Negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union on nuclear arms control are at an impasse. Following the deployment in Europe of the first U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles in the fall of 1983, the Soviet Union walked out of the negotiations on intermediate-range forces (INF) and refused to agree to a resumption date for the negotiations on strategic nuclear forces (START). Whether and under what conditions the negotiations will resume is uncertain.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union indicate that they are abiding by the unratified SALT II treaty, but that treaty will expire at the end of 1985. The Reagan Administration has been unwilling to say that it would then continue to observe the SALT II limits, as it is currently doing for the expired SALT I agreement on offensive forces. In both the START and INF negotiations, the approaches embodied in the U.S. and Soviet proposals differ fundamentally. And within the United States, the arms control debate-on the freeze, the build-down, deep reductions-has polarized rather than reconciled differences. Congressional support for new strategic programs, including the MX, has been conditioned on a serious arms control effort. Political figures have sought to achieve public and legislative consensus by combining as many of the various arms control proposals as possible.

The hiatus in the negotiations provides an opportunity to step back and reconsider the overall utility of nuclear arms control and the objectives the United States should seek in negotiations with the Soviet Union.

The prospective utility of arms control is reflected in the many objectives that agreements can be designed to serve. They can provide greater confidence as to the future characteristics and size of the nuclear force postures of each side than would exist in the absence of any agreements. They can reduce the number of nuclear weapons, to decrease both the cost of maintaining a nuclear balance and the reliance of governments on nuclear weapons in their foreign and defense policies. They can constrain modernization, either overall or of the most destabilizing kinds of threats, e.g., accurate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which can destroy missile silos in a preemptive strike. They can improve crisis stability by reducing the vulnerability of each side's nuclear forces. By moderating the competition, they can both reassure Western publics and reduce the degree to which each side's buildup becomes an independent source of tension.

It is important to understand, however, that an agreement will probably not achieve all these aims, let alone the more sweeping goals-such as ending the risk of nuclear war-that have often been promised by advocates of various arms control proposals. Negotiations with the Soviet Union cannot be expected to produce in the foreseeable future nuclear force postures with fewer than many thousands of nuclear weapons. Nuclear war will still be possible and its catastrophic consequences will not be changed. Moreover, negotiations would have to produce fairly significant reductions or limits on new weapons to arrest the drift toward more vulnerable nuclear forces and toward greater instabilities as a consequence of the introduction of new technologies. These technologies mean that new systems will have improved counterforce or hard-target kill capability. The side that uses nuclear weapons first will have some advantages in the forces that survive. The instabilities should not, however, be exaggerated. Deterrence is maintained by the fact that each side will have a retaliatory capability to inflict massive devastation against military as well as urban/industrial targets. A general thermonuclear exchange would destroy both sides.

It also remains difficult to design arms control proposals that appear to be equitable. The strategic nuclear forces of the United States and the Soviet Union differ both in size and in their characteristics. Their modernization programs are at different stages. And as a general rule in proposals designed to achieve equal ceilings, the Soviet Union would be required to make larger reductions than the United States.

This article reviews the current U.S. and Soviet approaches to nuclear arms control as well as several alternatives. It notes the various criticisms of these and then develops another approach. It concludes by defining the considerations that should guide the design of a U.S. negotiating proposal for both strategic nuclear forces and "gray area" systems.1


In the absence of any arms control agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union would be expected to deploy new land- and sea-based missiles, to modernize their bombers, and to introduce long-range cruise missiles. The resulting balance in 1990 would show each side with approximately 15,000 strategic nuclear weapons, or about 5,000 more than today. The Soviet Union would increase its advantage in missile throw-weight, while the United States would continue to lead in total strategic nuclear warheads as well as in warheads carried on SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles) and in bomber weapons. Each side would have sufficient missile warheads to threaten the other side's ICBMs, even in a mobile or some other alternative basing mode.2

The SALT II treaty of 1979 placed limits through 1985 on the number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (2,250), of MIRVed missiles (those with multiple independent warheads), plus bombers with cruise missiles (1,320), of MIRVed land- and sea-based missiles (1,200), and of MIRVed land-based missiles (820). In the absence of ratification, the Soviet Union has not, however, met the schedule of reductions to 2,250. Both sides are also limited to only one new ICBM. The United States has raised questions about whether Soviet testing of two ICBMs, the SS-X-24 and SS-X-25, is a violation.3

One approach to nuclear arms control would be simply to extend the SALT II treaty beyond 1985-or to modify the treaty by establishing new ceilings as the Soviet Union has proposed. Its current START proposal calls for a reduction to 1,800 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles as well as a reduction in each of the SALT II subceilings: to 1,200 for MIRVed missiles plus bombers with cruise missiles; to 1,080 for MIRVed missiles; and to 680 for land-based MIRVed missiles. It would also ban sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) with a range greater than 600 km.

The objectives of extending or modifying the SALT II agreement would be as in past negotiations: to place some constraints on the buildup of strategic nuclear forces on both sides; to achieve modest reductions; to introduce some degree of predictability into the calculations about future capabilities; and to deny certain kinds of modernization, especially in destabilizing weapons.

An extension of SALT II beyond 1985, or adoption of the Soviet START proposal, would permit the United States and the Soviet Union to maintain strategic nuclear forces similar to those they have today, with the Soviet Union emphasizing land-based ICBMs and the United States a more balanced triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers. Each side would be able to introduce its planned modernization program to 1990 as currently projected. For the United States this would include the MX missile, the Trident submarine and Trident II missile, and the B-1 bomber. The Soviet Union would be able to modernize its ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers while retaining its SS-18 heavy missiles and its SS-19 missiles.

Each side would, however, be required to reduce some of its existing strategic nuclear forces to pursue its planned modernization and still meet the various ceilings. The United States would have to dismantle perhaps one-third of its Minuteman II and MIRVed Minuteman III ICBMs. The Soviet Union, under its own proposal, would have to retire about one-half its present number of single-warhead ICBMs and SLBMs and bombers, and some of its MIRVed ICBMs.

In this approach, the overall number of strategic nuclear weapons on each side in 1990 would be larger than today. The United States would have over 14,000, and the Soviet Union about 11,000.4 The Soviet Union would retain a substantial advantage in ICBM missile warheads and throw-weight. The United States would still lead in SLBM warheads and in bomber weapons. Given the number of missiles that would be permitted and the projected improvements in their accuracies, the force postures on each side would become more vulnerable. The task of reducing ICBM vulnerability through rebasing would also be quite difficult.

It is understandable that extension or modification of the SALT II treaty is attractive to the Soviet Union, as it protects the planned Soviet strategic nuclear modernization program. It does not require changes in the characteristics of the Soviet strategic force posture. And it calls for only minimal reductions in older systems.

While this approach would produce some reductions and would protect the planned U.S. strategic modernization program, it would be vulnerable to the same criticisms in the United States as those directed in the past against the SALT II treaty: that it fails to constrain the nuclear arms buildup and leaves the Soviet Union with advantages in missile throw-weight. Moreover, it would do little in the future to reduce the instabilities and vulnerabilities caused by each side's ability to introduce new and more accurate nuclear weapons.


The Reagan Administration has adopted a very different arms control approach. It has been particularly concerned with the instabilities created by land-based missiles with multiple warheads and by what it sees as disparities in the destructive capability of the nuclear forces on each side. The current U.S. START proposal calls for a reduction in the number of ICBM and SLBM warheads from current levels of over 8,000 to a ceiling of 5,000. It seeks to redress the Soviet advantage in missile throw-weight through limits on medium and heavy missiles, i.e., the Soviet SS-17, SS-18 and SS-19. It calls for a ceiling on the number of bombers at planned U.S. levels, or 400, and includes the Soviet Backfire bomber. It places no constraints on sea-launched cruise missiles.5

This U.S. START proposal would require a major restructuring and reduction in the Soviet strategic nuclear force posture, while permitting the United States to pursue its current modernization plans. With the number of missile warheads limited to 5,000, both sides should be able through rebasing to deploy survivable ICBMs. Under its proposal, the United States would have to retire its Minuteman II missiles as well as some combination of about 800 Minuteman III and Poseidon missiles. While such reductions would be significant, they would come largely from highly vulnerable and aging ICBMs.

The Soviet Union, by contrast, would be required to make much greater reductions and would face some fairly difficult choices. One way it could meet in 1990 the overall warhead ceiling of 5,000 warheads would be to reduce approximately 1,000 of its 1,400 current land-based missiles, including all of its single-warhead ICBMs; dismantle all of its single-warhead sea-based missiles; and deploy substantially less than its planned number of sea-based missiles with multiple warheads. The bomber ceiling would require the Soviet Union to retire its Bear and Bison bombers and trade away Backfire bombers for a new bomber with cruise missiles. The Soviet Union is not likely to agree to so radical a restructuring of its strategic nuclear forces.


Critics of the U.S. and Soviet negotiating approaches in START have introduced a number of alternative arms control proposals, including the nuclear freeze, a build-down of nuclear forces, and movement to single-warhead missiles.6 These proposals tend to seek specific as well as substantial arms control objectives. As in the case of the U.S. START proposal, each of these would have the effect of producing major changes in the planned nuclear force postures of one or both sides.

The alternative proposal that has won the most public support is the freeze. Supporters of the freeze see modernization as the main problem. The freeze would ban the testing, production, and deployment of all new missiles and aircraft that have nuclear weapons as their sole or main payload. The specific objective of the freeze is to preclude the deployment of weapons with improved counterforce capability. According to freeze advocates, these weapons increase the risk of nuclear war by putting pressure on political leaders to launch weapons first in a crisis or to move to postures of launch on warning.7

A freeze proposal that prohibits modernization after 1985 would leave the Soviet Union its present, largely modernized ICBM force but halt its programs for the new SS-X-24 and SS-X-25 ICBMs. These missiles have solid fuel, improved accuracies, and are projected to be mobile as well as silo-based. The freeze would also prevent the United States from deploying a new ICBM, either the MX or the single-warhead mobile Midgetman. The United States would have a more modernized SLBM force than the Soviet Union, with about twice as many sea-based missiles with multiple warheads. But it would have to forgo its program for developing a new and more accurate Trident II missile. The Soviet Union could not complete the deployment of its planned MIRVed sea-based missile force. Under a freeze, neither side would be able to introduce new ICBMs in survivable basing modes, or modernize its bomber force. For the United States, the B-1, the Advanced Technology Bomber (Stealth) and any additional B-52s with air-launched cruise missiles would be prohibited; the Soviet Union could not deploy a new long-range bomber with or without cruise missiles. Each side's program for sea-launched cruise missiles with nuclear warheads would have to be cancelled. Non-nuclear systems, such as those for air defense and for anti-submarine warfare, also affect the nuclear balance but these would not be limited under a freeze.

Members of Congress, seeking to gain a commitment to arms control from the Reagan Administration in return for their own support of the MX program, introduced in 1983 proposals for a build-down of nuclear forces. The basic principle of these proposals is for the parties to eliminate some agreed number of nuclear warheads from their operational inventories for each new strategic nuclear warhead they deploy. The purpose of the build-down is to forestall an open-ended arms race while permitting modernization to replace aging and less survivable systems. The price of modernization would be reductions. The build-down would create an incentive to find new systems that are more survivable than the ones being replaced. Since the limits would be on warheads rather than launchers, it could also encourage smaller and more survivable ICBMs.8

Various ratios of reductions to modernization are possible. Formulas could seek proportionately greater reductions in destabilizing systems, e.g., ICBMs or missiles with multiple warheads. One reduction formula calls for the retirement of two old warheads or bombs for each new ICBM warhead, three old warheads or bombs for two new SLBM warheads, and one for each new bomber weapon. Under this formula, which also favors the areas of greatest U.S. advantage, the United States could pursue its planned strategic modernization programs for 1990, by dismantling the Minuteman II and Poseidon missile forces, the penetrating B-52 bombers, and about one-half of the Minuteman III force. To deploy its modernization program for 1990, the Soviet Union, under the same formula, would have to make more significant reductions, including all its older single-warhead missiles and bombers and most of its land-based MIRVed ICBMs.

Unless some build-down was obligatory-for example, minimum warhead reductions of five percent per year have been suggested-each side would have the option of not pursuing any modernization. If both sides exercised this choice, the proposal for a build-down would turn into a freeze. Having just completed a major modernization of its ICBMs, the Soviet Union is in a better position than the United States to forgo modernization or slow down its planned programs. By not introducing any more ICBMs, the Soviets, under the same build-down formula, would be able to maintain most of their SS-18 and SS-19 missiles and pursue their planned SLBM program.

A particular problem with the build-down is that it moves counter to one of the main goals of arms control-to increase predictability about future nuclear force postures. Each side would have almost infinite choices as to whether and how to modernize and reduce its nuclear forces. A build-down formula could result in any of a wide variety of outcomes, with no preset end point at which to judge whether the resulting nuclear balance or force postures are acceptable.

A third arms control proposal calls for each side to move to single-warhead missiles. It would require the phasing out of missiles with multiple warheads and forbid deployment of new land- and sea-based MIRVed missiles. The objective would be to improve over time the survivability of the missile and bomber forces. With only single-warhead missiles, neither side could expect to be able to destroy all the other side's ICBMs in a preemptive attack.9

MIRVed missiles could be phased out in any number of ways. During the transition, each side would retain its current advantages: the Soviet Union in ICBM warheads and throw-weight, the United States in overall weapons as well as in SLBM warheads and in bomber weapons. The Soviet Union would be able to keep its 1,300 older single-warhead missiles. The United States would retain as single-warhead missiles only the 450 Minuteman II. The Soviet Union by 1990 would be able to introduce a new single-warhead land-based missile. The United States could not be expected to deploy such a missile on land or at sea until the early 1990s.

These three proposals have different objectives but each seeks major changes in the nuclear balance as it is currently projected. The individual proposals are not necessarily distinct alternatives. They could be combined or put into effect in phases. Some supporters of the freeze have noted the possibility that exceptions could be negotiated to permit new single-warhead missiles. One way to proceed toward single-warhead missiles would be through a build-down formula which would give each side the opportunity to introduce a new land- or sea-based MIRVed missile. This would have the effect of producing more symmetrical MIRV forces during the transition.


From the perspective of the United States, these three alternative proposals have attractive features. The United States has sought many of their objectives in SALT. Under each of the proposals, the United States would retain an advantage in the overall number of strategic nuclear weapons as well as in SLBM warheads and bomber weapons. The United States under the build-down would be able to pursue its planned modernization program for 1990. Except for the freeze, the proposals produce U.S. and Soviet nuclear force postures that are more alike in terms of their emphasis on particular kinds of nuclear systems and more equal by major static indices than those of today. But because of the current characteristics of the nuclear forces of each side, certain disparities will inevitably remain.

Western publics are currently demanding that nuclear arms negotiations produce reductions in the number of nuclear weapons and constraints on new nuclear systems. Each of these proposals meets one or both of these standards. Western publics also tend to require U.S. arms control proposals to have the appearance of fairness, i.e., the advantages need to be balanced and the requirements for reductions equitable. They suspect that otherwise nothing will ever be agreed. By this standard, the freeze has been criticized, as might be the proposal for a build-down.

Although some in the United States find one or another of these alternative proposals appealing, the Soviet Union will probably not be drawn to any of them. They each constrain in one way or another the strategic modernization program the Soviet Union appears to have planned for 1990. If the Soviet Union were willing to forgo further ICBM modernization, it might find the proposals somewhat more attractive. While the freeze and build-down proposals permit the Soviet Union to keep some or all of its SS-18 missiles, the price of doing so would be considerable in terms of reductions in either older or planned systems.

The Soviet Union has consistently sought in negotiations with the United States its own restructuring objectives. It has in some proposals called for no new submarines, new heavy bombers, or new cruise missiles. But it has not presented proposals for constraining its own modernization programs or for restructuring its own nuclear force posture. The Soviet Union has simply not been interested in-indeed it has steadfastly opposed-persistent U.S. efforts to reduce the emphasis on land-based missiles.

The Soviet Union has been critical of the various Reagan arms control proposals, including those for deep missile reductions and for a build-down. It has publicly called for a nuclear freeze. Given the lag in the U.S. ICBM modernization program as compared with that of the Soviet Union, as well as current Soviet advantages in ICBM throw-weight, the Soviet Union might find the freeze acceptable. Whether these public postures represent serious Soviet negotiating positions is not known.


None of these proposals then would seem likely to provide a means of breaking the impasse in the negotiations. A different approach would be to establish overall equivalence at lower levels in the strategic nuclear forces postures of each side. So as not to give an advantage to one side or the other, this approach would include limits on both missiles and bombers and cover both weapons and throw-weight. To that end, equal ceilings would be established for combined missile and bomber warheads and combined missile and bomber throw-weight.10 The levels would be negotiated according to what each side was prepared to accept in terms of protecting or reducing its existing forces or those planned for the future. Under the ceilings, modernization would be permitted.

Such an approach would recognize the political imperative in the United States for reductions as well as for parity in a future arms control agreement. But it would seek to balance the burdens on the two sides of reaching the reduced levels. It would also leave some flexibility for each side to design and structure its nuclear forces under equal ceilings to meet its own strategic requirements.

A proposal for overall equivalence could establish ceilings of 6,500 equivalent missile and bomber warheads and eight million pounds of equivalent missile and bomber throw-weight. A subceiling for ballistic missile warheads at 6,000 could also be added to improve the chances of achieving survivable ICBM forces through rebasing.

Under this particular proposal, the United States would be able to deploy in 1990 its planned missile and bomber force. It would have to retire all its Minuteman II and III missiles and about one-half of its penetrating B-52 bombers. The Soviet Union could maintain a strategic nuclear force posture with characteristics similar to the one it has planned. While it would have to make fairly major reductions, these could be spread across its existing MIRVed ICBM and planned SLBM force. It could also deploy new bombers with cruise missiles in lieu of its current bomber force.

The ceilings in this proposal could be raised to permit the Soviet Union to complete the modernization of its SLBMs. Or the ceilings could be lowered to constrain the planned U.S. modernization program and to reduce the Soviet SS-18 missile force.

The overall equivalence approach establishes equality through a balancing of asymmetries. The Soviet Union would continue to have a substantial advantage in ICBM warheads and throw-weight. The United States would retain an advantage in overall strategic nuclear weapons, in bomber weapons, and in SLBM warheads.

In terms of flexibility, the Soviet Union would be able to continue to emphasize heavy land-based ICBMs and the United States a balanced triad. Or each side could exercise the right to introduce nuclear force postures more like those of the other side. The Soviet Union could, for example, trade some of its SS-18s and SS-19s for SLBMs or bombers. The United States could even deploy a new heavier ICBM. But such a restructuring would not be mandated.

The concept behind the approach-equivalence through balancing asymmetries-should be easy to explain to the Soviet Union and Western publics. Obviously, the alternative concept of superiority for either side is not going to be acceptable. Whether overall equivalence at lower levels would prove negotiable is uncertain. It would test Soviet receptivity to reductions without requiring a drastic restructuring of the Soviet nuclear force posture. Introducing throw-weight limits may not appeal to the Soviet Union, though application of those limits to bombers should ease the difficulty.


Once the United States has decided upon its overall objectives and approach for negotiating on strategic nuclear forces, it will need to consider a number of gray area issues. One is procedural and has to do with the negotiating forum for strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces. To bring the Soviet Union back into the negotiations, it may be useful to combine the delegations and the discussions in Geneva on INF and START. This would be consistent with the 1979 NATO decision which called for negotiations within the framework of SALT III.

But whether to expand the scope of a potential agreement on strategic nuclear forces to cover INF is a separate, and substantive, issue. It is true that by combining strategic and intermediate nuclear forces under one ceiling, the United States would avoid the problem of where to include the so-called "gray area" systems-the Soviet Backfire bomber, the U.S. FB-111 bomber, and sea-launched cruise missiles-which now fall between the START and INF negotiations. Further, Europeans tend to favor combined ceilings so as to avoid the appearance of a separate Euro-strategic balance with its implication of decoupling of U.S. strategic nuclear forces from the defense of Europe. A combined ceiling on strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces would permit each side flexibility in deciding which kinds of forces to emphasize and could provide a means of gaining reductions in Soviet INF in exchange for limits on certain U.S. strategic nuclear forces.11

Expanding the scope of a START agreement would, however, create some other problems. The most important for both the United States and the Soviet Union is that their strategic and their intermediate-range nuclear forces serve different political and military purposes. Neither may wish to trade off between these forces under combined ceilings. Second, the difficulty of establishing rules for inclusion and exclusion does not disappear, for the category of intermediate-range forces must be defined. Because each side will have flexibility to trade off among many different kinds of weapons under combined ceilings, less certainty will exist as to the characteristics of future nuclear force postures on both sides.

Finally, it will be difficult to design an equitable agreement combining strategic and intermediate-range forces, given the current Soviet advantages in INF. Warhead levels high enough to permit the United States to pursue its planned strategic and INF modernization program would still require the Soviet Union either to eliminate a large number of its INF missiles and aircraft or else to constrain its own planned strategic modernization program. Higher levels would give the United States the opportunity to gain advantages in strategic nuclear forces. A combined overall ceiling on strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces is thus not as attractive as it may first appear.

The SALT II Protocol included limits until 1981 on sea-launched cruise missiles with a range over 600 km. Much of the American but essentially none of the Soviet urban-industrial and military target system is vulnerable to SLCMs with a range of less than 600 km. To provide symmetrical limits, a future agreement would need to cover SLCMs with a range greater than about 200 km.

Whether the United States should agree to any limits on SLCMs is difficult to say given the uncertainty which currently surrounds the mission of this weapon. It has been presented both as a strategic reserve force and as a complement to U.S. theater nuclear capabilities. What is clear is that verifying an agreement on SLCMs will create many problems. The U.S. Navy is planning to deploy thousands of SLCMs on both surface ships and submarines. Some will be conventional and others nuclear. The Soviet Union also deploys conventional and nuclear SLCMs. For purposes of verification, ceilings on SLCMs will need to include both conventional and nuclear missiles, unless they can be made readily distinguishable-a difficult task and probably impossible if the launch tubes are the same. Before deploying SLCMs with nuclear warheads, the United States should determine that the military value of this system is worth the problems it will create for arms control or that it is not possible to achieve equitable SLCM limitations.

Another gray area issue for the United States is how to treat British and French nuclear forces. The British and French currently plan to modernize their nuclear forces. In each case, the number of warheads will increase considerably, although for the British not before the mid-1990s. Including these systems in Soviet-American limits would create major political difficulties for Britain and France. The United States has also opposed Soviet proposals for including these forces in SALT or in the INF negotiations, arguing that British and French nuclear forces are not under the control of the United States. More important, the United States would be left with an inferiority vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, if it were formally to include British and French nuclear forces within its own ceilings in a Soviet-American arms control agreement.

If strategic and intermediate-range forces are included under a combined ceiling, it could become more difficult to resist pressures to include British and French systems formally. At the same time, it may then be easier to treat those systems indirectly under a combined ceiling at fairly high levels.

While British and French nuclear forces will need to be taken into account at some point, this should be done without explicitly including them in the formal Soviet-American limits. One way of proceeding would be to negotiate a separate agreement constraining British and French forces to some fraction of those of the United States and the Soviet Union. Another way would be to give the Soviet Union tacit compensation by the fact that it will probably end up in a future arms control agreement with an advantage in the numbers of missile launchers.


Does the United States have an interest in negotiating arms control agreements with the Soviet Union? The American public now insists upon a serious arms control effort. But there is a more important reason than just domestic pressures: the United States will be better off if it can equitably limit nuclear forces on both sides. Even if an agreement does not make force levels in the early 1990s much lower than they would have been without an agreement, it can serve to keep them much lower after that period than they would have been in its absence. It would also provide more certainty as to the future nuclear force postures of each side, thus a more predictable context for force planning. The interests of the United States would, thus, be served at least to a modest degree, as they were in SALT II, if an equitable agreement is reached, even though it does not produce a major restructuring in the nuclear forces of either side. The United States should, therefore, plan to continue to observe the SALT II limits, as long as the Soviet Union does also, even after they expire in 1985.

Some restructuring will naturally result from interactions between the force planning of the two sides as well as from any arms control constraints which require choices in modernization among various types of nuclear forces. The question then becomes how restructuring should be helped by specific agreements. What kinds of modernization should be permitted or prohibited?

Advocates of the freeze oppose all modernization, arguing that new weapons increase the risk of nuclear war. Opponents suggest that modernization is required to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear forces and to ensure comparable counterforce capabilities with the Soviet Union. Underlying the arguments of both groups is a concern for stability. Stability is in fact primarily a matter of how each side manages its overall political relations. But to the extent that the strategic nuclear force postures play a role, their survivability is most critical.

Arms control agreements should, therefore, be designed to improve the overall survivability of the nuclear forces of both sides. This can best be done through a combination of steps: by reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons and particularly of ballistic missile warheads; by permitting certain kinds of modernization (e.g., mobile missiles); by allowing the rebasing of ICBMs; by regulating the introduction of new missiles; and by phasing out or preferentially reducing certain kinds of older systems (e.g., MIRVed missiles).

The United States will also need to ensure that any limits in future arms control agreements will be equal. The question is through what method: equality in a narrow set of measures, or a balancing of asymmetries in a broader set? A balancing of asymmetries is really all that is practical, given the existing nuclear force postures and the fact that the Soviets are not likely to be more willing to adopt the U.S. nuclear force posture than the United States would be willing to adopt theirs.

In future negotiations, the United States will not lack bargaining material to achieve these various objectives, for it will be producing the MX and Trident II missiles, the B-1 and long-range cruise missiles. To say that any future limits must protect all these programs would imply that the United States needs all of these new systems regardless of what constraints and reductions can be negotiated on Soviet nuclear forces. And this is certainly not the case. U.S. force modernization requirements are not absolute. They clearly depend upon expected Soviet offensive and defensive capabilities.

In return for deferring the modernization of its missiles (the MX and Trident II), the United States could seek, for example, a reduction in Soviet missiles with hard-target kill capability to a modest fraction of their present number. Each side would then find it equally difficult to destroy the other side's ICBM force. The Soviet Union is not likely to agree to such a major reduction. Unless limits can be placed on Soviet air defenses, the United States will need to modernize its bomber force. But the United States could always decide on the basis of its own analysis of requirement and costs not to proceed with parts of its currently planned strategic program.

By way of conclusion, arms control agreements can be designed to help the United States ensure that its nuclear forces are sufficiently capable and survivable to provide for deterrence through the threat of effective retaliation. Arms control, thereby, contributes indirectly to the maintenance of peace and the avoidance of nuclear war. To that end, U.S. objectives in a future nuclear arms control agreement with the Soviet Union should be to constrain the overall buildup of nuclear weapons, to pursue a combination of steps to promote the survivability of the nuclear forces on both sides, and to establish overall equality under a broad set of measures.

How best to achieve these objectives will depend on the domestic political situation in the United States and on the tactics of negotiating with the Soviet Union. The SALT II treaty could be modified; the nuclear freeze proposal could be adjusted; the various ideas now included in the U.S. START proposal could be fleshed out. But for a variety of reasons, it will be politically difficult for supporters of each of these to abandon their current positions. Thus, some version of the proposal for overall equivalence at reduced levels may be the best way to proceed, since it is consistent with the central goals of arms control, and it provides both equity and flexibility.

But far more important than the specific details of an arms control proposal is that we come to a consensus in the United States on the need for a Soviet-American nuclear arms control agreement and then on a set of objectives which we can sustain through a prolonged negotiating process and the ensuing debate over ratification. It is now time to settle on our overall arms control approach and to get serious negotiations underway.

1 The reader will find the detailed analysis supporting the conclusions in this article in "Nuclear Arms Control Choices," SAIS Papers in International Affairs, Boulder (Colo.): Westview Press/Foreign Policy Institute, 1984. In that paper, the authors project the balance of U.S. and Soviet strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces for 1990, define illustrative nuclear force postures in 1990 for the various arms control proposals in the current debate, and analyze the resulting Soviet-American nuclear balances in terms of the commonly accepted static indicators: missiles and bombers; missile warheads and bomber weapons; and missile throw-weight.

2 In the discussion which follows, the ABM Treaty of 1972 is assumed to remain in effect through the 1980s. By that Treaty, arms control demonstrated that it can play a major role in preserving each side's retaliatory capability and, thus, stability through mutual deterrence. President Reagan proposed in March 1983 to pursue development of an extensive strategic defensive system, for the purpose of replacing the threat of nuclear retaliation with an effective active defense as the basis for deterrence. To deploy such a system, would require major amendment or abrogation of the ABM Treaty and an entirely different approach to the control of offensive nuclear weapons.

4 The Soviet proposal also calls for unspecified limits on the aggregate number of nuclear weapons. This may be intended to forestall the U.S. lead in overall weapons. For a description of the Soviet START proposal, see The New York Times, July 14, 1983, and Arms Control, op. cit, p. 7.

6 The Reagan Administration in the fall of 1983 incorporated a version of the build-down into its negotiating approach.

9 The Report of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces in April 1983 suggested an approach toward arms control that is consistent with the deployment of a small single-warhead ICBM. Congressman Albert Gore, Jr. introduced into the Congressional Record in August 1982 an arms control proposal for moving to single-warhead missiles. This proposal is reprinted in Survival, July/August 1983, p. 187.

10 The major task in this approach is to devise a way to equate bomber weapons with missile warheads and bomber payload with missile throw-weight. For this purpose, a set of counting rules will need to be defined. This is not too difficult for missiles. The counting rules agreed in SALT II for warheads per missile should suffice. Each side will also need to provide its missile throw-weights, which could then be verified by national technical means. Counting rules for bombers will be necessarily more difficult and somewhat arbitrary because of the inherent flexibility in their payloads and weapons. But the payload and number of weapons of a bomber are roughly proportional to its gross take-off weight (GTW). The GTW can also be verified by national technical means. One way to proceed would be first to establish the payload and number of weapons that will be counted for a B-52 as being equivalent to missile throw-weight and missile warheads. Then, the equivalent payload and weapons of other bombers will be calculated using the B-52 as the standard.

The weapons payload of the B-52 is approximately 20,000 pounds. This will be defined as its equivalent missile throw-weight. The B-52 can carry up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles or about half that number of bombs or short-range attack missiles. But the number to be used for equivalent missile warheads will need to take into account the fact that air defenses are not limited. A reduction of 50 percent in bomber weapons has, therefore, been assumed, which means the equivalent number of warheads for B-52s with cruise missiles becomes 10, and for B-52s as a penetrator it is 5. The equivalent throw-weight and warheads of any other bomber will be equal to the ratio of its GTW to that of the B-52, multiplied by the numbers assigned above for the B-52's equivalent throw-weight and warheads.



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  • Harold Brown, currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, was Secretary of Defense from 1977 to 1981. He had previously held other senior positions in the Pentagon from 1961 to 1969 and was a member of the U.S. delegation for the SALT I and SALT II negotiations between 1969 and 1977. Lynn E. Davis is Professor of Military Strategy at the National War College; she was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Plans, 1977-81. The views in this paper are those of the authors and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Defense or the National War College.
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