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).

Some conservatives were outraged by Ronald Reagan's new views: Howard Phillips called him a speech-reader for appeasers.1 But other conservatives base their skepticism on a more general critique of arms control. Irving Kristol, for example, has recently reiterated his charge that arms control agreements do not lead to enduring settlements of conflicts but instead

tend to be slow, tedious and conducted in an atmosphere of skepticism and suspicion. As a result, agreements are likely to have limited scope. Moreover, technological innovations in weaponry, to say nothing of changes in national leadership, will always make an arms control treaty vulnerable to conflicting interpretations or outright indifference.2

Some aspects of this case against arms control have merit. Weapons are symptoms rather than basic causes of hostility. The legalistic approach to seeking compliance with treaties can lead to disproportionate responses in a period of extreme distrust. Arms control negotiations may sometimes slow the process of change. For example, over the past decade NATO has reduced short-range nuclear weapons based in the front lines of Europe. It is quite plausible that efforts to negotiate these reductions in the context of formal arms control agreements would have hindered this stabilizing change. Similarly, some Soviets say that Mikhail Gorbachev announced a unilateral reduction of conventional forces in 1988 at the United Nations rather than at the bargaining table for fear that negotiations would slow the process.

Even some of the founding fathers of modern arms control, such as Thomas Schelling, have expressed skepticism about too much reliance on formal agreements.3 Many strategists believe that types of weapons, their vulnerability and their susceptibility to central control are more important than their numbers. Reductions are not good per se, but must be judged in light of these characteristics. At low numbers, deceptive practices, hidden weapons and breakouts from treaty constraints could have a greater impact on security than at higher levels. However, given the high levels of existing arsenals, reductions would have to be much deeper than currently foreseen before such factors become a serious security problem.

A careful study of the U.S.-Soviet arms control record in the pre-Gorbachev era concluded that critics' fears that arms control agreements would lull the public and weaken the defenses of democracies have not been borne out. On the other hand, the hopes of proponents that arms control would save money and lead to dramatic reductions were not borne out either.

What emerges above all is the modesty of what arms control has wrought. Expectations, for better or worse, for the most part have not been realized. The stridency of the debate, however, provides little clue to this modest reality. . . . If the history reveals anything, it is that arms control has proven neither as promising as some had hoped nor as dangerous as others had feared.4

In the past three decades, arms control agreements were concluded only when neither side had an appreciable advantage; agreements were not reached when either side had a strong preference for development of a new weapon. Based on this modest record, critics argue that arms control contributes little to international stability.

Critics, however, miss the point: arms control is part of a political process. Too often the experts judge arms control proposals on their technical details rather than on their political significance. For example, the INF agreement was militarily insignificant. In fact one could argue that, in terms of stability, by first removing longer-range nuclear missiles from Europe rather than starting with the short-range artillery, the INF agreement seized the wrong end of the stick concerning command and control of weapons during crises. But the political significance of the INF agreement-the improvement in the U.S.-Soviet relationship in the second half of the Reagan Administration-far outweighed the technical problems related to the details of military doctrine.

Arms control reassures the publics in Western democracies. The process is an inevitable and important part of the political bargaining over defense budgets and modernization. Whatever the strategists may say, the public cares about reductions in numbers because it is difficult to grasp other measurements or present them in clear political terms. Numbers matter because they are a readily perceived index. Since a major benefit of arms control is domestic political reassurance, general ceilings or reductions can make important contributions to security and force planning even if the number of weapons alone is a poor measure of the risk of nuclear war.

Arms control also provides reassurances to adversaries. In a sense, all of arms control is a confidence- and security-building measure. By increasing transparency and communication among adversaries, worst case analyses are limited and security dilemmas are alleviated. It may be that the most important aspects of the two Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements were the provisions on open skies for satellite reconnaissance, the agreed counting rules for various types of weapons and the establishment of a Standing Consultative Commission to discuss alleged violations and misunderstandings. In that sense, informal operational arms control and formally negotiated reductions are not exclusive alternatives; they can complement one another.

The agreements on incidents at sea, crisis centers, confidence- and security-building measures in Europe and the recent agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities have been scorned by some experts as the "junk food" of arms control. But the classical distinctions between reductions in arms and measures to build confidence and security have begun to blur. Both structural and operational arms control are parts of a larger process of political reassurance among adversaries.

Skeptics might reply that despite the past political role of arms control, the current climate of U.S.-Soviet relations makes further arms control unnecessary because the public and the Soviets no longer need such reassurance in the Gorbachev era. But such a reply fails to understand the institutional role of arms control agreements. As arms control agreements become accepted, political leaders and bureaucratic planners on both sides are less likely to base their strategy upon far-fetched worst case scenarios. Arms control and defense plans tend to reinforce each other. Despite its rhetoric in the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration was better off staying within the framework of the two SALT agreements because they constrained the Soviets and there was little that the United States could build in the short run. To take a different example, in November 1983 the Soviets walked out of INF negotiations with the United States to protest new NATO deployments, yet they still continued to meet with the United States to discuss nonproliferation via institutions that had been established when relations were easier.5

In the 1950s the early theorists of modern arms control aimed to reduce the risk and damage of war and save resources. Since those goals are not very different from the objectives of defense policy, it is natural for defense and arms control measures to interact as complementary means to the same ends. As a pattern of reciprocity develops, both sides begin to redefine their interests. Even in the pre-Gorbachev era, as dour a figure as Andrei Gromyko reportedly lobbied to include rising young Soviet officers in SALT delegations on the grounds that "the more contact they have with the Americans, the easier it will be to turn our soldiers into something more than just martinets."6

The opportunities presented by the current political climate and the possibility of a return to cold war relations reinforce the argument for reaching good agreements now: their institutional effects will linger and ameliorate our security problems if relations deteriorate in the future between the United States and the Soviet Union. While Gorbachev's glasnost may have increased transparency and communications beyond the arms control process, both formal reductions (such as the asymmetrical reductions in conventional forces in Europe) and informal agreements that provide access to information (such as exchanges among military officers and visits to Soviet facilities) can help lock in gains for Western security.

Skeptics also neglect a further political role of arms control: the establishment of international security regimes. By treating the military relations among states as a problem of common security, arms control agreements help legitimize some activities and discourage others. These international regimes cannot be kept in separate watertight compartments. For example, the long-term management of nuclear proliferation would be impossible in the context of a totally unconstrained U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the United States and Soviet Union managing the diffusion of chemical and biological weapons technology if these two countries were engaged in unconstrained developments in those fields.

Skeptics point out that most states develop nuclear and chemical weapons because of security problems with their neighbors, not because the United States or the Soviet Union promise to disarm. This argument is largely correct. The existence of Article Six of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), in which the superpowers promise to reduce their arsenals, did not deter Pakistan, South Africa or Israel in their nuclear policies. On the other hand, a renewal of the NPT in 1995 will be harder if it must take place in the context of a sharp U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms competition. As one looks further down the road and contemplates the diffusion of destructive power and technology to poor countries and transnational groups, bilateral U.S.-Soviet arms control cannot be divorced from the multilateral arms control problem. On the contrary, the management of international security in the future is likely to require more, not less, attention to the political role of arms control.


If measured in terms of numbers of strategic warheads, Soviet missile accuracy and the vulnerability of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the strategic balance actually worsened during the Reagan years. So why the striking changes in the American arms control policy in the 1980s? Reagan's military budgets, his rhetoric about the Strategic Defense Initiative and the INF deployment in Europe all played a role, but the primary answer is Mikhail Gorbachev. Immediately after coming to power in 1985, Gorbachev altered the Soviet stance in strategic talks by conceding the validity of U.S. concerns about the vulnerability of fixed land-based missiles. In 1986, he permitted intrusive on-site inspections related to confidence- and security-building measures in Europe. In 1987 Gorbachev agreed to an INF agreement largely on Western terms, and in December 1988 he announced unilateral cuts in Soviet conventional forces. Most recently in 1989 he proposed deep asymmetrical cuts in conventional forces in Europe.

Behind President Gorbachev's various proposals, however, lies a deeper Soviet problem. Ironically, at about the same time that Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger were declaring the Soviets to be in a superior position, a younger generation of Soviet economists and officials began to realize the seriousness of their country's economic problems. With a five percent economic growth rate in the 1960s, the Soviet Union was able to finance Leonid Brezhnev's massive nuclear and conventional force buildup. But real Soviet economic growth slackened and in the early 1980s dropped to zero, according to Abel Aganbegyan, one of Gorbachev's economic advisers. The large military expenditures were one cause, and they began to bite.

In addition, the Soviet Union's overly centralized economic system was having difficulty coping with the third Industrial Revolution, i.e., the creation of an information-based economy by the application of computers and telecommunications. By their own accounts, the Soviets lagged ten years behind the West in computer technology, and according to Soviet economist Nikolai Shmelyev, only eight percent of Soviet industry met world standards.7 These conditions and failures in Soviet foreign policy compelled Gorbachev's ambitious reform program of economic restructuring, domestic liberalization and new thinking in foreign policy.

The new thinking has downgraded the concept of class struggle as the basis for all international affairs and has stressed universal human values; in military affairs, it has introduced the standard of "reasonable sufficiency" of forces in place of superiority or parity. Arms control has become a central concept in Gorbachev's approach to international affairs and helped him to justify reductions in the secrecy that previously cloaked all military matters in the Soviet Union. Adopting the slogan "common security" has allowed much greater transparency in Soviet military activities. The evolution of Soviet arms control proposals reflects and reinforces these new dimensions of Soviet thinking.

Ironically, the Gorbachev phenomenon has had two contrary effects on arms control. The new Soviet attitudes and proposals make arms control easier, but they also reduce the public sense of urgency about strategic arms. Gorbachev has moved a long distance in the direction of the West, but issues of verification and trust have also become somewhat easier to handle in the current climate. The Soviet Union has become more open, even permitting Western delegations to visit and photograph sites at close hand, which Americans had previously photographed only from many miles away in space.

The diminished sense of threat may ease some of the deep dilemmas of verification. Verification issues played a modest part in the arms control debates of the 1960s and early 1970s, but they dominated the American arms control debate in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The political demands for verification began to outstrip what was technically feasible. Many things that the United States could monitor quite adequately for intelligence purposes were not absolutely verifiable. Single instances of alleged violations were used to attack broader Soviet intentions. Ambiguous events and minor transgressions of formal treaties were blown out of proportion; the politics of verification became more stringent than the politics of military security. But in the era of glasnost, although the verification requirements remain formidable, distrust is somewhat eased.

In the early 1980s, when the Western publics feared a considerable likelihood of stumbling into nuclear war, rallies for a nuclear arms freeze filled the streets and public parks. Arms control seemed an urgent part of the process of avoiding nuclear war. Now, however, that sense of urgency has diminished with the shift in Soviet rhetoric and behavior. By lowering the sense of threat among the Western publics, Gorbachev unintentionally reduced public pressure for rapid progress in arms control. This permissive climate may help explain the slow progress on START at the beginning of the Bush Administration.

When Reagan left office, the broad outlines of a START agreement were discernible. Within a limit of 6,000 accountable weapons on 1,600 delivery vehicles, no more than 4,900 could be deployed on ballistic missiles. The Soviets would halve the number of their heavy ICBMs and thus their overall missile throwweight. In addition, all the bombs (although not the air-launched cruise missiles) that could be carried by a bomber would count as one weapon. This undercounting of bombs meant that the overall U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal would be cut by some 30 percent-to 8,000-9,000 weapons-while the Soviet arsenal would be cut by nearly 40 percent-to 7,000-8,000 weapons.

Three large issues remained: (1) how to deal with mobile missiles; (2) whether to follow a strict interpretation of the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972; (3) and how to verify limits on sea-launched cruise missiles. The eleventh round of START negotiations in the summer of 1989 made little progress on these issues, but when Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Secretary of State James Baker met in September at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Soviets suggested a way to finesse two of them.

They dropped their demand for a guarantee that the United States would not withdraw from the ABM treaty, but reserved their right to withdraw from any new START agreement limiting offensive weapons if the United States violated the terms of the ABM treaty "as signed." They also offered to dismantle the large radar under construction at Krasnoyarsk, which Shevardnadze now publicly concedes was an open violation of the ABM treaty. On sea-launched cruise missiles, the Soviets offered to move the issue outside of START if the United States would include it in broader discussions on naval arms control. In turn, the United States dropped its demand for a ban on all mobile missiles, which would have required the Soviets to destroy their SS-24 and SS-25 ICBMs, the equivalents of U.S. proposed rail-mobile and road-mobile missiles. (In any case, the really tough negotiations on this issue are not with the Soviets but rather within the administration, and between the administration and Congress.)

Progress was also made on verification measures and after the Jackson Hole meeting, President Bush declared "a good likelihood" of a START agreement being ready to sign at a summit in Washington in 1990. Baker and Shevardnadze also announced progress on procedures for verification of nuclear tests, of chemical weapons stockpile reductions and on which aircraft were to be included in an agreement on conventional forces in Europe.

Without seeking any direct linkage between the negotiations, the administration had earlier been happy to see priorities shift from strategic negotiations to conventional force talks (CFE) in Europe. The administration had been slow to respond to the dramatic new proposals Shevardnadze put on the table in Vienna in March 1989, but the action quickened after Chancellor Helmut Kohl, responding to German domestic politics, sought arms control negotiations related to the short-range nuclear forces on German territory. The ensuing NATO crisis led to a spurt of creative energy in the Bush Administration in May, resulting in the president's proposal to negotiate cuts in the conventional forces in Europe by 30 percent within a year. Difficulties in defining boundaries, zones and types of aircraft remain, but many observers are optimistic about the outcome.

Behind both negotiations, however, lurks uncertainty about the future of Gorbachev and his reforms. Skeptics in the Defense Department and elsewhere in the administration argue that the United States should not let down its guard. They point to the reversal of Khrushchev's reforms two decades ago and warn that Gorbachev's reforms are similarly reversible. They urge an attitude of "wait and see." Others argue that the possibility of reversal makes it all the more urgent to seize this opportunity to reach favorable agreements in an approach that can be characterized as "locking in gains." On balance, however, uncertainties about the permanence of the Gorbachev phenomenon tend to slow progress in arms control.


While debate continues on a prudent response in the bilateral relationship, other analysts argue for more attention to a different aspect of the current era, the diffusion of power in world politics. So long as an intense superpower hostility blanketed world politics, the gradual diffusion of power in world politics was not readily noticeable. With the diminished Soviet threat in the Gorbachev era and Soviet withdrawal from some of its Third World positions, other changes in the nature of world politics have become more visible.

Some, such as Yale historian Paul Kennedy, portray such changes as a decline of American hegemony, but the concept of decline is a misleading way to portray the situation.8 The United States is not in decline in relation to such powers as the Soviet Union, the European Community or China. Nor is it accurate to refer to the emerging situation as "multipolar," if that means returning to a balance among a number of nations with roughly equal power resources, analogous to the period before 1945.

The word "polycentrism" comes closer to describing the current diffusion of power. As world politics becomes more complex, all major states are less able to achieve their purposes. Although the United States has leverage over particular countries, it has far less leverage over the complex system as a whole. But it is not alone in this situation. All great powers today are less able to use traditional power resources to achieve their purposes because private actors and smaller states have become more important in many issues.

While several trends contributing to the diffusion of power are economic, at least three are related to the use of force. One trend is the process of modernization in developing countries. Increased social awareness and nationalism make military intervention and external rule more costly. In 1953 the United States restored the shah of Iran to his throne with a minor covert action. It is hard to imagine, however, how many troops would have been needed to restore the shah in the socially mobilized and nationalistic Iran of 1979. Similarly, the defeats of the United States in Vietnam and of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were less the result of the increased power of a weak state than the increased cost for outsiders of ruling socially mobilized and nationalistic populations.

Another trend in the diffusion of power is the spread of technology, which enhances the capabilities of less developed states. While the superpowers maintain a large lead in military technology, the forces that many Third World states will be able to deploy in the 1990s will make regional superpower intervention more costly than it was in the 1950s. In addition, at least a dozen Third World states have developed a significant capability to export arms, and more countries are acquiring sophisticated weapons capabilities. Twenty countries could now make chemical weapons and 15 Third World nations could be producing their own ballistic missiles in the 1990s. In addition to the five states that had the bomb when the NPT was signed in 1968, India, Pakistan, Israel and South Africa now have a nuclear capability and others may follow. Although a small nuclear capability does not make these states contenders for global power, it does increase the potential cost of regional intervention by larger powers. Technology also enhances the power of private groups. For instance, handheld antiaircraft missiles helped guerrillas in Afghanistan and new plastic explosives are effective tools for terrorists.

Finally, the changing nature of the issues in world politics is diminishing the ability of great powers to control their environment. An increasing number of issues do not simply pit one state against another; in some issues, all states try to control private, transnational non-state actors. The solutions to many issues of transnational interdependence will require collective action and cooperation among states. Areas for global action include ecological changes such as acid rain and global warming, health epidemics such as AIDS, and illicit trade in drugs and control of terrorists. While force may sometimes play a role, traditional instruments of power are rarely sufficient in dealing with such issues. New power resources, such as effective communication and use of multilateral institutions, may prove more relevant.

Moreover, the superpowers will need the cooperation of small weak states, which often cannot manage their own problems alone. For example, it may do no good for the United States to use its military or economic power resources to press Colombia to curtail the production of cocaine if a weak Colombian government cannot control private gangs of drug dealers. Such situations give rise to the "power of the weak." The ability of the great powers to control their environment and get what they want in the 1990s is likely to be less than traditional indicators of military power would suggest.

Some political scientists have gone so far as to argue that war has become obsolete and will follow the practices of dueling, slavery and colonialism in history.9 An alternative view is that the increased cost of using military force will restrict large countries more than small countries, and that the net effect will be an erosion of the traditional hierarchy of world politics. War remains prevalent in the poor areas of the globe. The Middle East, for instance, resembles more the classic security dilemma described by Thucydides than the modern transnational interdependence that exists among developed countries.10 And private transnational terrorist groups readily use force and have increasing capacity to do so.

If this portrait of current trends is even partially correct, the bipolar focus of the past will not be sufficient. Americans will need to think more broadly about the role of arms control in world politics. In fact, on many of these issues, the United States and the Soviet Union will find themselves on the same side.


Concern over the proliferation of technology is not new. The NPT has been in force for two decades, and in 1995 the majority of the states party to the treaty must vote on extending its duration. What is new, however, are the interactions between nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile technology, the increase in the number of states involved and the new threats posed for national security. A critical question is what role the arms control process can play in coping with these new threats.

Technology spreads with time, and many technologies of mass destruction have a long duration. Modern chemical weaponry, for example, is a 75-year-old technology. Nuclear technology is now half-a-century old and intercontinental ballistic missiles have been with us for some three decades. Nonetheless, one should not be fatalistic about the spread of technology. Policy can make a difference in the rate and conditions under which it spreads. For example, in 1963 President Kennedy foresaw a world in the 1970s with some 25 nuclear states; today the number is only a third of what he predicted.11

In a world in which self-defense is a recognized right of states, it is remarkable that some 140 states have signed a treaty by which they deny themselves access to the most destructive weaponry. The broad nonproliferation regime-the NPT, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear suppliers' guidelines and various bilateral agreements-has not solved the problem of nuclear proliferation but it has alleviated it by placing added burdens on the proliferator. Clever bureaucrats and military officers find obstacles in their way. Political leaders must face the fact that developing nuclear weaponry may have too great a political cost. While some countries have not adhered to the treaty, the regime has so far constrained the problem of nuclear proliferation to a handful of problem countries.12

The very success of the nonproliferation regime, however, has driven potential proliferators underground into covert actions. The important new developments in nuclear proliferation are the existence of the four covert or de facto nuclear states-Israel, India, Pakistan and South Africa-and the prevalence of efforts to use clandestine facilities dedicated to military purposes rather than the misuse of commercial nuclear energy sources, the major problem in the 1970s.

This transformation of how nations "go nuclear" has made the monitoring of proliferation more difficult and raised concerns about the gradual erosion of the nuclear threshold. By the early 1970s, Israel and India became de facto nuclear powers in addition to the five designated in the NPT. In the 1980s, South Africa and Pakistan joined the "covert proliferators." Three more states may attain that status in the 1990s: Argentina, Brazil and North Korea. A North Korean nuclear weapon would enormously complicate the strategic situation in that region, as both South Korea and Japan might feel the pressure to reverse their current policies of restraint and develop their latent nuclear capabilities.

In addition, secondary nuclear suppliers such as Argentina, Brazil and India may make controlling nuclear exports more difficult in the future. In the past, once a nation developed a nuclear weapon, it soon realized the value of denying others the same capability-but before that realization, it often made mistakes. For example, France helped Israel, and the Soviet Union helped China who in turn helped Pakistan.

In a complicated world of covert proliferation, the danger of mistakes grows. Since many of the states acquiring new nuclear capabilities lack the political and technological capacity to control nuclear weaponry, the risk of leakages to terrorist groups or of unauthorized use during political turmoil will also increase.

The question of chemical weapons proliferation differs from nuclear proliferation in several ways. First, there are more countries-20 is a frequently cited number-suspected of having or trying to develop chemical weapons. In addition, the technology is relatively simple and it lacks the difficulties of control and monitoring associated with radiation. The dual uses of chemical technologies for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides as well as weapons is even closer than the overlap between commercial and military nuclear facilities.13 Thus far, the proliferation of chemical weaponry has not seriously infected Latin America or Africa, but in the Middle East and Southeast Asia it has involved some of the world's poorest countries. In that sense, the aphorism that chemical weaponry is the poor country's atom bomb has some justification. What is more, in the Middle East the taboo against use of chemical weapons has been broken in the Iran-Iraq War; Iraq even used chemicals against its own Kurdish population.

After World War I, the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibited the first use of chemical weapons but permitted their production and stockpiling. The Geneva Protocol remains the principal international constraint, although it has been supplemented in recent years by an informal institution, the "Australia group." Nineteen chemical suppliers met under Australian auspices in 1985 to discuss tougher export controls on chemicals that are precursors to the manufacture of weapons. The group has agreed to require formal licenses on eight specific chemicals and has a warning list for 30 more in hopes that industry will voluntarily alert national governments to any suspicious foreign interest in those substances.

In addition, since 1980, the U.N. Conference on Disarmament has been engaged in negotiations on a chemical weapons convention (CWC) that would place a complete and total ban on chemical weapons in all states. The ban would prohibit the production or stockpiling of chemical weapons and would require the destruction of all existing chemical weapons stocks.

Verification remains the most difficult issue. A small chemical weapons plant could be hidden within a larger industrial infrastructure or built in a remote area. These verification problems might be addressed (though not fully solved) through ad hoc inspections of non-declared facilities. In addition, commercial chemicals that could be used in the manufacturing of weapons must be monitored at both the production and consumption end points. The burden of monitoring will fall upon a proposed international authority, which will send out inspection teams. The cost of visiting all declared production and consumption facilities for the first ten years is projected to be in the range of $150 million to $300 million per year. In comparison, the IAEA spends only $25 million a year on its inspection of civilian nuclear plants.

The chemical weapons convention started out in the early 1980s with a strong emphasis on curtailing Soviet capabilities in Europe, but it has now evolved into a situation in which the U.S.-Soviet component seems less important than the proliferation dimension. In effect, it is now more of a nonproliferation instrument than a U.S.-Soviet bilateral arms control treaty.

Critics of the convention argue that the United States should not sign such a treaty because it would not be verifiable and universal.14 These are the same classic arguments, now made in the context of the diffusion of power, that have often bedeviled arms control in the bilateral U.S.-Soviet relationship. They must be answered in terms of comparative risks-verification will not be perfect and membership will not be total. The question is whether the risks to American security are greater in the absence of any global ban on chemical weapons than with an admittedly imperfect treaty. A treaty provides a basis for stronger export control legislation among our allies and others who adhere to it. It would also help reinforce the norm against chemical weapons. In that sense, an imperfect CWC would have some of the same benefits and problems as the NPT.

Biological weapons are of slightly less immediate concern than chemical weapons. According to American government officials, there are about ten countries with current or developing capabilities to employ living organisms (such as anthrax, lassa fever or typhus, as opposed to inert toxins).15 Biological weapons, however, have limited military utility since their dispersal mechanisms are difficult to manage; a change of wind can make them as lethal to the attacker as they are to the defender. Moreover, it is difficult to sustain the living organisms in biological weapons in hot climates for long periods. For these reasons, biological weapons are better suited for mass destruction than as precise military instruments. This lack of military utility may have thus far slowed their development.

In addition, since 1972, a biological weapons convention has banned the use or possession of these weapons. Research continues, however, since the convention allows the development of antidotes against biological weaponry. Suspicions have arisen that the loopholes in the treaty have permitted some countries, including the Soviet Union, to develop more than a minimal weapons capability. Unlike the draft CWC, the biological weapons convention is a brief document without provisions for verification. Many experts believe that one of the key challenges in this area will be to develop a protocol outlining detailed procedures for verification.

The Iran-Iraq War put the problem of ballistic missile proliferation, as well as of chemical weapons, high on the agenda of security concerns. The war in the Persian Gulf highlighted the dangers posed by the spread of ballistic missiles. In addition China sold missiles with a range of 2,000 miles to Saudi Arabia in 1989, and Israel used an indigenously developed missile, the Jericho II, as a basis for a satellite-launching rocket. This, in turn, raised the possibility that Israel might soon have a theoretical capability to strike the region of Moscow with nuclear weapons. In 1989 India tested its Agni missile with a range of 1,500 miles.

Altogether, 14 less developed countries now possess ballistic missiles.16 A dozen of them are also suspected of chemical weapon capabilities. Half of these countries' missiles have ranges under 200 miles and most rely on imported technical capability. Israel's and India's accomplishments in developing indigenous medium-range missile capability are thus far the exceptions rather than the rule. Many of the ballistic missiles in the Third World are derivatives of Soviet Frog 7s or Scud Bs with ranges of 40 to 90 miles. But a number of countries now have the expertise to modify and upgrade their imported missiles significantly. For example, Iraq has produced two upgraded versions of the Scud B, with ranges of 385 to 565 miles.

Looming ahead is the prospect that what has been done for range can also be done for accuracy. Until now, most of the short-range ballistic missiles in the Third World have been relatively inaccurate. The Scud-B has a circular error probability of about 1,000 yards at a range of 190 miles, thus restricting its use to large soft targets. By adapting the inertial navigational systems built for commercial and military aircraft, however, it may become possible to reduce the CEP to 40 yards at such ranges. With this accuracy, missiles would become a weapon against military targets capable of being effectively coupled with nuclear, chemical or high-explosive warheads.

Such capabilities would place American efforts at power projection under greater stress and they might jeopardize regional crisis stability. The capability to strike quickly and to overcome air defenses might add to the inherent pressure to preempt in moments of crisis. The erosion of crisis stability in regions such as the Middle East would make U.S. involvement more dangerous. Many of the nations with advanced ballistic missile programs are also interested in acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In 1987, a missile technology control regime was created by the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Like the NPT, the MTCR is an inherently discriminatory regime that divides states into two classes: those states with missiles with a range of at least 190 miles and a payload of at least 1,000 pounds, and those states without such missiles. However, unlike the Nonproliferation Treaty, the MTCR is not a treaty among 140 nations, but an export control understanding between the United States and its six allies. Moreover, there is no international organization to monitor missile-related exports, and each national government is expected to regulate its own exports. In some ways, the MTCR is akin to the 1978 nuclear suppliers' guidelines, similarly based on a list of sensitive items that require some form of export control.

In favor of the MTCR is the fact that missile technology is still quite complex. A modern missile requires thousands of precision-crafted moving parts that must function perfectly. Thus missile programs in the developing world are vulnerable to supplier disruption. The MTCR helped to slow down the Condor-II program, an Argentine missile that was being developed in concert with Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the MTCR has three major problems. First, some member governments have applied export restrictions in a rather loose manner in order not to shut off profitable commercial deals. Second and more important, membership remains at just seven countries. As long as many states remain outside the MTCR, the importing countries will have access to a robust black market as well as to supplies from other governments.

A third problem related to MTCR effectiveness is the question of legitimacy. Unlike nuclear and chemical weaponry, there is no taboo against ballistic missiles. President Reagan argued that fast flyers are a greater threat to crisis stability than slow flyers, but this distinction has not been recognized in international politics. There is no moral stigma attached to ballistic missiles. This leaves open the question of how effective a regime will be if its membership remains sparse and the weapon it is trying to discourage is not generally perceived as illegitimate.


What can be done about the diffusion of military power and the proliferation of the technologies of mass destruction?

The first step is to be realistic about goals. Stemming proliferation is only one aspect of foreign policy. There will always be trade-offs between efforts to slow the spread of dangerous technology and other foreign policy objectives-witness the vacillating U.S. performance in trying to slow Pakistan's nuclear weapons development in the 1980s, when Pakistan provided the critical supply route for American assistance to the Afghan resistance. Moreover, we have to think about what steps to take after technology has spread. Clichés about horses being out of the barn are misleading; it makes a difference how many horses remain in the barn and how quickly they are fleeing. Our goal should be to slow the rate of spread of dangerous technologies in order to better manage their destabilizing effects. With this goal we buy time, but we also need to use that time to seek political settlements. Multilateral arms control agreements will be an important part of the mix of policy instruments but they cannot stand alone.

In the area of nuclear nonproliferation, we need to deal with the covert proliferators without weakening our efforts to discourage further proliferation. The greatest danger to our security is that one of these covert proliferators may lose control of its nuclear weapons because of inadequate technical safeguards or domestic political turmoil. Once a nation can build nuclear weapons, we should try to persuade it to freeze or halt the level of its development, rather than proceeding to produce and even to deploy a large nuclear arsenal. While we may not be happy about countries that have bombs in their basements, a bomb in the basement is less dangerous than bombs spread all over the front lines where they are susceptible to military revolt, theft or leakage into terrorist hands.

We need to supplement our traditional support for the NPT, the IAEA and the nuclear suppliers' agreement, with regional efforts to encourage greater confidence among threatening neighbors. Inspection agreements and high-level visits between Indians and Pakistanis, for example, or between Argentines and Brazilians, could contribute to reducing the pressures for development of war-fighting arsenals in those regions. In the Middle East, on the other hand, it is hard to imagine effective arms control agreements without progress in the Middle East peace process. Moreover, progress in limiting chemical weapons in the region may also be linked with both the nuclear and general peace issues.

Halting or slowing chemical, biological and missile technology will also require the use of multiple instruments. Even an imperfect chemical weapons convention strengthens barriers against the possession and use of chemical weapons. It could reinforce export controls and legitimate the use of force in self-defense against chemical threats by reaffirming the stigma against chemical weapons. Finally, good intelligence collection and early warning will be an important part of the package of policy instruments. The official inspection scheme will complement rather than replace national intelligence efforts in this area. In the area of biological weaponry, negotiation of a protocol relating to verification would help to reinforce the existing stigma against biological weapons and would serve as a basis for the other instruments such as export controls, sanctions and intelligence.

In containing missile technology, the next step should be to broaden the acceptance of an export control regime. This may require renegotiation because of Soviet and Chinese concern about not being included in the early stages of the development of the current MTCR. Once again, however, the agreement must be developed in the context of other instruments, including intelligence collection.

In all of these issues related to the diffusion of power, U.S. and Soviet involvement will be quite different from their relationship in bilateral strategic arms control. The United States and the Soviet Union will be, in effect, on the same side of the table. In many cases, the United States may find it more difficult to agree with its allies than with the Soviets on cooperation and export controls. The United States, however, will have to consider the prospect of sharing more intelligence regarding chemical, nuclear and biological terrorism with the Soviets. And the degree of cooperation in coping with the diffusion of technology will vary with the ups and downs of the overall U.S.-Soviet political relationship. If the diffusion of power continues, it is all the more important for the two superpowers to use the current opportunity to construct multilateral regimes that remain useful even if the power of the founders wanes or the political climate between them changes.


In the post cold war era, arms control may lead to major reductions in the forces of the superpowers. Even in this new era, however, military forces will still be needed because of the normal course of great power politics and because of the new diffusion of destructive power. Moreover, there is always the prospect that the changes in the Soviet Union could be reversed.

The United States can protect itself against reversal in three ways. First, it should seek those reductions that not only enhance U.S. security, but that take time for a new Soviet leadership to restore. Second, the United States should seek verification and inspection procedures that, if violated by a new Soviet leader, set off clear alarms. Third, it should seek procedures for informal visits and consultations that reinforce groups dedicated to glasnost in the Soviet political and military leadership. Thus, careful attention to detail is needed to make sure that dismantling the military edifices of the cold war does not create technical instabilities that would reduce or threaten U.S. security in the future. At the same time, technical details should not blind Americans to the larger political roles of arms control.

It has become fashionable to speak of the recent end of the cold war and even of the "end of history." When the cold war ended may well be a matter of semantics: strictly defined, as a period of intense hostility and little communication, it probably ended in the 1960s. The "little cold war" of the early 1980s was mostly rhetorical. More important is the fact that the cold war and the division of Europe produced four decades of relative stability, albeit at a high price for East Europeans.

Rather than the end of history, we are now seeing the return of history in Europe with its ethnic tensions and the unsolved problem of Germany's role, which Bismarck put on the international agenda in 1870. The peaceful evolution of new arrangements in Europe will make reassurance more necessary than ever. Arms control can play a large part in that reassurance by reducing and restructuring force levels in the conventional arms negotiations and by establishing a variety of confidence-building measures in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Negotiating gradual changes in the overall European security framework can help to alleviate the anxieties and overreactions that would otherwise derail economic evolution and integration of the continent.

The United States can use this period to accumulate security gains, banking them against a possible future downturn or reversal in U.S.-Soviet relations. Because the institutional effects of arms control tend to continue, an important goal now for the United States is to lock in the benefits of the Gorbachev era: force reductions in START and CFE, as well as verification and consultation procedures that build transparency and regularized communication. In turn, this broad process may help to reinforce the changing security concepts in the Soviet Union. Agreements create domestic effects there as well as in this country.

Finally, the current period of improved bilateral relations provides an important opportunity for the United States and the Soviet Union to work together with other countries to reinforce and establish regimes for dealing with the diffusion of power. Here too there are gains to be locked in. Such multilateral arms control regimes will have to be considered in a broader context of security. For example, the superpowers have already rediscovered the value of U.N. peacekeeping forces, itself a confidence- and security-building measure. They may also rediscover the wisdom of the early postwar architects of the U.N. Charter and particularly of the U.N. Security Council. In an era when the great powers are reducing their involvement in the Third World, other countries may develop greater interest in measures for the regional constraint of force. There are signs that some of the less developed countries have begun to understand that their traditional litany of complaints are somewhat beside the point. As one U.N. diplomat put it to me privately, "What are we going to do when we don't have the great powers to kick around any more?"

There are several implications for U.S. policy about the new role of arms control in a post cold war period. The United States will have to pay more attention to the multilateral dimensions of arms control, and more attention to the relationship between bilateral and multilateral arms control. It will have to pay more attention to the relationship of arms control to regional political processes. And the United States will have to pay more attention to how arms control relates to other instruments and other goals in U.S. foreign policy.

Arms control will never provide all the answers to national security. In some cases, it might even do more harm than good. In all cases, it will have to be integrated with other dimensions of policy and other policy instruments. But the changing nature of world politics suggests both new roles and new importance for arms control. If an arms control process did not exist, we would assuredly have to invent it.

1 Quoted in "The Treaty: Another Sellout," The New York Times, Dec. 11, 1987.

2 Irving Kristol, "Forget Arms Control," The New York Times, Sept. 12, 1989.

3 Thomas Schelling, "What Went Wrong With Arms Control?" Foreign Affairs, Winter 1985/86.

4 Albert Carnesale and Richard Haass, eds., Superpower Arms Control: Setting the Record Straight, Cambridge: Ballinger Books, 1987, p. 355.

5 See Alexander George, Philip Farley and Alexander Dallin, eds., U.S.-Soviet Security Cooperation: Achievements, Failures, Lessons, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

6 Arkady Shevchenko, Breaking with Moscow, New York: Ballantine, 1985, p. 270.

7 Quoted in the author's book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, New York: Basic Books, (forthcoming), Chapter 4.

8 Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, New York: Random House, 1987. This section draws upon Chapter 6 of the author's Bound to Lead.

9 John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, New York: Basic Books, 1988.

10 In the fifth century B.C., "the Spartans proposed that not only should Athens refrain from building her own fortifications, but that she should join them in pulling down all the fortifications which still existed." Thucydides reported that while the Athenians sent a delegate to negotiate with Sparta, they simultaneously "built their fortifications high enough to be able to be defended." The Peloponnesian War, New York: Penguin Books, 1972, p. 88.

11 John Kennedy quoted in Albert Carnesale, et al., Living with Nuclear Weapons, A Report by the Harvard Nuclear Study Group, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.

12 The following discussion of proliferation is based on the discussions of the Aspen Strategy Group summer meeting. See Bobby R. Inman, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., William Perry and Roger Smith, Responding to the Proliferation of Nuclear, Chemical, and Ballistic Missile Capabilities, New York: University Press of America, (forthcoming).

14 Amoretta Hoeber and Douglas Feith, "Poisoned Gas, Poisoned Treaties," The New York Times, Dec. 6, 1988; Frank Gaffney, "Chemical Warfare: Beware of Bush's Perilous Delusions," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 3, 1989.

15 Michael Gordon, "U.S. Seeks Curbs on Biological Weapons," The New York Times, July 27, 1989.

16 These assessments are based on presentations to the Aspen Strategy Group by Albert Wheelon, Janne Nolan and Kent Kresa. See Inman, et al., op. cit.

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  • Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Ford Foundation Professor of International Security at Harvard University and author of the forthcoming book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power.
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