Courtesy Reuters

Arms Control After the Cold War

For the past 30 years, arms control has been central to the U.S.-Soviet relationship. Now, if the cold war is over, what will be the role of arms control? On the one hand, the relaxed political climate improves the prospects for reaching and ratifying agreements. On the other, improved U.S.-Soviet relations also reduce anxiety about nuclear weapons and urgency about arms control initiatives. Polls show that Americans are now more worried about the state of the U.S. economy and drugs than about the Soviet Union and threat of nuclear weapons.

Geopolitical analysts warn about the diffusion of power in world politics; the spread of chemical and ballistic missile technologies to some 20 nations in the next decade will pose a new type of security threat. Some critics assail the Bush Administration for moving too slowly on the traditional bipolar strategic arms control agenda; others call for giving a higher priority to proliferation and multilateral measures. Still others continue to warn that all arms control agreements are a snare and a delusion. The new twist for the time ahead is that the United States and the Soviet Union, though remaining antagonists on the traditional agenda, will find themselves to be partners in some of the emerging problems of arms control.


The 1980s began with a sharp debate about the merits of arms control. Many officials in the Reagan Administration contended that arms control was more of a problem than a solution; it lulled public opinion in Western democracies into accepting Soviet strategic superiority. While the pressure of public opinion brought the administration back to arms control negotiations within its first year, little was accomplished until 1986. Then, in its last two years, the Reagan Administration signed an Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement, causing consternation among many of the president's most ardent supporters. In addition, the administration made substantial progress toward a treaty in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START).

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