This article is adapted from the concluding chapter in Nuclear Arms: Ethics, Strategy, Politics, ed. R. James Woolsey, San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1984, and is printed by permission of the publisher. Copyright (c) 1984, Institute for Contemporary Studies.

As the Soviet Union has steadily improved its strategic nuclear and other military forces in recent years, it has become increasingly clear to Americans that the United States is vulnerable in a sense that was never true before the advent of nuclear weapons.

This type of vulnerability had its first major impact on the U.S. political debate following the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe and development of nuclear weapons in the late 1940s and then, again, during our last great national paroxysm of concern about strategic and nuclear issues at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. But this third time around our reaction has been different and less sure-footed.

Our primary response, as a nation, to the first evidence of our new vulnerability was overwhelmingly positive. Dean Acheson, Arthur Vandenberg and other farsighted statesmen built a bipartisan consensus for the NATO Alliance even at the same time as our fears helped produce bitter political recriminations about other issues-e.g., "who lost China," and the responsibility for the Korean War.

The second major wave of public concern-over the Soviet space and missile programs, fallout, atmospheric nuclear testing, nuclear crises, the missile gap, and so on-was fueled initially by the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 and then by Khrushchev's missile-rattling, the Berlin crisis of 1961, and the Cuba missile crisis of 1962. Our response as a nation to those events, and to the sense of national vulnerability and fear they produced, was extraordinary. We made a major and effective national effort in education with the National Defense Education Act; undertook the space program that led to the moon landings; and initiated two extremely successful and well-managed strategic programs: the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the Polaris submarine and missile. Neither was arms control neglected; the Limited Test Ban Treaty was negotiated and the first steps that led later to the Non-Proliferation Treaty were taken. Indeed, most Americans believed that it was not inconsistent for us both to build our national strength-whether with new high school science and math courses or with increased activity at the submarine construction yards-and also to work out agreements with the Soviets where such were possible and reasonable.

During the intervening years, however, the U.S. government was largely occupied by Vietnam and by undertaking significant increases in its domestic programs for health, social security and other social needs. In foreign policy, the years and the language of détente led a number of Americans to believe that peace had broken out in some fundamentally new way between the United States and the Soviet Union.


Events at the end of the 1970s starkly interrupted our reveries. Although there had been some concern as a result of earlier setbacks, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, together with the fall of the Shah and the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-80, bludgeoned American consciousness at virtually the same time that we finally focused on the results of the Soviet military buildup of the 1970s. These events, and the impression of national weakness and drift they produced, played a major role in the 1980 presidential election.

The Reagan Administration took office riding upon what many of its members and supporters thought was a political wave as large as that which had begun to surge in the election of 1932-i.e., the first evidence of a political sea change. In its first year, the Administration concentrated heavily on domestic economic issues such as its program of tax reduction; it proposed major funding increases in ongoing defense programs, but left the clear impression that it would deal with arms control, Democrats, and other matters of secondary importance in its own good time. Events, its own mistakes, and its opponents conspired against such a schedule.

At the heart of the Administration's delays in coming to a position for both intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) talks and strategic arms talks (formerly SALT, now START) was a sound principle-namely, that arms control and strategy should work hand in hand. Many in the Reagan Administration reasoned that they could not sensibly develop an arms control position until they had in mind what strategy they intended to pursue and what major steps they planned with respect to strategic systems.

But the delays in reaching arms control positions proved to be very costly politically. The Administration announced its approach toward the INF talks-the "Zero Option" to prohibit intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe-in November 1981, over a year after the 1980 election. This delay, although shorter than the delay required to develop a position for the strategic talks (described below), apparently resulted almost entirely from the difficulties of getting started in this new area of arms control and from internal Administration disagreements. Even though there were no external causes for the delay, it took considerable time for the stasis to be broken by the then-weak National Security Council machinery. Those who remembered previous Republican administrations' behavior-either the domination of arms control policy, from the NSC, by Henry Kissinger or the expeditious decision-making in the same forum (flavored with a considerably greater amount of due process) under his successor, Brent Scowcroft-were amazed to hear of senior-level meetings on arms control where people just sort of came and talked and went away.

In 1981 it seemed that, in many ways, the Administration's laissez-faire views on the economy had carried over into important aspects of national security policy. Indeed cabinet-level and subcabinet-level officials during this period seemed determined to air their individual views on nuclear issues without giving careful thought to how their various musings would strike the public or affect the political debate. The low point was probably the public disagreement between the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense over whether U.S. plans did or did not call for a "demonstration" launch of one or a few nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional Soviet attack in Europe. But other officials also made their share of disturbing contributions to the public discourse-e.g., from the White House staff came an estimate of a "40 percent" chance of nuclear war, and from a Defense Department official came the suggestion that hand shovels could readily deal with the problem of nuclear fallout. To the public, including many friends and supporters of the Administration, it seemed that the government was taking the subject of nuclear war rather too casually. To those who wished to use such slips for their own purposes, the Administration's willingness to let a hundred flowers bloom on this most sensitive subject was highly welcome and gleefully exploited.

In the field of strategic arms control the delay in reaching a government position was even longer than it was for the INF talks and, at least in this country, even more politically devastating. From the beginning, the issue that bedeviled the strategic arms control decision was the problem of finding a basing mode for the MX missile and making arms control policy fit with it.

During the 1980 political campaign the Reagan Administration-to-be had become committed to the MX missile, but opposed to the basing mode (the multiple protective shelter, or MPS, system) that the Carter Administration had developed for it. This was probably in no small part because of political problems that were being created in the western states by the MX's imminent deployment there. In any event, the new Secretary of Defense convened a committee early in 1981, chaired by Nobel laureate Professor Charles Townes of the University of California, and asked it to develop a basing mode for the MX. The new Administration had spurned the Carter Administration's solutions; but, given the decision to modernize the U.S. ICBM force using a missile weighing nearly 100 tons, and given the need to mesh that deployment with an approach toward arms control, the Carter Administration had done its work reasonably well. The MX, based in MPS, and SALT II were not an ideal package, but the Reagan Administration was soon to learn how difficult it was to produce an alternative.

The Townes Committee from the beginning saw that the problem it had been handed was an extremely difficult one and not at all susceptible to quick solution. As it labored through the late winter, spring and summer of 1981, it came up with several possible ways to base the MX that, over the long run, might ensure that it would be adequately survivable in case of attack. The committee suggested that the most promising technical solution was to base the missile in an aircraft having great fuel efficiency and designed to be able to patrol (primarily over ocean areas) for long periods of time. Its technical studies convinced the committee that an aircraft could be designed to be roughly the same weight as a 747 or C5A but to have approximately ten times the fuel efficiency-by using composite materials, turboprop engines and a specially designed wing. It further felt that such fuel efficiency would make it feasible to keep a portion of these aircraft on airborne alert continuously (as was done, at considerable cost, with B-52 bombers for several years), giving a potential attacker a significantly different problem than would be faced by trying to attack land-based or sea-based missiles or bombers on airfields.

Such an approach was highly innovative, however, and the committee recognized that the survivability of such an aircraft would depend upon a careful assessment of future Soviet electronics, intelligence systems, and weapons that might be able to threaten it-and the possible countermeasures to these threats. Thus the Townes Committee recommended that other long-range solutions be investigated, including deep underground basing. It also suggested an investigation of basing the missiles in closely spaced and hardened silos so that any Soviet attack planner would face the complication of "fratricide," the phenomenon wherein one of his attacking warheads would destroy or disrupt the trajectory of others. In addition to these long-range possibilities, a significant majority of the committee was sufficiently concerned with the need to provide a hedge (in case none of the long-term solutions worked out), and sufficiently impressed by the need not to delay the MX program unilaterally in the face of Soviet strategic deployments and pressures on the NATO Alliance, that it made an additional recommendation: it called for MX deployment to begin in a small number of shelters, designed in such a way that these could be expanded into an MPS system if no other long-run alternative worked out.

As a technical and strategic group with a limited charter (essentially, "find a survivable basing mode for a 100-ton missile"), the Townes Committee did a creditable job. It seriously considered the notion-outside its formal charter but certainly not outside the realm of reason-of recommending the cancellation of the MX and the development, in its stead, of a small, single-warhead ICBM. Such an ICBM had been attracting able and articulate supporters for some years from across a wide range of the political and strategic spectrum, among them Herbert York, Paul Nitze, Senator John Glenn, Congressman Albert Gore, Albert Wohlstetter, William Van Cleave, Jan Lodal and Henry Kissinger. But no particular basing mode for a small missile commended itself then to the committee as superior to basing in continuous-patrol aircraft, and that mode was not radically more difficult for a 100-ton missile than for a small one.

These deliberations took several months and, when they were over, two things became quickly apparent. The recommendation of the majority of the committee to begin a limited, expandable deployment of the MX in shelters was popular in the Air Force but not in the Administration. The continuous-patrol aircraft was popular in the Administration (at least at the top) but not in the Air Force.

The Air Force and the Administration each then proceeded to kill the other's solution to the MX basing problem. The Administration rejected the idea of beginning a limited, expandable MPS deployment, and instead vacillated among other short-term basing modes-putting the MX in Titan silos, in Minuteman silos, or in C5A aircraft. None of these seemed reasonable to the Congress in light of the uncertainty about a long-term solution. One after the other, all such interim solutions died aborning. The Air Force, and some civilians, were concerned about the need to develop countermeasures to protect the continuous-patrol aircraft. In any case, the Air Force was opposed to developing a fourth new big aircraft just when it was working to develop two new strategic bombers and a new long-range transport. It feared that one of them would be killed in Congress. It also wanted an MX basing mode with lower annual operating costs than would be required by any kind of basing in an aircraft. Thus the Air Force, and members of Congress who were impressed by its skepticism, ended the brief life of continuous airborne patrol.

These political difficulties were augmented by the fact that the Townes Committee had made no effort to broker a solution politically with the military services, the Congress, or other interested parties. Such had not been its charge. But it was now the end of 1981, and the Administration had no way to base its new ICBM and no position on strategic arms control.


By the beginning of 1982, the Administration and the Air Force finally began to work together and reached a tentative decision to proceed with a single basing mode for the MX-namely, closely spaced basing of MX silos, subsequently termed "dense pack." This basic concept was one of the long-term ideas that had been suggested, but merely for preliminary technical investigation, by the Townes Committee. About the same time, the Administration decided to postpone further the presentation of a strategic arms control proposal to the Soviets in light of the recent Soviet-sponsored crackdown on Solidarity in Poland. Thus it was May of 1982, one and one-half years into the Administration, before its original START proposal was put forward by the President.

During 1982 a new committee, of somewhat different composition but still under the chairmanship of the redoubtable Charles Townes, was asked by the Department of Defense to assess the technical feasibility of the dense-pack basing mode for the MX. Thus the second Townes Committee's charter was even more limited than that of the first. By the end of the year it had given the concept a carefully hedged and cautious technical approval.

The original START proposal advanced by the Reagan Administration in May was not the initial public success that the "Zero Option" had been for the INF talks. The START proposal was rather complex-in this regard somewhat like the SALT II agreement it was designed to replace. The original proposal also was silent on a number of points, proposed delaying bomber limitations to a later phase of the talks, and lacked a single clear underlying principle. The Administration thus left itself without a proposal that could be readily explained to the public-and also open to the accusation that it was seeking to use arms control to restructure Soviet military forces significantly and quickly by demanding large reductions in Soviet forces while proposing no effective limitations on U.S. forces (such as bombers) in return.

By this time in mid-1982 both the nuclear freeze movement and work on the American Catholic bishops' pastoral letter were in full swing. Both were closely followed in the media and both were widely taken to represent significant shifts in opinion on nuclear issues-one on the part of the public, the other on the part of a major (and heretofore, on military issues, relatively conservative) religious institution. The midterm elections in November 1982 could not be characterized as a catastrophe for the Administration, but they were doubtless not a pleasant experience. The Administration held its majority in the Senate, although a number of Republican senators were narrow victors in the face of challengers who supported the nuclear freeze and who heavily criticized the Administration and its supporters on nuclear questions. Freeze resolutions, in different forms, were passed in a number of states and localities. And, most importantly, the Administration lost a net 26 seats in the House of Representatives. The shift in support in the House was greater, moreover, than the margin of 52 votes suggested by this shift in 26 seats, because many congressmen who retired and were replaced by new members from their own party had been generally more conservative on defense issues than the newcomers.

In the lame-duck session following the 1982 election, the Administration-forced by the timing of congressional deadlines-submitted its dense-pack basing mode for the MX to Congress for approval. This timing and the complexity of the proposal (including especially the features dealing with fratricide) doomed it. It was roundly defeated in the House, 245 to 176, on December 7, 1982. Testing and production funds for the MX in the Fiscal Year 1983 budget were held up by the legislation until the Administration reported to Congress on strategic and arms control questions and until affirmative votes for the MX funds were obtained in both houses.

Thus, by the beginning of its third year, the feeling of confidence that had been present in early 1981-the conviction that the Administration had both the time and the public and congressional support to work its will on strategic programs and arms control matters-had wholly evaporated.

In these straits, the Administration took the requirement for a report to Congress as the occasion to form a presidential commission with a very broad charter to report to the President on the same issues. The commission, chaired by Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft (USAF, Ret.), who had been President Ford's national security advisor, was also charged to consult with Congress in developing its overall recommendations. Thus the commission that began to meet in January of 1983 under Scowcroft's chairmanship was formed in response to the political chaos of the previous two years on strategic and arms control questions. It was faced with a potpourri of technical, strategic and policy questions, and a political situation in which the executive branch was committed to the MX but the House of Representatives was thought to be 50-100 votes more opposed to the continuation of the MX program than the members of the previous, lame-duck session, who had decided by 69 votes in December to freeze the MX funds.

As the Scowcroft Commission began to deliberate, several matters became clear. First, the modernization of the U.S. ICBM force was at the heart of the strategic, arms control and political deadlocks. Other strategic programs were important-particularly improvement of our strategic command, control, and communications-but solutions to the other problems appeared to be reasonably on track and not exceptionally controversial. Second, a modernization program for the ICBM force was important; over the long run this was primarily necessary in order to ensure that the ICBMs would be survivable and could serve as a hedge against problems that might develop at a future time in the survivability of the submarine or bomber forces.

It struck a number of commission members, however, that the short-term nature of this survivability problem-the "window of vulnerability" that had been much discussed in 1979 and 1980-had been rather exaggerated. Careful study of some recognized phenomena indicated that the various parts of the strategic forces would probably contribute to one another's survivability for a period of time. In the case of the ICBMs, it was particularly important that it would be very difficult for a number of years to launch an effective simultaneous attack on the U.S. ICBM force and the U.S. bomber force-because of the different flight times of the different Soviet missiles that would be used in any such attack.

Third, whatever solution was adopted for ICBM modernization, it would have to be integrated closely with a reasonable approach toward arms control. Only if this were done could any modernization program have a decent chance of public and congressional support. Fourth, the major political problem was the conflict between the Administration and the Democrats in the House of Representatives, although the Senate could certainly not be ignored; early consultations with key members of both houses and a careful consideration of their views were essential pieces in the puzzle.

But what, indeed, was the puzzle? The commission implicitly decided rather early that its objective had to be to develop a framework for U.S. strategic force modernization and arms control that could stand the test of time. Only an approach toward both modernization and arms control that had some chance of surviving from one administration to another would be able to reverse the nation's now-chronic pattern of perpetual strife and resulting stalemate on these questions. Each Administration, when it came into office, had fallen into the practice of making major changes in its predecessor's strategic modernization programs and in its approach to arms control. Conservatives and liberals were also now in the habit of organizing mass movements, and building up their direct mail lists, by attacking one another's approaches toward strategic modernization and arms control. One could foresee an endless series of conservative campaigns similar to that in 1979-80 against SALT II, and a similar series of liberal campaigns analogous to the nuclear freeze, with neither side ever being able to muster the congressional consensus needed for either modernization or arms control (including particularly the two-thirds of the Senate needed to approve arms control treaties). Not only did all this bewilder the public and undermine any reasonable chance of obtaining the necessary degree of long-range bipartisan support, it also made the United States an unreliable negotiator of arms control agreements. The Soviets could reasonably look for opportunities to play one part of the American political system off against the other, and then complain when one Administration did not continue or stand behind agreements negotiated by the previous one.

If this was the overall problem, the plausible options for modernizing the U.S. ICBM force seemed three in number. One possibility was to try to modify and improve the dense-pack basing mode for the MX-primarily by using multiple shelters (although in a much smaller land area than had been the case in the Carter Administration's MPS system). This would assume that the MX was the future of the U.S. ICBM force-that the later basing improvements needed for long-run survivability were to be made for the MX system. Such an approach would probably have somewhat de-emphasized the role of fratricide among attacking warheads as a method of assuring MX survivability, and would have instead emphasized the hardness of the shelters and the role of deception as the missiles were moved among shelters within the limited land area. But the issues involved in assessing the degree of hardness that could be attained, the types of attacks that might be planned against such an MX deployment, and the measures and countermeasures that would be involved (including, probably, the need for ballistic missile defense) were quite complicated-in many ways even more complicated than the arguments about electronic measures and countermeasures needed to protect the continuous-patrol aircraft that had taken place during the Townes Committee's deliberations two years previously. Further, there was no assurance that congressional approval could be obtained for this sort of approach.

Alternatively, one might have considered canceling the MX altogether and developing a small, single-warhead ICBM in its place. During the intervening two years since the first Townes Committee's deliberations, this option had begun to appear somewhat more attractive. The Scowcroft Commission's charter was sufficiently broad to encompass such a solution. Experimental data were now available that indicated the possibility of building mobile launchers sufficiently hardened against nuclear effects that such launchers would have some reasonable survivability even if they were deployed only on large military reservations; their mobility would permit them to move off of such reservations in case of actual attack, thereby further significantly complicating the attacker's problem. Moreover, hardened silos or shelters for small missiles (and there was now also some evidence that significant increases in silo hardening might be plausible) might also provide a reasonable deployment method if an arms control agreement or other factors could limit the number of potential attacking warheads to a sufficiently low level. Whether deployed in hardened mobile launchers or in hard silos, a single-warhead missile was inherently a less attractive target than a large MIRVed ICBM. These considerations led to the notion that-if the commission's eventual recommendation indicated a shift toward small, single-warhead ICBMs-the arms control approach adopted by the United States should be one that encouraged both sides to move in that direction. (Indeed, the MX itself could be said to have been, in important part, a product of arms control regimes, such as SALT I and SALT II, that concentrated on limiting the number of launchers and thus created an indirect incentive to put as much capability as possible into each launcher and missile.)

The third option, and the one eventually adopted by the commission, was to proceed with a limited MX deployment in existing silos but to begin promptly the development of a small, single-warhead ICBM, to shift the long-range future of the U.S. ICBM force toward such a small missile, and to shift the arms control approach toward agreements that would promote such an evolution on both sides. This recommendation was thus a first cousin of the package suggested by the majority of the first Townes Committee two years previously, with the important difference that now the solution to the long-run ICBM survivability problems focused on the new, small, single-warhead ICBM.

The reasons for the limited MX deployment's being part of this package were both strategic and political. The strategic advantages included an earlier ability than would be the case with any other program to put at risk Soviet hardened targets and thereby to begin to match, sooner rather than later, the capability that the Soviets had deployed in their SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs. Of great importance, however, was the political dimension of the problem. This meant politics in three senses: the politics of Americans dealing with one another (and the need to achieve a domestic consensus); the politics of the United States' dealing with its allies; and the politics of the United States' negotiating with the Soviet Union and deterring it from nuclear blackmail. On all three counts it was felt by the commission that the United States should not unilaterally cancel its only ongoing ICBM modernization program. The importance of putting together a solution that the Administration and other MX supporters could endorse, the importance of not asking our allies to deploy intermediate-range land-based systems while we would be canceling our own analogous strategic system on land, and the importance of having some bargaining leverage with the Soviets in the ongoing START talks, all militated against unilateral cancellation.

Early soundings with key members of the House and Senate at the beginning of the commission's deliberations indicated that a package such as the third option might be able to achieve enough support to pass the Congress. This was somewhat surprising, because many members of Congress had already expressed themselves as quite hostile to the idea of placing the MX in existing silos, as had, in fact, many members of the commission themselves. It was felt, however, that such opposition had always occurred in the absence of any clear agreement about a sound direction for the U.S. ICBM program over the long run. The commission came to feel that it was a reasonable bet that, when it was explained that such a deployment was only part of a package that pointed both the U.S. ICBM program and arms control in a very different direction for the long run, such an interim MX deployment in silos might be able to obtain the needed support. In order for such an approach to work, however, a number of members of Congress had to be convinced that the Administration was willing to undertake some major changes in its strategic programs, in its approach toward arms control, and in its attitude toward bipartisanship-particularly toward Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Consultations with Congress were early and extensive, including numerous breakfasts at Blair House in which the commission explained the options before it and sought the advice of members of both houses. There were many other meetings individually with senators and representatives, and with groups such as the Task Force on National Security of the House Democratic Caucus. The early participation of key Democratic House members-in particular, Les Aspin (Wisc.), Albert Gore (Tenn.), Norman Dicks (Wash.) and Thomas Foley (Wash.)-was central to this effort.

Following the commission's report and the President's endorsement of it, the Administration won its first test vote on the MX in May by a margin of 53 votes in the House, but the coalition in support of the commission's package was still a very fragile one. In the next House vote on July 20, the margin was reduced to 13 votes. By midsummer it became clear to the commission and the Administration, as well as to the supporters of the compromise package in the House and Senate, that some further steps were needed in order to hold support.

In the Congress, among some of the most influential of the Administration's supporters on this issue, there was particular concern that the Administration was not carrying out the commission's recommendations on arms control. Informal discussions took place throughout the summer, and on August 25 Congressman Aspin wrote to the commission urging that it take the lead in developing an approach toward arms control more concrete than the somewhat general suggestions that had been included in the commission report in April. Aspin's letter suggested that there could be some grounds for compromise between those who, in the Congress, had argued against constraints on missile destructive capacity (throw-weight) and those who, in the Administration, had argued for quick and sharp throw-weight reductions that would make necessary a major and early reconstruction of the Soviet ICBM force.

Aspin proposed gradual and phased throw-weight reductions. He also argued that the unique character of bombers and the weapons they carried should be taken into consideration in the U.S. proposal, and that bomber limitations should be balanced against limitations on missile destructive capacity. These two suggestions were central to the idea of forging a compromise on the Administration's START position between the Administration and a number of skeptical members of Congress.

Shortly thereafter, early in September, Senators Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.), William Cohen (R.-Maine) and Charles Percy (R.-Ill.) wrote to the commission, urging upon it a set of ideas compatible with those Aspin had advanced-and setting forth these ideas in the form of a modified version of the "build-down" approach toward arms control that had initially been proposed by Senators Cohen and Nunn. Central to the Nunn-Cohen-Percy approach was the idea that strategic arms modernization might, by appropriate arms control agreements, be channeled into more stabilizing directions. Such an approach differed fundamentally from the notion of a nuclear freeze that would seek altogether to halt strategic arms modernization. Nunn, Cohen and Percy suggested a "double build-down"-a steady reduction in ballistic missile warheads and a parallel reduction in the aggregate destructive capacity of ballistic missiles (throw-weight) and of bombers and their weapons. Such a build-down approach, it was urged, could be designed to give incentives to both sides to reduce their most destabilizing systems as they modernized their forces; this would mark a departure from trying to use arms control as an effort by either side to dictate the force structure of the other.

The commission, and particularly its chairman, functioned as a sort of matchmaker in many of these consultations between the interested members of Congress and the Administration. The six key senators and representatives who had been most involved in these discussions-Nunn, Cohen, Percy, Aspin, Gore and Dicks-sent to the Administration a set of arms control principles that the President endorsed and incorporated in a revised arms control approach announced publicly on October 4, 1983.


It is too soon in early 1984 to assess whether this sequence of events and the approach toward arms control and strategic modernization that it produced will have lasting effect. The events of the late summer and autumn of 1983 included the Soviet destruction of a Korean airliner, the attack by truck bomb on the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, and the U.S. military action in Grenada. In addition, as the U.S. deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe began, following formal approval by the West German government, the Soviets walked out of the Geneva talks on intermediate-range nuclear forces in late November and also declined in early December to set a date for resuming the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in 1984. Most seriously for the Alliance, both the Social Democratic Party in Germany and the Labour Party in Britain-previously strong supporters of NATO-have turned against the INF modernization. Overreaching all of this is the continuing uncertainty about Soviet policy under Konstantin Chernenko, in the aftermath of the long illness and death of his predecessor, Yuri Andropov. Indeed-unless the Soviets should prove willing to negotiate a sound and simple agreement-1984 appears at this point to hold only bleak promise, whatever one's perspective on U.S.-Soviet relations, arms control, or the needs of strategy.

Nevertheless, the effort to work cooperatively with the Administration toward a common policy that has been displayed by the group of six members of Congress and a number of their colleagues may have been an important turning point in the U.S. strategic debate and the politics (both domestic and international) of nuclear weapons and arms control. This is not because the Soviets are likely to jump to an early acceptance of the full compromise build-down package worked out between the six members and the Administration during August and September of 1983, nor because the small, single-warhead ICBM is clearly assured of a successful and expeditious development. The problem of producing a positive and unifying overall national response, as we once did, to a strategic challenge by the Soviets is difficult, time-consuming, and multi-faceted. It will be much harder this time, and our beginning has not been nearly so smooth as it was in the late 1940s and late 1950s.

This time we must sort out far more basic issues than was the case either when NATO was being formed or in the aftermath of Sputnik. Our ethical dilemmas and disagreements are severe. Technology holds important perils for the survivability of important types of strategic systems. Thoughtful people disagree about whether arms control is part of the solution or sometimes part of the problem. Important new strategic questions exist about the vulnerability of our society's whole infrastructure to very limited (even non-nuclear) attacks and about the proper use of space. There is a major need to adjust the military forces in our key alliance, NATO, to take advantage of new technology, and to improve our conventional forces, while still maintaining the tie-historically dependent on our nuclear guarantee-to our European allies.

The search through this thicket-the search for a bipartisan national consensus such as that which built NATO and that which guided us at the beginning of the 1960s-will be extremely difficult. The central question is whether we have the will to make such a search-to begin again to work with one another, even on divisive strategic and arms control issues and even in today's climate. If we decide that we are willing, we must change our ways. If we are not, we must ask ourselves, what are are our prospects as a nation?

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  • R. James Woolsey is a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Shea and Gardner, and counsel to the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies. In 1977-79 he was Under Secretary of the Navy; in 1970-73, General Counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and in 1969-70, an adviser on the SALT I delegation. During 1983 he was a member of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces (Scowcroft Commission) and in 1981 he served on the first Townes Committee-both described herein. In October 1983 he was appointed Delegate-at-Large on the U.S. START delegation at Geneva.
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