous inflation. The cumulative military burden of 30 years has helped to enable less burdened commercial rivals, West Germany and Japan, to secure competitive advantages in the world export market. The military emphasis, which gave a boost to employment and to the gross national product a generation ago by financing jet aircraft and electronics technology, has over time distorted the technological thrust of the nation. Military spinoffs for the civilian market in the 1960s and 1970s have been few; the dominant role of the Pentagon in research and development has preempted talent and research dollars, and has contributed to the slowdown in innovation for essential civilian markets.2 The 30-year cumulative effect of maintaining the worldwide military apparatus has adversely affected the U.S. balance of payments and led to the weakening of the dollar.

In a time of austerity, increasing the military budget while the domestic programs are being slashed raises the issue, not of guns versus butter, but of missiles versus the local police and firefighters. The distortion of priorities has become so acute that as the Administration counsels a three percent "real" increase in military spending each year, essential services in every major American city are being cut. To suggest that the threat of "finlandization" in Europe is a greater threat to the people of Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles or Detroit than the loss of social services, the breakdown of the education system, the rise in crime, the alarming increase in infant mortality, the impending municipal bankruptcies, or the failure to invest in an alternative energy system is to distort national security strategy, and to misconstrue the meaning of "strength".

The argument for a national security policy based on a new process of demilitarization of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry rests, therefore, on two developments that have taken place in the last decade which affect both nations in similar ways: diminishing returns and increased risks from the deployment of military power, and steeply rising costs of the military establishment, which increasingly are forcing unacceptable and dangerous domestic choices.

There are numerous objections that can be levelled at any effort to break the arms logjam. What if China does not cooperate? If China seriously believes that the Soviet Union is bent on a military takeover of the world, then it should welcome arms agreements sufficiently broad and significant to dispel such suspicions. At any rate, a three-year moratorium provides the time to try to secure Chinese cooperation; if it is not forthcoming, no Chinese military developments in that period could significantly change the military environment or disturb the possibilities of a new and more stable relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.

A serious new effort to reverse the arms race that goes well beyond SALT II is essential to stop the drift toward war. The war that all seek to avoid will most likely come as the First World War came-by miscalculation. Moreover, the risks of such miscalculation are multiplying. Some are inherent in military technology itself, as in the trend toward counterforce weapons and limited war doctrines, which induces military planners to design preemptive strategies and to move toward advanced states of readiness for their nuclear forces. Other risks flow from the new international economic and monetary disorder of the 1970s. And, meanwhile, four hundred billion dollars a year in armaments are spread across the planet. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can control the new rush of political developments that is transforming the familiar world we have chosen to simplify with old catchwords like "cold war" and "détente," but the illusion of control persists, and with it the danger of fatal confrontation.

It has been fashionable for a few years to note that the overwhelming problems facing mankind are not rooted in the "cold war," but in the challenge of creating an international order that will accommodate North and South, offer the possibility of stable economic growth, and promote the sensible use of scarce resources. Old habits of mind persist, however, and the Carter Administration, no less than its predecessors, seems caught in the trap of equating national security with military hardware. When two rival nations are caught in the same trap because neither can make sense of a world that defies control by any nation, the greatest threat of all is the fatalistic belief that the war no one wants cannot be avoided.


1 Robert G. Bell, "U.S. and Soviet Strategic Weapons Systems and Programs Permitted Under the Tentative SALT II Accord," The Library of Congress Congressional Research Service, January 4, 1979.

2 According to Science Indicators-1976 of the U.S. National Science Board of the National Science Foundation (pp. 186-87), 64 percent of government research and development in the United States is in defense and space, but only 15 percent in West Germany and seven percent in Japan. See also Seymour Melman, The Permanent War Economy, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1974. A ranking Commerce Department official quoted by Professor Melman reports that government studies indicate that no more than between five and ten percent of military expenditures have a civilian spinoff. See also Melman's "Inflation and Unemployment as Products of War Economy," in Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1978. For the negative effects of military expenditures on technological development, see J. Hollomon and A. Harger, "America's Technological Dilemma," Technology Review, July-August 1971; A. Szymanski, "Military Spending and Economic Stagnation," American Journal of Sociology, July 1973; W.M. Leonard, "Research and Development in Industrial Growth," Journal of Political Economy, March-April 1971.

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  • Richard J. Barnet is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is the author of Roots of War, and, most recently, The Giants: Russia and America, among other works.
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