American and Soviet space planners are both familiar with the concept of "windows"-transient time periods when the positions and relative movements of the earth and the target planet or planets are such that a probe vehicle launched during the window can reach the target. In effect, the window exists when a number of variable factors, some independent, some interacting, are in phase at the same time.
A similar concept applies to arms control negotiations. Great strides are possible only under "window" conditions, when the negotiating parties are simultaneously driven to seek agreement by their interacting positions. The variables that determine those positions are many: strategic concepts, the state of technological development, weapons inventories and ongoing programs, control and verification capacities, and, most fundamentally, budgetary and political forces. All of these must be at least in a neutral position, and some must be pressing, if the resistance of inertia, hostility, suspicion, special interests and the momentum of weapons programs is to be overcome.
The classic case of an open window perceived and acted upon was the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that was the centerpiece and major accomplishment of the SALT I agreements of 1972. That treaty essentially eliminated ABMs as an element in the strategic balance. It ended, for practical purposes, both the U.S. Safeguard and Soviet Galosh programs then in progress, programs which, in the judgment of all but a handful of strategic thinkers, could only have been destabilizing. And it saved both countries from very large expenditures.
On the other hand, the SALT II negotiations that ran from 1972 to the final set of agreements reached in 1979 suffered for lack of the window conditions, chiefly the obstacle of ongoing weapons programs of great momentum. Given a ratified SALT II treaty, however, a spectrum of factors will come together in the next negotiating period to open a window for arms control on a major scale, especially with respect to reducing or eliminating the deployment, on land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), of multiple
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